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A few years ago, I mentioned, in one of my blogs, why I stay a Catholic. The other day, a frustrated voter asked pointedly: “If you weren’t a nun, would you stay a Catholic?” I said, yes. But my answer needs fuller development, maybe even a book! So, I looked at the question in a fuller context than I did the first time I addressed it and I want to share with you what I think now on this issue. My hope is that it might help and encourage some people you know who are struggling with this question: Do I stay, or do I leave?
First, I stay because to follow Christ, I am to be a disciple. That means I trek along this journey with other disciples. You can’t be a football player without a team, a soldier without an army, and so on. Some members of these groups are better than others in the group, some are weaker than others. But they are in it together because together they make a difference. Theologian Ronald Rohlheiser writes, “Simply put, Christian discipleship is not something you can do alone. One cannot say, ‘I’m a Christian but I can pray just as well at home.’’’ Rohlheiser makes the point that “The search for the Christian God is not just a private quest but a communal endeavor…it always demands connection with some historical community, a church.” In other religions, it demands a connection with a synagogue or a mosque or whatever place is holy for believers.
Second, I stay because I hope my participation can help deepen the consolation needed by other members and the unchurched as well, no matter how weak I am in offering it. Such consolation widens itself to reach others in my neighborhood and world for whom Jesus is a caring Savior, Yahweh is a loving parent, Allah is a welcoming protector. The prayer of worship combines with our efforts to offer food, shelter, sympathy, education, guidance, advocacy. One cannot do all this alone.
Third, I stay because my faith is larger than my church. I might have to change my faith community or parish church for solid, well-thought-out reasons, but I do not have to leave my faith. If the parish is entrenched by clergy who are not informed or who allow divisive groups to weaken the message of Christ, then I can find another home that is spiritually uplifting and energizing. Most people of any religion do not explore where the Spirit can direct them to more fulfilling faith experiences. Alternatives exist in every diocese. One is not a disciple if one does not seek them out.
Fourth, I stay because my church teaches that all are welcome—even though some parishes do not look kindly on this commitment. And some dioceses are woefully discriminatory about marginalized people, especially members of the LGBTQ community and trans children and adults. I am heartened that many otherwise arcane and mythological teachings have been changed since Vatican II. Still, many more have to be changed even discarded, especially some dealing with sexuality. In a recent article in Sojourners magazine, religion writer Adam Russell Taylor wrote, “At its best, the church should serve as a bridge between people of faith, who are coming from different perspectives and a space where different viewpoints can exist.” That means listening to everyone, making room for everyone at the table, not dismissing those who disagree with us but trying to learn from each other. It is hard to do but Taylor insists that we need “greater courage, better dialogue, deeper discipleship,” in applying faith to politics.
I do not believe in Christian Nationalism. We are not a theocracy. We are most blest as a nation to allow all religions to flourish; a thorough and competent reading of history demonstrates that our Founding Fathers did not want a common religion among us. Further, I do not believe my church leaders are always right in their interpretations of whatever helps them to retain power, to avoid challenging donors, to remain quiet on the pressing concerns of our society and the world or to simply just go along with the flow because they do not know what to do! This is why the church needs all of us.
The person who asked why I stay a Catholic when so many Catholics support right wing politics was truly angry about his faith being slow to respond to obvious wrongs. I told him that many Catholics are activists who serve in organizations that filter out the truth and provide direction we can all follow on issues of justice. Groups like Network, FutureChurch, Pax Christi, to name a few. In a future blog, I will write about contemporary people who are examples of this activism.
As I walked the land of Jesus last September, I imagined how ordinary people felt drawn to him. They climbed trees to catch a glimpse as he passed by; they got into boats and paddled vigorously to hear him. They ran through crowds to touch his garment, they let a helpless man through a roof to reach him; they sought him in the dark of night and sat with him at a well at noon. They did everything to listen and ‘deepen discipleship.’ They needed each other and that is why—even though I am no model of a disciple—that is the reason why I stay.
Have you thought of why you live your faith? Or, why you may have given up on it?
Is there anyone you can help to find the joy and completeness of the faith they might be lacking?For this week, let’s all—my dear readers and my Anonymous Angels—look at ways we can strengthen our faith. You will be surprised at how much joy you will experience. Take some time to reflect on your faith and why you should cherish it and live it beyond the guardrails of your church.