Ever since re-engaging with my faith a few years back, I’ve found myself hanging out with a growing number of other Catholics. They support me in my spiritual growth; they understand my obscure Catholic jokes. There’s comfort in this.
But I’ve always had many non-Catholic friends too, with whom I’ve shared interests and struggles and laughs. And they too, have made invaluable contributions to my faith journey.
- They’ve given me a more balanced picture of Christ. My best childhood friend Jenny, whose family belonged to a non-denominational Bible church, had a picture on her bedroom wall. It showed a smiling Jesus sitting in the grass, surrounded by kids in modern clothes. Contrast that with the prevailing iconography at my Catholic school—a sad-faced Christ with a halo and a “sacred heart” pierced with swords. While that Catholic Jesus felt remote and scary, the kids-in-the-field God was like a favorite babysitter, someone you could go to for a hug when you skinned your knee.
I liked that image of Christ. Heck, I still do.
- They’ve helped me delve more deeply into my own beliefs. On the cusp of my re-engagement with Catholicism, I had a Mormon friend and colleague. The extent to which he was able to explain his beliefs was inspiring. It made me take a good hard look into the center of my own faith. What do I believe? Why do I believe it? I checked out library books on Catholicism, the first serious study of my faith that I’d done as an adult. Five years later, I’m still reading. Even better, I’m still growing.
- They’ve helped me appreciate ritual. When my friend Rachel
got married, her Jewish
ceremony was inspiring with its chuppah, the breaking of the glass, the prayers. A year later, planning my own wedding, I had a heightened sensitivity to the beauty of the Catholic ceremony — the blessing of the rings, the Eucharist, the meaning of marriage as a sacrament. Scott and I even borrowed Rachel’s idea and put explanatory notes in our program, sharing the meaning of each ritual. Weeks later, I was touched to receive a card from her, saying how much our ceremony had moved her.
- They remind me that living a Christ-like life means interacting with the world. Christ in the Gospels doesn’t have a circle-the-wagons mentality. He doesn’t check religious ID at the door. He flows from one strata of society to another, crossing boundaries, mingling with a vast assortment of people. Many, of course, come to believe and follow him. In my own life, there’s always the possibility that someone I know will be inspired to explore the faith that makes me (hopefully) balanced and loving. If that happens, great. If not, that’s fine too; this thing called the universe works according to God’s plan, not mine.
And, as much as I love my faith, life isn’t about staying huddled in the vestibule of our Church. It’s about venturing outside, recognizing that when we build bridges rather than barriers, we allow people to enter into and change our lives in the way that only they can do.
Also, when we peel back the cover of faith, we recognize that each one of us—in our own unique way—is addressing many of the same struggles, questions, and mysteries.
Comfort for the road
Throughout my adult life, I’ve walked into many a local bar with my Jewish friend and my Mormon friend (he’d order lemonade, by the way), as well as with Buddhists and Hindus and Protestants of various denominations. More than bars, though, I’ve walked into the complexity of real life with these friends of mine, and I’ve come to realize something: the journey would be a lot more difficult without their openness, love, and willingness to share their own stories of faith.