Why do I stay in this Church?
“Why do you remain a Catholic?” That was the challenge issued by Elizabeth Scalia (aka The Anchoress) via Facebook this week, calling me (among many other Catholic writers) out by name. Never one to refuse a good challenge, I started to ponder that question as I headed out to meet Dennis for date night at The City Beer Hall in Albany. As we sat at the bar, sipping our Chatham Maple Amber, Dennis reminded me that I had already written my own blog post on this very topic more than a year ago. (I’m glad someone remembers what I write!) Sure enough. I went back and found my own take: “Why Am I Still Here? In this Church, that is.”
That post appeared on Not Strictly Spiritual on Jan. 21, 2014, in response to a sex abuse story that was circulating in the news at the time and making me ask myself that very question: Why do I stay? I originally planned to re-post that link on Elizabeth’s Facebook thread as my response to the new version of that old question and be done with it. Easy peasy. But then I thought, no, that’s not my truth because it would imply that the sex abuse scandal is the only thing that makes me wonder sometimes why I stay. And, quite frankly, abuse is just one thing among many that can make this faith a challenging matter.
Don’t get me wrong. My Catholic blood runs true blue and has for all of my almost 53 years. I love the Church deeply, but sometimes the Church makes me crazy. You know how your family can make you crazy? Yeah, like that. There are days when I want to run away, change my address, and take up a new identity. Family can do that to you, and the Church is my family, the Church is my home, and, since I’ve worked for the Church for 30-plus years in one form or another, the Church is also my business. When you spend that amount of time with anything or anyone, it can sometimes make you want to run screaming from the room. And yet I haven’t run. I haven’t changed my identity. I am here, not without some fairly regular whining, but here. Firmly planted, whether I am giddy with the joy of faith or grumbling in the pain of darkness. But why? Why not walk away and be done with even the most minor frustrations? Why not find an easier path or maybe even “create my own religion,” as some tell me they have done, where I crop out the hard stuff and fill the frame with only flowers and light?
Because life is never just flowers and light, because there will always be frustrations, there will always be something to whine about, something that doesn’t go according to my plan, and I cannot imagine getting through my daily dose of drama without God ever-present in my corner, without Jesus always in front of me, without the Eucharist providing food for the often-difficult journey.
When the crowds around Jesus start to have trouble with some of his difficult teachings and begin walking away, he asks his closest followers if they, too, will leave.
“Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter answers. “You have the words of everlasting life.” That was the reason I gave in my original blog post on this topic, and it remains at the heart of my answer today. Always I identify with Peter, who never fails to screw up but somehow gets it on a deeper level. He doubts, he denies, he runs away, but Jesus sees through it to the faith that lives inside him. I pray Jesus can do the same with me, see through my mistakes and missteps and failures to the faith that is sometimes shaky, often lukewarm, but always present. For my entire life my faith has been the air I breathe. Like the beating heart we don’t question until it starts to fail, my faith has been beating inside of me for almost 53 years, often without my taking the time to stop and admire its steadfast rhythm and life-giving power. Until someone asks me, “Why stay?”
Like Peter I can only say, “To whom shall I go?” If not here, where? If not this, what? This is where Truth lives. This is the Way. This is the Word to which I cling. Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega — with me, with all of us, until the end of time.