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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why I'm Catholic: Because I've Found the Mark

Elizabeth Scalia, a blogger over at Patheos' "Catholic Channel," challenged Catholics all over the internet to share their reasons for staying aboard the Barque of st Peter. It's a beautiful mission, and the idea is to fill the social media with love for Mother Church and where she leads us!

Well, I'm a cradle Catholic, like many Catholics are, and my upbringing in the faith, although necessarily incomplete (its just too large to shove into one human childhood!) strong elements of Catholic life have always been present in my family. Though at the time I couldn't have understood why, my parents pulled myself, and my two older brothers out of school, when I was six or seven years old. Instead, they homeschooled us, and I think that was a major blessing in terms of fostering faith. I was enamored with Christ, especially as a kid.
Not right away, however. I remember one bizarre Sunday, maybe when I was five or six, where I was being disruptive in mass.  (If I miss-remember anything, forgive me, I was twerp, and was barely paying attention.) I don't remember quite what it was that I was doing, but it involved an obnoxious noise and lots of sibling-poking. My dad tried a few times to ignore, chastise, then silence me, until finally he got fed up  and my dad simply reached down, sticking his hand over my mouth. 

This didn't last more than a minute, but I made sure every second of it was dramatic because, as I can remember more clearly than anything else, I didn't like it very much! I sighed loudly through his hand, tried to pry it off, pretended to hyperventilate through my nose and, I think, even tried to make myself look limp. My dad was horribly, horribly stubborn, however, and had none of it. He held me upright during whatever praise song was going on, not pressing me hard but also not tolerating my noise, until finally I began absolutely chomping on his hand!

That ended it! He took me outside immediately, not just out of the nave, but the building entirely, while the rest of the family stayed. I remember being scared when I realized this wasn't just a 'lobby lecture,' and I knew I was in big trouble. There were lots and lots of big words, about behavior during the 'Consecration.' Dad was severely irked, and not about his hand. He said a hundred bazillion things a kid couldn't understand. Among it all, I was confused and a little scared about possibly immanent punishments, but mostly I was busy feeling indignant at the humiliation of being carried out of the church by my dad.

 But just when he seemed worn out by it all, there was one question that I could get: "Do you know what your brother is doing in a few weeks?!" I knew; it was impossible not to. It was a week or two before my older brother's first communion. I'd seen him and practicing lessons, even going to church for lessons, and talking about Jesus in the Eucharist.

I didn't like mass at six years old, but I knew who Jesus was. My dad told me that, every year, pastors rely on parents to tell them that their child is ready to receive, and that every time I failed to act like I was ready for Jesus while at church was another year he'd tell Father I had to wait. I was devastated. There was a lot about the Eucharist I didn't understand yet, but I knew it was God, and I knew that I was a crummy kid. 

There was some shady, 5 year-old-kid style bargaining attempts, and a couple boasts to the effect that 'Father wouldn't care about today' because I already 'knew what I needed to know anyhow.' But in the end, I realized that I needed to act like Christ was truly there with us at Mass, because He was. A couple years after that, I did receive first Communion, and my mother incorporated daily mass into our families lives as the morning part of our school routine. From then to pre-teendom, (as well as on-and-off through my teens) there were weekday homilies I suffered through, readings I fell in love with, and family discussions now and then about what all these things actually meant. 

With so much Gospel going in my ears, it couldn't help but fill my brain and jump out at my eyes. Kids always have new questions about the world, the worst among them being "why?," and it seems like every answer I meet points me back to mother Church, who in turn points me back to Christ. Its here, and in my Baltimore Catechism lessons that I learned Who made us: God made us. He is a Supreme Being, infinitely perfect who made all things and keeps them in existence. (I will always love that phrase because it presented so many more questions.)

 I remember random snatches of conversations, where my mother told me 'sin' means 'missing the mark.' I learned that that 'mark' we aim for is Christ, and that its the most terrible thing in the world, missing him. And I miss Him quite a lot. In this, and I suppose in many other ways my journey isn't a terribly unique one, and I don't know, maybe my reasons for keeping with it aren't either. But they strike me deeply and keep me keeping on with my beloved Catholic faith even when things seem hard. And they do, some times. God can seem, so often, like this solemn and unreachable monarch in the sky, and he can be hard to face, let alone peruse. 

Catholicism, though, looks at the life of Christ down here on earth, and remembers that as the Living God he has never abandoned the living! Jesus stepped down from heaven, lived and suffered and died, then ascended to be with His Father. She looks at the mystery of it all and declares that he never left, that she (the Church) is His Body, and we (the people of his church) are His Body, and waaaaay beyond all that remains His Eucharistic Body, who is "Flesh for the life of the world." I've tried and I've failed to describe the impact of the Eucharistic mystery on my life a billion times; I can't even begin to say what this means to me. 
Why do I remain Catholic? I would like to point to our lovely culture, to our trove of philosophy and theology, to a spirit of continuing charity that has flourished in hearts of spiritual powerhouses like Vincent de Paul, Mother Theresa, St. Francis and Catherine of Hungary like no other religion has ever seen... and I could. But as much as I love all this, I'm Catholic because nowhere else can I encounter so closely this Supreme God Who has enamored me: Because to turn away from Him now that I know that He is here, gloriously veiled in Bread and Wine, would be missing the mark in the worst way!

 I thought, for a long time, that my childhood and the Gospel and all this saturation in Catholic culture tumbled me helplessly into His lap. Now that I'm older, I realize that my entire nature was made to aim for Him. Even if I'd started this journey a long way off, I COULD NOT have been content until I found myself before a monstrance! I cling to Him in the Eucharist, and strive with all my might to bury myself in His merciful Heart. 

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