1. Why Be a Catholic Today?by Jim AuerHow do TV or the movies portray religion? Think about it! Whenever they want to bring up the subject of religion, they write a script that calls for a priest or a Sister. When the media bigwigs need a character to officially represent religion, they call on a Catholic.
This isn't a new trend, either. Artworks, plays, and novels have done it for centuries. In the movies it's been going on at least since 1938 when Pat O'Brien played a kindly priest in the movie Angels With Dirty Faces. Ask your grandparents about that one! Then there was Bing Crosby's 1944 Oscar-winning portrayal of a priest in Going My Way (which also won the Academy Award for Best Film).
The devil's opponents, when he possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist, were two priests.
Television has had more than its share of stories about priests and Sisters. Some, like Merlin Olsen's Father Murphy and Peter Falk's Father Noah "Hardstep" Rivers, have been the main character in the program. Countless others have played supporting roles, but there can be no doubt that Catholic priests and Sisters appear as characters in films and on TV programs much more often than religious leaders from any other Church or religious denomination.
It also works in reverse. When the media needs a Representative-of-Religion-Gone-Wrong, the choice again is usually a priest or a Sister. More than one movie and plenty of TV programs have told the story of priests and Sisters who have fallen in love, broken their vows, inflicted pain and suffering on others, or been involved in financial misdeeds.
Why do they always pick Catholic figures to represent religion?
Is it that most priests and Sisters dress differently? Well, representatives of other faiths sometimes dress distinctively too. Is it that Catholicism is the major Christian religion in terms of numbers? (More than seventeen percent of the world population and twenty-two percent of the population of the United States are Catholic.)
Or is there a general, unspoken feeling that somehow the Catholic faith is "the real thing" when it comes to religion?Why are you Catholic?
All this makes interesting speculation, but there are more important, personal questions to consider. For example, how do you see your own Catholic faith? What images come to mind when you hear the phrase "the Catholic Church"? Why are you a Catholic today?
Do you feel committed to the Church or do you sense that you are on the fringe? Do you think you'll still be a Catholic ten or twenty years from now?
It's not likely that you are a Catholic because you chose the Catholic faith after a long, personal search. You are probably Catholic because at least one of your parents, if not both, is a Catholic, and that parent saw to it that you were baptized in the Catholic Church when you were still very young.
Some people feel that infant baptism is a terrible injustice on the part of the Catholic Church, as though this practice is an attempt to hold a helpless kid a lifelong captive of the faith. But the same situation is found among people of many religious communities.
Hundreds of thousands of young people were "born Methodist" or "born Baptist" or "born Hindu" and have been members of those communities ever since, whether they were officially baptized or initiated into the faith, or whether they just grew up in the faith under the influence of their parents.
Sooner or later, however, you're going to need a better reason for being and remaining Catholic than simply because Mom, Dad, relatives, or friends are Catholic. When you make the choice to personally live your life as a Catholic and follow the laws and practices of the Catholic Church, then you can call yourself a mature believer. But if you want to find those better reasons, it's going to take a little work and study and thought.
Right now your image and impressions of the Catholic faith and the institution called the Catholic Church have probably come from a rather limited number of people: your parents, the priests and Sisters you've met, teachers in Catholic schools or religious education programs, classmates and friends, and other members of your parish. You have probably also learned about the Church from some of the things you have read, like the Bible and religion textbooks. Retreats, Sunday sermons, and other religious services have also taught you something about the Church.
Sometimes this has resulted in a wonderfully accurate representation of the whole Church and sometimes not. Some kids are "raised Catholic" mainly because their grandmothers would have "raised the roof" if they didn't go to church --or because somebody figured there'd be fewer drugs and higher achievement scores in a Catholic school.
Situations like that can give the impression that there isn't a very good, genuinely religious reason to stick with the Catholic faith over any other.Looking Things Over
When you're "born into" one Church and begin looking at others, there are a couple of attitudes you want to avoid.
One goes like this: "All the religious truth in the universe belongs to our religion. All other religions worship false gods or at least have beliefs that are really quite confused. If they don't straighten out, God may very likely waste them in hell --or if they get into heaven, they won't be nearly as high up and happy as WE are."
Unfortunately, many people formerly thought this way --including some Catholics who were so convinced that Catholicism was the only road to God that they weren't very charitable toward other groups of believers. Some people still act this way, particularly some fundamentalist Christians who believe solely in their literal interpretation of the Bible. They tend to look upon Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans as hopelessly confused and misguided practicers of semi-superstition who are quite probably headed for hell.
The second mistake goes like this: "What difference does it make what religion you belong to? They're practically all the same anyway. As long as you don't hurt people and you live a good life, that's all that counts."
Usually that's a cop out, an excuse for not thinking, for going along with whatever seems easy, or for not having any faith at all.
Sometimes, however, it's an overreaction. We're trying so hard to avoid giving an "I'm right and you're wrong" impression that we end up saying, "It doesn't make any difference."
But what you believe does make a difference. If you believe that Jesus was the greatest teacher of all times and the model of Christian living, then you'll look for a Christian faith community that upholds and presents Jesus' message as completely and faithfully as possible.
For me, that community of faithful believers is found in the Catholic Church. It's not that I'm ignorant of other Christians and their churches and traditions or that I judge them to be totally wrong.
Nor do I believe the Catholic Church and all its leaders and members are perfect. There have been times when I have been bored by the Church, confused by the Church, and angry with the Church.
That's OK. That sort of thing has been going on for a long time. Even Peter and Paul had their differences. As for being bored, read the story in Acts 20:7-12 about a kid named Eutychus. This guy got so tired of listening to Paul preach that he dozed off and fell out of a third-story window --and Paul was an awfully good preacher!
Anyway, I'm still Catholic --the way I was born. But it's by choice now. I know my reasons for choosing my Church.
You need to know yours.Things To Consider
Some people are impressed by historical evidence. For example, the Catholic Church can trace its leadership from the present pope all the way back to Peter. That doesn't mean every pope has been terrific any more than all United States' presidents have been the equal of Washington or Lincoln. It does show, however, that the Catholic faith is not a strange new idea on the religious horizon.
Others are impressed by results of the Catholic effort over the centuries in response to the command of Jesus to care for and love one another. More hospitals (6,475 worldwide), orphanages (6,393), homes for the handicapped and aged, schools, and universities (all due to the tremendous effort and sacrifice of individual Catholics) have been set up and operated by the Catholic Church than by any other organization, religious or secular.
For many others the reason for their choice to become or remain Catholic is found in worship. Catholics believe that when Jesus said "This is my Body" and "Do this in remembrance of me" at the Last Supper, he meant exactly that. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist --that Jesus chose to be physically present among us under the signs of bread and wine, and that he gave priests the power to transform the bread and wine into his Body and Blood. That presence of the Lord in our worship is something of vital importance to Catholics.
Many others respect the fact that the Catholic Church has a clear authority structure. Jesus did not, after all, drift up to heaven and leave things on earth up in the air. Nor did he leave behind a discussion group where "whatever you wanna do" was the name of the game. He left people in charge: Peter and the apostles. Authority isn't always the most pleasant and welcome thing in life, but without it things often don't ever really get settled or done. That leadership is what unites Catholics all over the world into one spirit and body (which is what Jesus wanted in the first place).Is Everybody Happy?
Now think back to that image or feeling you have when you see or hear "Catholic Church."
If there's a sort of a blank, then you have a blank to fill and that can be kind of exciting.
If you get a good feeling, a proud feeling, about being part of the Catholic tradition, great! After all, you're allowed to --in fact, you're supposed to --feel right and good about your beliefs. (Of course, that doesn't mean you have the right to put down someone else's religious beliefs.)
If you get a negative image or feeling, try to find out where it comes from. Is it based on the whole picture of the Church --from Jesus down to the present --or is it just a couple of things (or people) that bug you?
Sometimes people expect a perfect-or-nothing relationship with the Church. They figure anything that claims to represent Jesus should be perfect in all ways and make everybody happy all the time.
That's not humanly possible.
Jesus said he would be with us until the end of time. He never said he'd make all Christians perfect before the end of time, including those people who "run the Church." Remember, it was Peter, the very person Jesus chose to take charge, who denied Jesus and said "I don't even know the man" three times.
As for making everybody happy and in agreement, even Jesus didn't do that! If you're expecting that from our Church leadership, you're expecting something Jesus never claimed, promised, or delivered. The gospel message isn't going to hit everybody with the soft caress of a gentle breeze. When you have regular old human beings delivering that message, it can get even harder to accept.
But that's how God chose to do things --and it's probably a pretty smart idea to accept his plan just the way he gave it. (I'm willing to give almost anyone in the universe some good, needed advice, but I don't think it's too great an idea to try to coach God.)Why Catholic?
For me, there are lots of reasons. And it doesn't mean I think the Catholic Church is perfect or that other Churches are wasting their time. Two Sundays ago I attended an evening worship and song service at a nearby Baptist church. The Spirit was ... well, WOW is the only accurate word to describe it. It was prayerful, powerful, and uplifting. I felt enriched by that service, but the Catholic Church is still my Church.
You need to find your own reasons for being Catholic. They don't have to be different from anyone else's, but they do have to be yours --and you have to truly believe in them.
The reasons are there. I hope you find them.