Proof that I'm Catholic- First Communion many, many years ago
I've been a very active Catholic Christian since I was fairly young. I grew up surrounded by the Charismatic Renewal, and the most committed Catholics I knew had been influenced by this movement. Through the prayer group and community my family belonged to, I learned to give myself to Jesus and walk with Him, and value my faith. I learned to pray, and read the Bible.
But the one thing I missed out on was a strong Catholic identity. Yes, we were Catholic. Missing Sunday Mass was not an option, we prayed a decade of the Rosary every day, (along with reading the bible and singing hymns), we went for Confession twice a year, and we usually had Mass at every retreat or camp we attended.
But still. Something was missing. We were not EXCITED about being Catholic. Our community focussed a lot on ecumenism, which I know is VERY important. But sometimes it felt like you couldn't love the Church AND be ecumenical. I know in theory you can, but in practice it doesn't work that easily. Pope John Paul II is one of the few Catholics I know* who seemed to have both down. And Peter Kreeft.
We didn't talk about the saints much, or even Mary. The people who DID pray the Rosary, prayed it at breakneck speed with no reflections. Our parish didn't have Confirmation saints, at least the year I received the sacrament. I've never heard anyone talk about contraception being a sin. I could rarely describe our Mass hymns as beautiful or uplifting- people seemed to go more for ‘lively’ in recent years, maybe as a reaction to ‘dragging’ and ‘screechy’. I was not exactly sure what 'liturgy' was. Or why we shouldn't clap at church. (Boring and stick-in-the-mud were the words that came to mind instead of reverence.)
My mother was the only Catholic I knew who owned and read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. She was one of the few people who talked about being Catholic. In fact, after I read the da Vinci code, that Catholic-bashing piece of fiction, she was the one I turned to with my questions.
Anyway, after reading ‘Rome Sweet Home’ by Scott Hahn, I realized there was more to being Catholic than I had originally thought. Well, I realized there was more, but I wasn't exactly sure what it was. I threw around phrases like ‘riches of the Church’, but I wasn't sure what they were. I heard about Franciscan university of Steubenville, and young Catholics flocking to daily Mass, long lines for Confession, and teenagers voluntarily choosing to pray the Rosary together when they hung out. What was I missing?
I didn't get my answers at my home parish. I went to Mass, knowing that the Eucharist was important, but homilies never convicted or educated me. There were good people in my parish. But they seemed divided into ‘enthusiastic about Jesus’ (and not His Church) and ‘devout Catholics’ who didn't seem enthusiastic about anything although they served on a lot of committees and did a lot of ‘programmes’.
Then I discovered the online Catholic world. Jennifer Fulwiler, Catholic Answers Forums, National Catholic Register, Chastity.com, Catholic convert stories, Lifeteen, testimonies, and the multitude of other Catholic blogs**. Over years of reading, I have been strengthened in my faith, got a lot more of the ‘whys’, and saw that the Catholic faith IS relevant and reasonable.
I also read more books (that I had heard about online), got a Catechism, Catholicism for Dummies, A Father Who Keeps His Promises. Lord Have Mercy, Catholic and Christian, Story of a Soul, Fulton Sheen, the YouCat, The Lamb’s Supper: the Mass as Heaven on Earth, and an Ignatius Study Bible.
Through my reading, I have gotten a glimpse of how awesome and powerful and life-changing the Eucharist is, even without beautiful, awe-inspiring hymns or powerful homilies to remind me.
I go to Confession more often, even though I often have priests telling me my sins are not sins. (Rolling eyes.) I feel a part of a family, with Catholics all over the world, and the saints and angels. I especially feel it when we all talk about the same feasts, or Mass readings, or beloved saints. Catholic culture and liturgy is important. (I know that Protestants are part of that family too, united in Christ, although many of them are not fully aware of it.) I know that when I have difficult questions, I have the teachings Jesus handed down through the apostles, and informed Catholics who break down those teachings for me. I see the reasonableness of the Catholic faith, because we believe reason is not the enemy. My Catholic faith is more than arguing over our differences with Protestants, but it is a new identity, a new worldview, the 'fullness of truth', a light by which to see the world.
I now see and believe the Catholic Church to be the visible Body of Christ in the world, of which Christ is the Head, of which I am grateful to be a part.*** If I love my Jesus, I want to know and love His Body, the Church.
I'm not surprised so many people (including Catholics) don't get Catholicism- have they ever come into contact with a truth-seeking, beauty-loving, mission-hearted, grace-filled Catholic community? Once we see more joyfully Catholic communities in the real world, I think we'll see more openness to and interest in Catholicism.
* I claim acquaintance with him on the basis of just having created a ppt about his life. And shooting a prayer to him.
**I do have some reservations about some parts of the Catholic online world, especially the people who think loving the Church makes all Protestants the enemy. I believe ‘there’s far more that unites us than divides us’.
***Yes, notwithstanding the individual Catholics who mess up and give the whole Church a bad name.