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feature: religion & spirituality
July 16th, 2012

Why Am I Still Catholic?

 
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Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)


Oftentimes, when I wear one of my sorority sweatshirts or T-shirts, friends say, “You were in a sorority? I didn’t know that,” with a look of surprise. “Why are you surprised?” I ask. They reply, “You just don’t seem like that type.”

Fight it though we try, it’s hard to escape life without having stereotypes or preconceived notions about the groups we belong to. I am certainly not exempt, myself. Living in a large metropolis like Chicago, it’s easy to see someone on the train, learn where someone lives — or even what baseball team they cheer for — and not register some sort of thought. Everyone is, consciously or otherwise, asserting some piece of his or her identity, which is being processed by another. In that sense, I sometimes wonder if we ever truly leave the school cafeteria.

Another category in my life that attracts surprise is that I’m Catholic. This isn’t usually followed by, “You just don’t seem like that type.” More like a slow nod. And silence.

I don’t get offended. I tell myself I’ve hopefully dispelled some of the negative stereotypes about Catholicism. But, going back to the cafeteria, it’s often hard to be part of a group that isn’t the most popular and even lets you down. It’s difficult to be part of a faith that is countercultural and with which I sometimes disagree.

The whole situation begs the question, “Why am I still Catholic?”

I always fall back on four main reasons.

A Diverse Church

When it comes to diversity, Catholicism has it. Though I didn’t always know that. Growing up in suburban Cincinnati, I thought all parishes sported 1970s architecture, were predominantly Caucasian, and had festivals, a liturgical dance group and a school attached to them. When I grew older, I realized the Church truly cuts across all cultures.

Whenever the Church makes news for a moral controversy or abuse cover-up, and I begin to feel discouraged by its leadership, I always go back to Catholic Social Teaching. It seems to be a sort of best-kept secret, living in the shadows of moral teaching on issues surrounding sexuality, which gets the most airtime.

Within Catholicism, there’s a wide variety of Catholics. From progressive to orthodox, even within our faith, we are diverse. While things can become quite heated (hello, Facebook) and the Magisterium tries to get everyone on the same page, I see our differences as positive. For a religion to resonate across the globe, there must be some genuine truth in it that speaks to the depth of our shared humanity. If millions of people with different backgrounds and political persuasions can come together around a faith, then there must be something about Catholicism that is unifying, not divisive, amidst its diverse expression.

The Jesuits and the Orders

I sometimes joke to my friends that I am a “Jesuette,” a Jesuit cheerleader. I have been cheering on the Jesuits ever since my time at Saint Louis University where they were integral in my faith and academic formation. One can’t neglect their approach to education, one I’ve appreciated in my own life, which presents a gamut of texts and encourages students to weigh them rationally. In college, poring over texts I would never have imagined existed, I felt like one of the kids in the cave of the Dead Poet’s Society. The Jesuits were my Robin Williams.

As much respect as I have for the order, I have even more respect for the individual Jesuits I’ve befriended. My former advisor is a Jesuit. I always tell him I refuse to call him by his first name, as so many do, because he has more than earned the title of Father, with his gentle, paternal nature. To my astonishment, the night before I had surgery shortly after my senior year, he called my home in Cincinnati: “How are you doing? Are you scared? If you are, that’s okay.”

Other orders have impressed me as well. The Ursulines were very important in my spiritual formation in high school, and I have a great deal of respect for many women religious. It is in the orders that I find the teaching body of the Church. They teach by example, on the ground, living lives of service.

Catholic Social Teaching

Whenever the Church makes news for a moral controversy or abuse cover-up, and I begin to feel discouraged by its leadership, I always go back to Catholic Social Teaching. It seems to be a sort of best-kept secret, living in the shadows of moral teaching on issues surrounding sexuality, which gets the most airtime. Themes like stewardship, preferential option for the poor, and dignity of the human person are concepts I hadn’t heard about until I was in high school. These took root and led me to make decisions like committing two years to a faith-based service program and wanting to live a life of service. Whenever I sit in church and listen to a drop-everything-and-mobilize letter from the hierarchy or a cautioning edict about voting before an election, both typically surrounding the same issues, I remember there are so many other letters the bishops have written that never reach the pulpit or the eye of the general public. It is in our lesser-publicized teachings where I find the strength to keep going.

The Eucharist

I remember the moment I started believing in the mystery of the Eucharist. Do I really believe it’s the actual body and blood of Christ? It’s college. I’m outside my dorm in my ex-boyfriend’s car, and I’m saying just that. Being more of a philosopher than me, he gave me an analogy: “Say I have a pen, which on the outside looks blue but in fact writes red. What type of pen is it?” “Red,” I say. “Why?” he asks. “Because it writes red and the purpose of a pen color is how it writes.” “But it looks blue.” “But it writes red.” You get the point.

In that moment, I grew less concerned with whether or not what I was consuming in Communion was a bleeding piece of flesh or not (actually, I’m fine being spared of that sight) and more so about the fruit of consuming it. Do I believe the Body of Christ is able to transform someone’s life, give them strength, and push them to be a better Christian? Yes. Well, if that’s what receiving Communion gives to me every Sunday, then who am I to say it’s not the Body of Christ because it’s not oozing blood before my eyes?

At the end of the day, if I didn’t have any good reasons for remaining Catholic then it would be too much trouble to belong to begin with.

But no worries. Whenever I drop the C-bomb, and I don’t see the dinner party headed in a deep-conversation-about-why-I-am direction, I have a question ready to switch to a lighter mood.

“So, Cubs or White Sox?”

 
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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 the Executive Co-Chair of Catholic Extension in Boston.
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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.
  • Sarah S.

    Not getting into all the differences that Jim asks me to list, but for one, Catholicism DOES share my values. In those rare areas in which there is a point of disagreement between my views and the Catholic Church, I view that as opportunity for reconciliation. Why would I want to attempt said reconciliation with a person I had just met on a blind date? I’ve had a relationship with Catholicism for my entire life. Big difference number one. You can figure the rest out for yourself. And what have I actually done? For one, I teach theology. I encourage my students to use their God-given gifts to make the Church a better place for all, where things like sexual abuse do not run rampant. And I do my best to lead by example, using my own gifts. And Jim, upon your suggestion, I will indeed forward this article and all comments to my local archbishop and inquire about his opinions on the matter. Thanks for the suggestion. Not going to use the comments section of Christina’s article as a platform for myself and my views, so I’m done here. This is my last comment. Christina, keep speaking your mind. It does indeed make a difference.

  • Dan Pierson

    Christina,

    What a beautiful piece! The only thing that I would add is the Augustinians and Fr. Dennis Geaney, OSA. I was an Augustinian seminarian in high school, novitiate and college. And when asked about my background I often get a similar response of surprise.
    This is a great article that I will link to my blog eCatechist.com. I would like to invite you to write an article for eCatechist.com. Please contact me. Thanks.

    Dan Pierson

  • Joe

    White Sox. Go Catholicism!!

  • Jim

    And, actually, now that I think about it… When you say there is nothing similar between being set up on a blind date with a person who does not share your values and belonging to a faith that does not share your values… what are the differences? Specifically?

    Also: sure, “Some of us don’t view this as black and white.” Fine. Do me a personal favor: print this page out and mail it to an archbishop. I would be delighted to see what he (always, always a He) has to say about it.

  • Jim

    If change comes from within… what have you done? Actually done?

  • Sarah S.

    Jim, I’m truly sorry that you feel this way. Your path may be fine for you, but it’s not for everyone. Questioning some of the Church’s teachings and actively attempting to reconcile differences if not just “filling in a pew” or “attempting to compromise.” It’s also not a matter of “being Catholic and not believing what they teach.” Some of us don’t view this as black and white. Some of us view the development of Catholic faith as a process that (for most people) necessarily involves questioning and reevaluation on a continual basis. There are also some of us who believe that change comes from within, and abandoning the Church instead of working to fix things like the sexual abuse problem will do no good. Catholics who question things are not the problem. Anyway, you have your opinion and I have mine. That’s fine. I still think it’s judgmental and lacking in empathy to state that a person like Christina or me should just leave the Church.

  • Jim

    Also, by the by: just as sure as you are that you’re still Catholic, the Catholic Church is as sure everything they teach that you disagree with is the unerring word of God. This is who you’re trying to compromise with.

  • Jim

    The fact that it is a “way of life” and not just a club makes it *more* important not to just keep filling in the pew. This is a worldwide moral authority actively working against things you believe in, often with funds you gave them. Jesus did not see the money changers in the temple, say, “Ah, well, takes all kinds, I guess,” and grab a seat.

    None of the things you want to see change are going to change as long as you and yours keep doing what you’re doing. You are actively, personally delaying progress by continuing to “be Catholic” while not believing what they teach and rationalizing to others why the very things you disagree with aren’t so bad compared to some nice stuff a Jesuit told you junior year.

    Believe me, I was in Catholic school from kindergarten to college. I’ve been there. I get it. I spent a lot of time saying, “Wait, what??” during homilies before realizing the things I’m spouting off here. You can still live by Catholic social teaching; you can still be moved by the Holy Spirit; but as Benedict XVI will gladly tell you, you don’t get to pick and choose off a menu and call yourself Catholic. In fact, Benedict would rather not have you if you’re not all in. It’s like being pregnant: either you are or you aren’t. There’s no 80%.

    And again, that’s fine. Better than fine, actually.

  • Michael R.

    I think Sarah has a very good point and I agree there are sincere Catholics who are genuine in their search for truth and appreciate her faithfulness, although I feel the need to bring to attention the very last sentence. “Being a faithful Catholic is much more about continual growth and reevaluation of one own ideas in relation to the teachings of the Church than it is about blind uneducated, unexplored faith.” The very same thing can be said about the teachings of the Church itself, therefor I feel like this statement can be rewritten as, “being a faithful follower in Christ is much more about continual growth in Him and the reevaluation of one’s own ideas in relation to His Word than it is about the teachings of the Church and doctrines of men. I believe we are to be enlightened, educated, and explore our faith through Scripture. Therein lies the personal decision one must make according to God’s will, and His Word. This kind of insight can only come from diligent study of Scripture and through His divine revelation to the individual through proper interpretation and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I find that too often people blindly follow the teachings of priests and popes and saints that they lose sight of what Jesus actually taught. In doing so they lose their first love and create an idol of the Church. This just my perspective and like I said it is a question of faith and something very personal that must be decided by the individual. Believe me, I agree that no one should join or quit any denominational practice on a whim. That is why I am adimate about the fact that this decision must be based on the careful study of the Gospel and prayer. Again I’m not trying to find fault in anyone and if being Catholic brings you closer to Jesus, then good for you, but I only hope it is found by faith and discernment, for the right reasons and inspired by truth and not fear or guilt. For me it was different but I love you just the same. Either way I’m praying for you Christina

  • Sarah S.

    There is nothing similar between this situation and being set up on a blind date with the person who does not share your values, at least to a certain extent. Catholicism is not just a group or club to join and quit on a whim: it is a way of life, and sometimes good people who genuinely want to seek truth struggle with some of the things that the Catholic Church asks of us. This kind of struggle is part of normal spiritual development. I don’t see what the problem is here. If Catholic social teaching, for example, is what keeps a person motivated to continue seeking truth and working on reconciling her faith with her questions, doubts, and stumbling blocks, I think that’s great. Christina has described some really amazing aspects of our faith: why focus on what issues she may or may not be in agreement with the Church on at present? Being a faithful Catholic is much more about continual growth and reevaluation of one’s own ideas in relation to the teachings of the Church than it is about blind, uneducated, unexplored faith.

  • Michael R.

    Just want to clarify I’m not trying to offend any Catholics but to further articulate my point about transubstantiation in a more concise manner, what I meant was that I think the idea Jesus was trying to communicate to His disciples when He instituted the Last Supper was not so much about ACTUALLY eating His flesh and ACTUALLY drinking His blood in the literal sense, but more about REMEMBERING what He said ( Word/bread) and done (Sacrifice His blood).

  • Michael R.

    While I must agree with Sarah about Jims approach being somewhat direct and perhaps a little insensitive in nature, ( also using our Lord’s name in vain unnecessary) rather then being nurturing to the specific issues Christina may be dealing with in her faith, I have to agree with him in that if one can not support the official doctrines and leadership of the institution in which is to represent their faith with 100% undeniability, then perhaps it is time to reconsider how they identify themselves among the belief system in which they are investing their souls. In this situation I think a careful examination of Scripture and deep reflection upon ones own beliefs with prayer and help from the Holy Spirit, to see if the teachings of the institution or ones personal beliefs are in fact in line with the Word of God and His will. Personally I have been down this same road and struggled myself with the same issues, being raised Catholic. In my experience and walk with the Lord and actually reading and studying Scripture, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me away from the Catholic Church and its teachings. Take the teaching of transubstantiation for example, IMO it seems to encourage cannabalistic belief and a form of ritualized magic. I believe that when Jesus said we must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, he meant we must ingest (abide in) His Word (since He is the Word made flesh/ the living bread sent from heaven/”man does not live by bread alone, but on every word which proceeds from the mouth of God”) and drink of His blood ( to accept and partake in and live through His sacrifice) Perhaps I am opening a whole other can of worms here, which may be best for another thread but the most important thing I feel that proper guidance for Christina is essential, which will only come from God alone and I pray that the Spirit guide her in truth and she find comfort and peace along her walk with The Most High. Beyond all these semantics I encourage your faith in Christ above all, and love and service to Him and others. God Bless

  • Jim

    If I were setting you up on a blind date, and I said, “You guys would really hit it off. He shares a ton of your values, does loads of charity work, very spiritual, very loving… now, he is a vocal homophobe– it’s basically all he talks about lately– and he’s going to try and throw out your birth control. Oh! And apparently on weekends he and his buddies just go to town on little kids then help each other cover it up. Still!, salt of the earth,” would you even agree to meet that guy, much less see him every weekend?

    I know so many people who firmly believe things and then call themselves members of a group that actively works every day against the things they believe, using money *they gave the group.* Every week, they go to the meetings, and the group leader looks out at the seats and thinks, “Well, all these people are on board. Steady as she goes, I guess.” They don’t know you’re “working for change from within.” The Pope doesn’t follow you on Facebook. All they see is people singing along and passing the plate.

    If you’re someone who’s pro-same sex marriage or pro-choice or pro-contraception or pro-female priesthood, is there *any* other organization you would voluntarily join if they put their opposition to those things in their recruiting brochure?

  • Sarah S.

    I find Jim’s response extremely rude and lacking in compassion. There are many good Catholics who struggle with some of the Church’s teachings from time to time. Being reminded of things that keep us in the Church during this period of exploration and attempted reconciliation between our own thoughts and the teachings of the faith is something positive. Being able to name the things that touch us and bring us closer to God is wonderful. Even if a person believes fully in the Church’s teachings, it can be difficult and disheartening to hear about the sexual abuse cases and other problems that naturally make us disappointed in members of the Church. There is nothing wrong with taking some time to appreciate specific aspects of our faith while experiencing doubts in other aspects. Christina has been a friend to me since college, and I have known her to be as good and faithful a Catholic as any I have ever met. Christina, thanks for bravely sharing such important pieces of your own spiritual growth.

  • Jim

    The mind reels. “I have a few problems with my Church, but I love 75% of it so I’m still in.”

    What parts of it don’t you agree with?

    “Well, I think it’s misogynistic and homophobic to the point of opposing civil rights, and sometimes it covers for child molesters. Also, I don’t buy transubstantiation.”

    Jesus Christ, lady; what groups do you quit? You’d leave Netflix over a $5 fee increase.

    “I look like a duck and walk like a duck. I just have four legs and moo.” Kid: you ain’t a duck. And that’s fine. Lots of great animals aren’t ducks.

  • Michael R.

    Anna, the word “You” that the apostle Peter is referring to is in reference to our Lord Jesus Christ! not the words of the church/ body of Christ which is to represent us as believers. It is important to distinguish what are the words of our Lord and the words of man.

  • Dorothy

    Great article. But just wanted to let you know you misused the phrase “begging the question”. So many people do. A quick wikipedia search will explain.

  • http://www.paulist.com/landings Anna L.

    Lord, to whom shall we go? You (the Church/the Body of Christ) have the words of eternal life…”

  • Patricia

    Michelle, my experiences as a cradle Catholic were limited and in my naivety I thought everyone was Catholic because all my friends were. It was not something my parents planned or organized it just happened that way? Then reality struck and I found the world outside. I have been disappointed and very sad at the Catholic bashing I have recieved, but then the light comes in and I meet a knew friend and learn about a new way to worship. So I guess what I have found is that in the difficult times that there seems to be a special moment to come. I must admit I do not always see it until I look back to see where my experiences have brought me. I am learning that we all struggle with our faith in our own ways but it is this struggle that has helped & taught me the most. Thank you for your post it has put a different perspective to my own experiences, still Catholic and still learning!

  • Michelle Robinson

    I have been recently re thinking my Catholic Faith, thanks for the thoughts, I really like the reminder of Catholic Social teachings. I will be back (to Mass of course).

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