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Why I Stay

My Life Lines column running in the current issue of Catholic New York:

Why do you remain a Catholic?” That was the challenge issued to me on Facebook a while back. Never one to refuse a good challenge, I pondered that question anew even though I had wrestled with it before in relation to various crises in the Church, particularly the sex abuse scandal. Why do I stay? I had originally thought the new answer to that old question would be easy. But, as I reflected on it more deeply, I realized that my truth is not that simple, 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 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 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 me for 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.

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  1. Carol ford #

    Hello Mary…i read your post with great interest. If i were to write such an article it would be titled Why I left. You see Mary, as you, i always considered the Church and my faith central to my beng. I loved the Church and all it gave to me. I followed all the precepts and involved myself and my family in everything it offered. I worked tirelessly in social concerns and felt so so proud to be a member of the Catholic Church. It was my family…that is how i always looked at it…as you do. Then the abuse and rape of children was brouht into the light of day and everything changed for me. It has been proven that even after priests were found to have RAPED children…they were harbored and schuffled to other places with unsuspecting parishonerrs. The “bad guys” were known by the Pope, Cardinals, and Bishops. Some of those in the know REMAIN as “princes of the church”. Cardinal Law was one of the greatest at knowing where the abusers were in Boston but he escaped to Rome and got to retire with no punishment for his actions. If my personal family had pedophiles who were allowed to rape children and then when discovered, were still invited to family events without the parents knowledge would be WRONG!!! Same thing here. I am broken-hearted but my faith in Jesus and all of His promises remain. I can not be a member of a Church that allows those that were complicent in rape and abuse. Jesus said “Let the children come unto me”, not protect the Church and conceal the rapists.

    February 21, 2016
  2. Francis #

    Carol, I understand, I share your anger: it is right, like the wrath of Jesus in the Temple.

    I see it Mary’s way too, and that’s the side I must come down on, given Jesus’ flat-out promise that not all the power of hell would overcome His Church.

    Faithful catholics are faithful by trusting in Him and His Church (His Mystical Body) alone, despite everything else. Let us never give in to temptation to abandon the Church.

    The decision is made for me by Christ, which makes ALL the difference. If I had depended on my own understanding, I’d have been consumed – taken over – by rage at the abuse we’ve uncovered within our catholic world, I’d have damned the Church for it, and I would have nothing anymore to do with it. Would this not have seen me standing with the Pharisees, men for whom Jesus was not the Way? To my soul’s ruin I’d have thrown out the Baby with the bathwater, and who does that serve but Satan?

    February 21, 2016
    • Carol ford #

      Hi Francis,
      i can appreciate your comments as someone who has found peace with my decision to walk away from the Church. Everyday, each of us has to decide what we can and cannot live with. I feel that the Church left me by not following the greatest words Jesus ever spoke…the foundation of His salvation for anyone who wanted to follow Him to Eternal life…”Love me with all your heart and love one another”. To me, clearly, the Church has FAILED on these simple words. In my opinion the Church is not loving Christ nor one another when it KNOWINGLY harbors child rapists. I had hopes with Pope Francis…so many things I like that he has done. But, the one thing I thought he MUST do…remove those bishops and cardinals who still serve despite being shown to have had knowledge of abusive priests. He knows who they are…just as Benedict and John Paul 2 did. The legionaries of Chist, Marcel Marciel, Cardinal Dolan( who put 50 million in a cemetery fund in Milwaukee so it could not be used to compensate abuse victims….the diocese then whet bankrupt and survivors got ZERO…sooooooo WRONG!). The more I read, the more I am confident in my decision. The Catholic Church is not a place I can remain and call myself a follower of Christ…I am confident that when I meet my Savior hHe will embrace me as His faithful servant. Peace.

      February 21, 2016
      • Petey #

        No individual other than Jesus Christ is “the church”. We individuals are part of The Body of Christ, and that goes for every priest, bishop, and pope who has ever been baptized into The Church. They are all broken, and that’s the whole reason Christ became human in the first place.

        There have been corrupt popes in the past. Popes with mistresses, popes who killed and tortured, and even popes who sold the Papacy. But, despite these human beings being human, The Church has endured, and modern-day saints like Mother Teresa continue to be formed and inspired by Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church.

        Your faith must not have been that significant, that a few worse apples (abusers) among the bad apples (all of us) have turned you away from the beauty of The Eucharist, from the Communion of Saints, from the Church that Jesus Christ himself founded. The same church that He emphatically promised that the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against.

        I pray that you find a kind of faith that is not swayed by the brokenness of humanity, but that allows you to stay the course, with your eyes on the perfection of Christ.

        February 29, 2016
  3. Mary #

    I remember my grandmother , who was a devout Catholic reminding us that a priest is a man first! While I have many disagreements with the path of the Catholic “Church”I still have a deep faith in our Lord. thankfully Pope Francis has given me hope that the Catholic Church will be more inclusive, forgiving, and giving and helping those who need help.

    February 21, 2016
  4. Kathleen Albert #

    Sorry, Mary, but your answer reminds me of the lady I knew who was celebrating her 50th anniversary married to a man who had abused her for 50 years. “Where else can I go?” She was proud to have stuck it out for 50 years! Please, your faith is in Christ, not in an organization. The church has many nice qualities, and also some not so nice. But your faith remains in Christ. If you prefer to continue your business association, well ok. But don’t confuse the two.
    Ps, I like your blog, and don’t mean this as a slam toward you or your faith.

    February 21, 2016
  5. Carrie #

    Kathleen,
    Would you abandon of the institution of marriage because sometimes there are bad ones, abusive ones? So it goes with the Church. Can you throw aside the Catholic Church, started by Christ himself, because of some of the actions, albeit terrible, of man?

    February 23, 2016
    • Kathleen Albert #

      Far from abandoning the institution, just find a better relationship. One which is not abusive. People who stay in the Church think it will change. It has not. “Christ is the Way”, not the Catholic Church. Again, don’t confuse the two.

      February 26, 2016
  6. Maria-Brenda #

    Dear Mary, as an older sister (I am 56) I feel your pain. I am here because I stumbled on an older article of yours, Losing My Religion. My parents were a Catholic couple who did walk out of the church in 1969. They didnt tell their children why. Its taken me a lifetime of searching for Jesus, but I found Him in the Catholic church. The church is a stranger to me and I to it. Its not what I remember, what I was taught. Its all different now.

    In your previous article, mentioned above. You spoke of a revolution. My husband is a convert to Catholicism, albeit an Eastern Catholic branch. I, as a child taken away from the church and protected in a time of madness (1969-2014) I was reconciled within this Eastern lifeboat. But I am very much a Latin Catholic. I went to a Latin Solemn High Mass and heaven was opened for me there. Join the revolution, take a step into an FSSP parish or the local diocese’s Latin Mass. Revive your spirit, find your religion.

    February 24, 2016
  7. This is a very interesting article Mary. I think a lot of people have this kind of trouble with the Church, or any religion in general. While I remain a Christian, I try to stay away from letting it create conflict (which it very easily can). Being religious without spirituality misses the whole point I think. When we are spiritual, Jesus’ words speak to us profoundly. Thanks for your insight!

    March 4, 2016

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