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Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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April 11th, 2012

Simple Faith: Trusting the Church

 
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Mass at a church in Cleveland, Ohio.
(CNS photo/William Rieter)

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.

 
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The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and three daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • John

    For every pedophile priest people complain about there are hundreds of honorable priests. Whether it’s the purported atrocities of the inquisition or the “good old boys” in the Vatican, the blame game is easy to play. In reality, it comes down to the fact that you want to use birth control or cohabit with your boyfriend etc.etc. You don’t want to abide by the rules so you denigrate the rule makers. The Church is not perfect and never will be but it’s 2000 years of human nature wisdom is still better than anything else out there. As for those who would follow Jesus only, what did He have to say about something like embryonic stem cell research or surrogate mothers?

  • Rob

    I’m not surprised by the ‘we are the church’ comments. It makes it a lot easier to discount the institutional Church and 2,000 years of tradition and follow your own way. I, for one, am tired of following my own way, thinking I know what’s best for me. It’s never brought me joy and peace.

    Most of us are like children…spiritually speaking. And yet we think we know how to raise ourselves, spurning discipline, and making up our own moral code as it suits us. It’s the plague of our generation.

    When I am tempted to give in and throw faith in Christ and His Church aside, I look to the saints (esp. Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta) and how they lived. How did they regard submitting to Church authority? For them, obedience and humility were foundational virtues that were very difficult to put into practice but are necessary for salvation.

    Vanessa, thanks for being faithful to Church teaching even when it doesn’t make sense, in the face of failure and clerical abuse, when it is hard, when everyone tells you it’s unnecessary, and to just ‘follow your conscience’ instead of listening to Her. I’ll try to do the same. Maybe we will find Truth in the end.

  • Abbot-Ordinary +Neil V. Christensen, c.s.e.f., Th.D., D.D., KCMG.

    My faith, is in the Person of Jesus Christ: and his Church; as the people of God) Not, in an Institution about Power and Control or the Curia.

  • David of Wales

    I appreciate your point Vanessa, but doesn’t it depend a little bit on how you define “Catholic Church.” Too many German Catholics trusted the hierarchy during the 30s and 40s; you know how that turned out.

  • Tricia

    Vanessa, I agree with some of the other comments: It is far wiser, and has a much better guarantee, to put your faith and trust in God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–than in ANY institution, even the Church.

  • Lynn Steiden

    AMen to Anthony and Fr. Richard. We are the Church, male, female, gay, poor or homeless. The good old boys in Rome are still following ancient Jewish guides…women were slaves, sunject to their husbands and were not allowed to participate, just as were are not allowed to this day. Trust a Church where the Pope shuffled pedophiles while he was bishop of Munich? With all the corruption that still goes on today, Father Richard is right. Put your faith in Jesus Christ, our redeemer and Lord who loved the poor, sick, troubled, those with mental issues and who had such great faith. As Sr. Joan Chittister says maybe Christ’s greatest suffering was knowing that the majority would not follow him. Women should be priests; priests should be allowed to marry and our emphasis needs to be on the poor and hungry. Wow! The Pope gave a whole $100,000 to Syria and its victims. I wonder if Jesus would live in such splendor among so may riches. He loved women and I doubt he would change his mind. All those who don’t like this, read Matthew 5 on how to treat each other.

  • Rev. Richard Rentner

    I’d still prefer to put my trust/faith in Jesus Christ rather than the church as an institution. The Roman Catholic church simply has too long a history of ‘mistakes’ and downright deception (i.e., pedophile priests)to justify faith in ‘the church.’

  • Wendy

    Thanks! I needed to read this.

  • Anthony

    Andrew, I can’t help but notice some points of contention in your comment.

    “Christ’s message was one of inclusion and not exclusion”

    Inclusion sure, but not without challenge to “go and sin no more.”

    And what do you perceive to be “the current standings on women?” Artificial contraception for example has allowed people to become ends unto themselves, especially women, who are then objectified and lusted after in ways that have nothing to do with their unrepeatable personhood. Our “modern” way of treating sexuality and women’s “liberation”-sexual and intellectual- doesn’t seem to be working out so great. We’re a society steeped in divorce, abortion, and eschewed, damaging, perceptions of ourselves as bodily, sexual persons–all of which is affecting us at a younger and younger age. Further, have you ever worked in a parish? If you did, you may have other ideas about how the Church “sees women.” I’ve seen time and time again in parish settings the overwhelming amount of women in real, effectual ministry as DRE’s, running parish councils, social justice groups, etc…

    “I don’t discount this at all, the fact is that the Church has built itself upon the backs of these women, exploiting their free labor and obedience over the years.”

    How progressive of you to literally discount the entire vocations and sacrifices made for them in one foul swoop. Surely these women were not responding to God’s call to love and service in the Church. No, the Church must have been oppressing them!! They had no idea what they were getting into! This point is offensive to women who have voluntarily answered a call.

    “and anyone pointing to the gospels that Christ only chose 12 men so only men may be priests has been taken in by complete hogwash”

    The Church’s theology of the priesthood/episcopacy follows “apostolic” succession, as in, the 12 men Christ chose as apostles were the first. This is not somehow a denigration of his other followers, the women who first saw him risen, or lay people like you and I.

  • andrew

    this is a great post and really made some valid points. i see so many people who are so against some of the strict rules of organized religion but who eagerly ascribe to their own crazy set of rules for their specific chosen lifestyles.

    and it’s true, we believers do have to have faith in our Church because Christ is at the core of it. but then that gets me to thinking how Christ’s message was one of inclusion and not exclusion and how can that be reconciled with the Church’s current standings on women and homosexuality. but let’s stick with women for a minute – i just can’t help feeling how archaic some of the Church’s positions truly are, and how ultimately misogynistic and power hungry the men at the top seem to be. and please, anyone out there reading this comment, don’t bring up that nuns have played a large and important role in the Church. I don’t discount this at all, the fact is that the Church has built itself upon the backs of these women, exploiting their free labor and obedience over the years, and still rests control from them, reserving it for a male only (and celibate unmarried male only at that) supremacy. it’s ridiculous that more of us modern Catholics, men and women alike, don’t get out of the pews on Sundays and begin picketing. after all, we are the Church, we the people, who are responsible for the institution. if we really want to trust in it and continue with our faith, some kind of change needs to happen, and it needs to begin with us and our discontent.

    and anyone pointing to the gospels that Christ only chose 12 men so only men may be priests has been taken in by complete hogwash. you need only to read this week’s gospels to know that. the resurrected Jesus appeared to women first and commanded they go spread the word.

    we need to send a message to the priests and bishops that something’s got to change. because you can only have faith in a failed institution for so long, before you either give up on it or start getting back to the core of its teachings. in this case: inclusion and acceptance and love.

  • Zachary Hubbard

    Well said Vanessa. In an age where it is difficult to put one’s trust in any institution, the church of Jesus Christ stands out as still being trustworthy.

  • Jane k

    I am frequently inspired by your writing and always find myself nodding in agreement with you. Thank you for sharing your faith and wisdom. Blessings to you this Holy Week.

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