Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
July 10th, 2014

“Oh, You’re Catholic?”

A reflection on Peter denying Jesus and the modern-day dilemma of identifying as a Catholic


ohyoucatholic1I’m Italian. When this fact comes up, and people respond, “Ohhhh, you’re Italian?” I’m never quite sure what will follow. But usually, it’s something like, “Your mom must be a great cook!” What can I say? It’s true. She makes hundreds of meatballs on her meatball-making day, and they are a-mazing. Generally, the reactions I get to being Italian are favorable, a far cry from what Italian immigrants faced in the past, during times wrought with ethnic discrimination.

However, there are also parts of my identity that are important to me, but not always seen favorably by others. This has been my experience as a Catholic.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with Catholicism, I’ll admit. I grew up digesting everything, without questioning, and rebelled in my college years against the more traditional teachings of my youth. Now, for the first time in my life, I am attending a school with no Catholic affiliation and thinking more and more about my Catholic identity, without the crutch of most people around me being, well, Catholic.

At various moments in my life, I’m confronted with the statement or, sort of, question, “Oh, you’re Catholic?” When that happens, I’m never sure where the conversation is going to go. I know you might be saying it’s a badge I should wear with pride and honor, and I very well should. In fact, I’m not ashamed of being Catholic. However, when we look to the Bible, even Peter, the Rock of the Church, struggled with being a follower of Christ when he denied Christ not once, but three times.

The story of Peter shows us the true meaning of taking on an identity that has significance to us, and others, too. We all gradually add to our identities as we go about life. These titles come from what we’re born into (sister, brother, child); our work (scientist, teacher, nurse); and who we choose to be in the world (volunteer, painter, marathon runner). With each piece of our identity, we also accept the expectations that come along with that identity. The same goes for identifying as a Christian. While we each choose to become a follower of Christ in a very personal and private way, we, like Peter, experience what being a Christian means to others around us. This can be a very positive experience, like connecting with other Christians or engaging in inter-religious dialogue, or a difficult experience, like being associated with the hurtful and negative actions of Christians.

Lately, though, what usually follows “Oh, you’re Catholic?” is a positive reaction. Something like, “You know, I really like Pope Francis. He seems to practice what Christianity is really about.” Thank God for Pope Francis, really. In a time when my first reaction is to cringe about where the conversation is going to go, more and more, I’m met with glowing praise of this humble leader.

Catholicism has had a rough past, as we all know. And really, we’ve also had a rough recent past, too. I’m deeply saddened by things that people in the Church, particularly the hierarchy, have done. I wish I could dissociate myself from those pieces of the Church and only associate myself with all the rich and wonderful parts of Catholicism. But it doesn’t work that way. This is a relationship with a very human Church. I can’t pick and choose. I’m all in, even if that means my indirect association with acts I would never condone.

Whenever someone brings up a sore spot, like the sex abuse scandal, I share their disgust. The tension in the room kind of diffuses after that. I’m not the type of person who’s beyond seeing the flaws in her religion’s history. There are opportunities for clarification, too. Sometimes, what’s being attributed to the Catholic Church is misunderstood. Oftentimes, and perhaps most frustratingly, people associate me with their experiences with other Catholics; I try to show them that Catholics are actually very diverse. Sometimes, the Catholics who are most visible, are the loudest in a conversation, and get the most airtime don’t represent all of the community of believers.

Lately, though, what usually follows “Oh, you’re Catholic?” is a positive reaction. Something like, “You know, I really like Pope Francis. He seems to practice what Christianity is really about.” Thank God for Pope Francis, really. In a time when my first reaction is to cringe about where the conversation is going to go, more and more, I’m met with glowing praise of this humble leader. He has meant a lot to me, and now so many others, who see him as a truly holy person, a humble servant of God.

In reality, the story of Peter is one that teaches us about being modern-day disciples. We make a commitment to the Church, to be with Her in good times and in bad, to include Her intimately in our identity, just as the disciples did long ago. This commitment can mean standing by the Church when it is most difficult, intertwining our identity with something far bigger than ourselves, and also when it is a source of pride and joy in our lives. We are called to that same intimacy today in our ongoing relationship with our very human Church.

The Author : Christina Gebel
Christina Gebel holds B.A.’s in psychology and theology from Saint Louis University as well as a Master of Public Health in maternal and child health from Boston University. After college, she spent two years as a full-time volunteer at a faith-based organization in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys writing, photography, performing standup comedy, and serving as a doula and Lamaze childbirth educator. She currently resides in Boston, working in the field of public health and serving as co-chair of the executive committee for the Catholic Extension Young Professionals of Boston.
See more articles by (46).
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.
  • agnerd

    I can totally relate to this as I moved to NC (from MD) in 2008. NC is right in the middle of the Bible belt, with most people being some affiliation of Baptist (I’ve learned there are many branches to that denomination!) Friends will joke with me about converting (in a good-nature way) since I’m the outlier here being Catholic. I am proud to be Catholic even though our history isn’t without thoughts. I also have had the opportunity to learn about the Original Free Will Baptists (as that’s the main one in my area) and I find their outreach to be amazing compared to what I have experienced. I also love the idea of their revivals. I asked what they are because everyone seems to have two a year (they make big banners to hang outside of their churches and invite everyone they know). It’s something I would love to see Catholic churches adopt to recenter the congregation as to the purpose of Church. It was described to me this way “Even though we go to church each Sunday, and many times on Wednesday also, we can get into a habit and stop thinking about WHY we are doing what we are doing and just go through the motions. Revival is a time to refocus ourselves and celebrate being Christians” It’s really like a huge party with lots of singing and readings in my observation!

    • gooder1


      I live down South, and know exactly what you mean. All I can say is to study your faith, and develop a Love & personal friendship with our Lord Jesus. He will lead you to whatever you need: both in your life, and whatever your local church needs. And you should become active in your church: ask to be a reader, go to daily mass if you can, and by all means coordinate a revival. I’m sure your pastor would love to have something like that. We are having a revival at our church in September. The Catholic Church refers to those as “missions,” rather than “revivals.” But you can call it anything you’d like. So, get involved. Don’t just sit in the pew and complain. Go to the church during the week, and ask how you can help. But first and foremost, develop a deep, deep Love for Jesus. You need to talk to him all day long; involve him in everything you do. That is where it all begins. And if you feel like your prayers are not being answered, let Mary know that you need her help, adn she will get you all the help you need.

  • jz

    In the midwest we are known as “Eye-tallons”. So that means we come from “Eye-taly”

  • gooder1

    Peter denied Jesus 3 times, so Jesus forgave Peter 3 times in John 21:15-17. It is not whether Jesus will deny us before the Father in this life, but rather if we go to our death like Judas, not asking for, nor being forgiven while still alive. When we die we are frozen in that state, and cannot change it. But if we ask for forgiveness prior to death, all is forgiven. Remember you must forgive 70 times 7 times: Matt 18:22/

    • Mike

      did Jesus actually say I forgive you Peter for denying me three times? or did Jesus just tell Peter to do something for him? think about it.

  • Glenn T Jones

    i can truly identify with your experience as a Catholic today. I absolutely agree with you that we are quite diverse. Unfortunately, even I have fallen victim to the most visible and the loudest, most obnoxious Catholics that regardless of what i do or feel insist that I’m not Catholic because I don’t selectively agree with the same views as they do. I struggle with maintaining a relationship with our very human Church, not because of the leadership or the clergy but mostly because I cannot seem to get past the politics and nastiness of some in my community.

    • http://batman-news.com James

      That’s the problem stop trying to form a relationship with the church and focus ONLY on God. The church will not change your heart, only God can do that. Have a blessed day!

  • Veronica

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I too, have felt some trepidation on how to answer people’s questions about my Catholic faith. I agree with your point that we commit ourselves to being a part of the Church in “good times and in bad”. The Church is a living church, and with God’s strength and with the Holy Spirit’s help, it will survive and thrive for thousands of years to come. And as Catholics, we should stand united during the bad times, and celebrate in unity during the good times.

    • Mike

      you are the church that makes up the church, and a house divided will fall.

      their’s a deep thought for you.

  • Mike

    Oh Peter. Have you ever wondered where the term “Don’t peter out on me” came from?
    Have you ever wondered what really went on between Jesus and Peter after Jesus came back from the dead?
    Have you ever wondered if Jesus ever went back on his word?

    “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:33

    Jesus would have had to go back on his word if he forgave Peter for denying him three times before man. Meaning Jesus did not go back on his word once, but three times. if what is taught that when Jesus asked Peter three times do you love me, and Jesus replied, “Tend My lambs.”, “Shepherd My sheep.” “Tend My sheep.”

    No one really looks really hard at what Jesus said to Peter afterwards.
    truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself
    and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch
    out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you
    do not wish to go.”

    one has to ask themselves where did Peter what to go the most? then relaize that Peter did not go there, for Jesus said,”when you grow old, you will stretch
    out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you
    do not wish to go.”

    then as we all know Peter had himself hung upside down as he was not worthy of Jesus even in the end.

    food for thought

powered by the Paulists