“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” G.K. Chesterton.
I don’t remember how it came up in conversation but I’ll never forget what was said. It is one of those memories that mysteriously becomes fully present upon recall. A gathering of young mothers starved for adult companionship, sitting around a kitchen table and sharing each other’s lives, nourishing one another with words. We met monthly under the guise of a book club that we affectionately called the “It’s Not About the Book” Club. No matter what book we began discussing we inevitably ended up working through each other’s issues, carving the beasts into bite-sized chunks.
It was my turn. I was struggling in my spiritual life. The church I belonged to was going through some serious upheaval, nothing short of scandal. The priest had announced, during Mass, that he was leaving the priesthood to marry the church secretary. This began a long period of time where coming to Mass was less than a respite from the world. The congregation split into factions and everyone weighed in with their opinions. As a young mother of two toddlers, Church was no longer the place of peace that I needed. To complicate matters, it was the only Catholic Church in the area. For some sitting around the table the solution was simple.
“Why don’t you try a different Church?,” one of them asked.
How could I explain it? Moving to rural southwest Virginia had challenged my faith unlike anything I had experienced. Even ten years of Catholic education hadn’t prepared me. Born and raised in the north I had simply accepted the Catholic tradition like a side dish at dinner. While I didn’t know much about the origins of my faith tradition, I didn’t know anything different.
Arriving in the Bible Belt had knocked me off balance. The questions and concerns thrown at me by well-meaning Protestants had left me spiritually staggering, struggling to gain a foothold in a new and diverse environment. It wasn’t easy finding a place at the ecumenical table. It took several years, but finally I found a comfortable spot. Literally I sat at the kitchen table surrounded by Protestant and non-denominational friends whom I loved and respected. All eyes were on me as I searched for the words to answer their question.
Why don’t you try a different Church?
Just the thought of it cut me to the core and what I said in response surprised even me. “I don’t know how to explain it other than to say that I am Catholic. My eyes are brown, I was born in New York, and I am Catholic.” The statement was so odd, the concept so foreign that it took a while for all of us to process it. The words hovered homeless for what felt like an eternity.
I often think about my response and as much as it still confounds me ten years later I still know it to be true. I am Catholic. Trying a different Church would be like trying a different ancestry, a different family. I cannot consider leaving the Catholic Church no matter what a priest does, no matter what my brothers and sisters in the pews might say. If faith is a theological virtue then I must give thanks. If it is an intellectual decision on my part it is only in response to grace.
“I love all religions but I am in love with my own,” said Mother Teresa. The communion of saints, the sacraments, two thousand years rich in history and tradition, not to mention the Eucharist, it is not something I can contemplate “leaving on the table.” I am in love with the Catholic Church. While she is far from perfect, she is mine and I am hers.