How Can I Be Catholic?
“How can you be Catholic?” a college friend once asked me when she found out I attended mass. I led a Campus Crusade Bible study in one of the dorms, yet I went to a Catholic church. It was an oxymoron for some. Most of my friends were Evangelical Christians, and I loved them dearly, as I did their church worship as well. Amongst my evangelical group, I encountered many different reactions when people found out I was Catholic. Few didn’t seem too phased by it, most were perplexed or even astounded. Some thought Catholics weren’t Christians at all. I had never encountered such anti-Catholic conversation among Christians until college. It frustrated me. It confused me. It forced me to step back and question my entire Catholic upbringing.
The questions my evangelical friends asked me were great questions—and soon I began questioning the Catholic church as well. One day, I had had enough of the confusion and was on the verge of abandoning my Catholic faith. I decided I would go to my campus pastor, Fr. Mark, and ask a few burning questions—ones that I was certain he wasn’t going to be able to answer me satisfactorily; then I would have to break the news to my mom that I would no longer be Catholic. As I walked to church that afternoon to meet the priest, I sang a favorite hymn, “Lead me, Lord,” and whispered what Pilot himself had asked, “What is Truth? I just want Truth.”
To my own astonishment, during my meeting with Fr. Mark, I filled my notebook with notes and quotes and Bible references and book recommendations and so, so much information! No wonder why so many people have so many questions about the Catholic church! Because there is SO much to know! No wonder why there is so much ignorance of other Christians about the Church; it would take a lifetime to truly learn all that there is about the Catholic Church, so if one is not brought up Catholic, then it’d be very difficult to understand.
After I met with Fr. Mark, I went to mass one more time, still not sure of whether or not I wanted to be Catholic. But something significant happened that day. At the start of Eucharist, I began to cry. Like, for no reason. My body was filled with a deep warmth yet my arms had goosebumps…and I cried. I cried because Jesus died for me. I cried because of His immense, unexplainable love, a love we get to celebrate every day at mass. A love that transforms a wafer and wine into a prayer of hunger and thirst for His body and blood. And at the end of mass, I felt a peace wash over me, and tears of joy snuck down my cheeks again. With final affirmation, I felt the Lord telling me, “Mary-Kate, if everyone leaves my Church, how will it ever change?”
I stayed in the Catholic Church, and I couldn’t be more pleased with that decision. I choose to be Catholic for many, many reasons. I still attend evangelical services once in awhile because I love them, I’ve served at a Lutheran Bible Camp for two summers, and I’ve attended Methodist services as well, and in Swaziland I’m also connected to the Church of Christ. I have a heart for unity. I don’t appreciate that we put boundaries on our churches and amongst our brethren. We are not supposed to be against one another; we are supposed to be one!
I quite like it when people are astonished when they find out I’m Catholic. I don’t wear it on my sleeve, attempting to convince others this is the only way. I simply love Jesus. Seriously. I just love Him. This is what it’s all about. They way I love Jesus might look different than the way you love him or the way you worship, but that doesn’t mean one is better than the other. Just because I believe that prayer changes things and therefore the prayer our priest says over communion changes it to the real presence, the body and blood of our Lord, doesn’t make me more of a Christian than someone who believes communion is only a symbol. Or just because I prefer my pastor to wear his symbolic vestments or dress up doesn’t mean I’m not as hip as the person who prefers their pastor to preach in jeans and polo. And just because I believe that the verse “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17) means that both faith and works are required for salvation doesn’t make me a better or worse Christian than someone who says salvation is through faith only. After all, it doesn’t matter what we say anyway, does it? It matters how we live. Do we live in a way that shows we love the Lord? That’s really all it comes down to.
I’m not one to boast about my Catholic faith, but sometimes maybe I’m too timid. It’s disheartening seeing the reactions of other Christians when they despise the Church I attend, so oftentimes I keep quiet. I just wish we could all remember that we are not the Judge. Instead of trying to save people from being Catholic (I’ve encountered that many times in college), why don’t we build Catholics up, Christians up, wherever they are, whichever church they attend, to serve God and reach the people in their churches—people we could never otherwise reach from the outside?
Let’s remember, we are all God’s children. Every single one of us. I am a Christian first. Catholicism is simply how I express it. Christ is my love; Catholicism is how I show it. And I choose to show it this way for many, many reasons. Perhaps that’s a blog for another time.
P.S. Happy Lenten Season!
A return to the desert. “In the desert, there are no distractions or diversions or secondary matters. Everything is basic, necessary, and simple. Either one survives or one doesn’t. One finds in the desert strengths and weaknesses he never knew he had. So are you ready to visit your desert? Are you prepared to deal with your particular temptations to pleasure, power, money, and honor? Even if, in the past, you have not succeeded in the ways you wanted, remember that our God is a God of second chances. It’s never too late to start again” (Bishop Robert Barron).