One day Brandon and I made up our minds to run a marathon. If you knew us, this decision would have sent you into laughing hysterics because we are both the most un-athletic people we know. But we were both desperately out of shape and were firmly resolved to do this. We found a running group. They placed us with a coach. Slowly over the weeks, we ran more and more miles. It was horrible. Excruciating. I had never worked so hard physically. I was constantly sore and had little free time. I stopped eating things that I loved like McDonalds or frozen dinners. I had no idea about the theory behind running or the reasons for high knees, veggies and pasta, or changing our pace at different points. I just did what I was told at first then slowly learned more about it. Why it was important to eat carbs at certain times, or when to hydrate, or when it was best to consume sugar. I learned to love running. Not just physically, but in my head, also. I was in shape, eating right. And my body felt the best it ever had.
I think about all the different things people commit themselves to. Exercise programs, diets, even jobs and family. All of these commitments require us to do things we don’t always enjoy or that we don’t always understand, but we make the commitment and we stick to it.
Having faith in the Church is a whole lot like training for a marathon. One day you just have to make up your mind that you are putting your trust in the Church. You may not understand absolutely every intricacy, but you trust it anyway. Then starts the training, slowly gathering information, learning why Catholics do certain things, why they don’t do other things. It may not always be fun. Sometimes it can even be painful. But over time, the motions become more meaningful. After some research, you more deeply understand the beauty behind the Church’s teaching on God’s plan for sexuality and maybe it means you have to stop having sex with your boyfriend. Or you come to understand the significance of the dignity of every person and you have to quit joining your coworkers when they start to make fun of that weird person at work. Or you now get why it’s so important to love the poor and you start being active in your church’s prison ministry. All of this may be hard, but still, you keep pushing upward and onward always reflecting on what the Church is teaching you and how to make sense of it in your head and how to make it part of your life.
Faith is simply trust. Trust that the Church, being guided by the Holy Spirit and thousands of years of wisdom, at its core, will not lead me astray. That’s not to say that every person involved, including clergy and lay people, are perfect and do no evil. But the Catholic Church itself, the Catholic faith, will not lead me astray and will help me get to my ultimate end — heaven. So we stumble on, not always agreeing with the Church but persevering. If we study what the Church teaches and reflect on it, the Holy Spirit will help us figure it out. This doesn’t mean that we are blind followers who put no thought into what we believe, but that we need time to process with the Holy Spirit.
And when I hear comments incredulously asking how an educated, liberated woman can be part of such an old, oppressive institution run by men bent on forcing women to be barefoot and pregnant all the time, I have to stop and wonder what commitments they have made in their lives. I have had women tell me that they could never have the discipline to be Catholic and yet they only eat vegan, gluten-free foods and are training for their third Ironman triathlon. Or they tell me being Catholic is too hard with too many rules, but they adopted crazy study schedules to get that 4.0 at the end of college, graduating with an engineering and pre-med degree. How is the discipline to do these things different from the discipline of having faith?
I think being a faithful Catholic is way easier than forsaking all bread and pasta, or running five miles a day, or working 80 hours a week. And not that those things are unimportant, but having faith is so much more important. And a great perk is that we don’t have to do it alone. There are so many groups at church to help me figure all this out. Spiritual directors, men’s groups, youth groups, women’s groups, young adult groups, people with young children groups, Busted Halo and its online community. There are so many people to help us on this journey. Being Catholic means we are part of a community of believers and we get to help each other believe.
In the end, having faith won’t make our lives any easier but it will give us hope — a hope that will get us through each day. A hope that God is with us always and will never forsake us regardless of how confused we feel or how much we don’t understand what’s going on in our lives. A hope that the Church will teach us how to live in order to enter into the Kingdom of heaven as our eternal resting place. To me, that’s way better than a six-minute mile.