In Your Midst

Why I Am a Catholic

Sept. 2009

Cathedral parishioners reflect on what keeps them Catholic

Every once in a while someone will ask me what it’s been like to be a priest in these rather turbulent post-Vatican II years that have defined my years of ministry. Almost always, I find myself telling them how awesome it is to be able to minister to people in the name of Jesus, and how humbling it is when people invite me to be with them at the pivotal moments of their lives:  moments of birth and death, moments of growth and pain and heartache, moments overflowing with love and joy.

And, then, when time and honesty permit, I share with them some of the frustrations that come from my own human limitations as well as the frustrations that I sometimes feel ministering in a church that never seems to move quite as quickly, or to act quite as wisely or courageously as I think it should:  a church that preaches social justice very well but doesn’t always live it; a church that champions equality for everyone but still plays favorites; a church that calls us all to holiness but doesn’t always act so holy as it does so.
But then I remember that the church is made up of folks like me, and I’m not quite so surprised to find it wanting in justice and wisdom and courage. I say that not out of false humility or complacency but only because it’s true. It’s not a perfect church, but it’s a good church. Andrew Greeley wrote some years ago: “If you can find a perfect church, by all means join it—but you must realize that in the very moment you did, it just ceased to be a perfect church...!”

In the following essays, some Cathedral parishioners attempt to answer the question, “Why am I a Catholic?”  They share their stories of faith.  Some share their struggles with faith and with the Church as a very holy—but very human institution. Together, these meditations offer a moving portrait of our “perfectly imperfect” church—the Church we love.

Father Michael G. Ryan

First and foremost, I am Roman Catholic because it is my roots; I was born to Sicilian-American parents who baptized me and raised me Catholic.  A few years back during a time of tragic loss, I felt a strong push to commit wholly to a spiritual practice. I had been away from the Church for close to 20 years.  It felt natural to return to the Church that had been such a strong influence throughout my childhood and adolescence.  I am Catholic because there is always an open door.  I’m extremely thankful for that.

As life’s tragic and joyful experiences mount, it has been good for me to be part of this massive faith community. Unlike Wall Street, the Catholic Church has stood her ground for thousands of years.  I am Catholic because I believe being Catholic is living in solidarity and knowing in mind, body, and spirit that diversity is essential for growth and sustainability. I think of this when sharing the sacred meal of Eucharist with billions of people each week. I am also Catholic because of how tradition and sacred scripture are honored each and every day, and I know my prayers are shared and integrated with the prayers of so many others.  I find solace and peace in being Catholic because I know there is power in our collective prayer and worship.

But most importantly, I am Catholic because the time, talents, and treasure of our local and global community combat poverty and overcome social injustice internationally.  Our broken world needs collective love, prayers, attention and advocacy and I know I cannot solve the world’s problems alone.

I am Catholic because I know the Church will never abandon me or lead me astray, and because I know I cannot walk life’s path alone.  Being part of this amazing global body of believers is a glorious blessing to me.

I am Catholic because it is who I am and it is who God wants me to be.

Elizabeth Falzone

Answering this question is rather like trying to explain why you are in love.  I love the Church because she is beautiful.

A couple years ago, on a hot June Sunday, a couple of non-Catholic friends of mine came with me to the 5:30pm Mass: that’s the Mass with the beautiful singing of the Women’s Schola—exquisite refreshment on a hot early summer afternoon.  The day also happened to be the annual Pride parade festival—so Capitol Hill was staggering into a wearied post-party exhaustion.  My two good friends were not only not Catholic but also rather ideologically anti-Christian—Christians and Catholics having appeared to them as hateful, mean, ugly people, the people who spoil the party.

The feast must have been Corpus Christi or Sts Peter and Paul or even St. John the Baptist—the traditional Midsummer Night.  And the grace and magic of a Midsummer Night’s Dream seemed to bedew us.  I remember distinctly three sprinkles of beautiful grace that afternoon.

One:  as the server came down the altar steps with the thurible and incense, one of my friends—the more anti-Christian of the pair—said to me, “Wow!  I didn’t know Catholics thought human beings were so beautiful that they were worth incensing and bowing to!”  Second:  during Communion—we sat in the front pew and watched the people line up and walk by—old women, couples, grown-up men, children, all races, obviously rich people, obviously poor, intellectuals, musicians, families, straights, gays and lesbians, couples, students, sick people, wide-eyed visitors, rather typical Capitol Hill denizens, the whole panoply of humankind.  My friend turned to me and said, “Well, there’s more diversity here than there was in the Parade this morning!”  Third, when it was all over, as the organ blazed away and the people—the people—went forth in joy after listening to the Word and sharing in the sacrificial meal of the Eucharist and thus continuing to become the pilgrimage of the parade of the saints, when it was over and thus just beginning, my friend said to me, “That was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on earth!”

On that day, God sprinkled the dew of His Beauty on us.  And the triple Grace multiplied all the more as my friends learned that the community of St. James not only had such beautiful liturgies but also fed hundreds of poor and homeless people in our parish kitchen every afternoon.

That’s why I am in the Catholic Church.  Because she is beautiful, like that.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, wrote: "The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendour of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church's human history."

And at St James, on that day, and every day, the Church is beautiful--in incensing and bowing to the beautiful dignity of human persons, in celebrating the beautiful diversity of humankind together in the parade of communion with God and with each other, in the practice of real love and real justice, on the level of the street, as God's blessing sends us forth, to love God and to love our neighbor.

Perry Lorenzo

My roots in the Catholic faith began with my family, which was already firmly planted in the Church. I was raised in this environment; through the years I was taught how to have faith and how to pray by my loving mother. But as I got older, something felt amiss within me. I will admit; there were a few interims of time in my life when I felt like those lessons of faith had no importance to me.  I felt as though going to church every Sunday was just a mundane routine. It was at moments like these that my hope started to dwindle and those roots planted at my birth began to wither away.  I hit an extreme low in my life.  I was miserable, and I did not know where to turn; it was like being locked in a dark room with no chance of escape.

But, strangely enough, after being in the darkness for quite a while, I had a revelation. Words cannot express the phenomenon that I experienced, but I had noticed shortly afterward that I felt much closer to God. Not to be cliché or anything, but one could say that I had seen the light. And astonishingly, I felt happier. My faith in God grew even stronger than before, and I was surging with self-confidence and hope. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I felt reborn; this time, I knew my roots would never wilt away.

To this day, I still do not understand the epiphany that I had. But I have one explanation, and it is my reason for being a Catholic today: no matter what, God is always there for you, and will guide you toward the right path should you ever get lost.

Kassey Castro, age 16

I remember a few years ago a priest friend asked me—over pizza—how did I stay in the Church?  I admit he had heard me rant more than once about issues and responses from institutional church leadership.  My friend had just returned from a men’s retreat in the New Mexico desert so I don’t know if he was asking me as an assignment from the retreat or out of his own curiosity, but what I do remember is how I struggled to answer his question.
And now I am faced with answering this question again.

At Mass on the Feast of St. James this year, the first two readings really spoke to me as I contemplated what keeps me rooted in my Catholic faith.  The first reading from Isaiah spoke about the Spirit of God being upon “me” and the second reading reminded us that we are all earthen vessels.  These readings gave me hope.  I know I am an earthen vessel—cracked, broken, patched.  I also know I have been graced to experience the Spirit of God within.

My rational brain would not allow me to stay in this very human work of God, this Church as we know it; but the gift of faith, of being called and formed by God and experiencing the fullness and richness of the Catholic community keep me rooted as a Catholic.

I would describe my spiritual life, my relationship to God as both personal and communal.  My personal prayer is formed, informed, impacted, made deeper and fuller by sharing prayer and Eucharist, by challenging homilies, by inspired spirit-filled leadership, by friendships with those who journey and pray with me, by our call to take these prayer experiences to the larger community and through outreach ministry and my daily work.

In my volunteer ministry at St. James and in my daily work, I have often found community, prayer and Eucharist.  We often don’t name it in this way but on reflection I know I can see it and feel it and this is what I believe God wants us to be about.

I personally need the support of the people of God, the Communion of Saints, the Servant Church, the sacramental life and our Catholic imagination.  These all call me to prayer and keep me rooted.

And besides all this the fact is that for me I can’t imagine any other way to live than as a searching, patched, very human Catholic.

So, what keeps you rooted as a Catholic?  Try answering the question… for me this has been a positive and reflective experience…  and has forced me to pause and identify why I stay.

Betsy Mickel

Why am I a Catholic?

There should be no such question, for the answer is right before all our eyes. All we need to do is open them and let in the light. The light of Christ: The love of Christ.

Why would I want any other God, when the One True God had boundless love, so much so that he would forgive us anything?

To quote St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “No one can make me frightened anymore, because I know what to believe about His mercy and His love; I know that, in the twinkling of an eye, all of our thousands of sins would be consumed as a drop of water cast into a blazing fire.”

I ask again: which other God would I want when I can have the one who would forgive ANYTHING?  And I ask you, which other church has Christ present to them at EVERY SINGLE MASS? Which other church has Christ present, so that we may consume him, and have Him present within us, and have Him there to invigorate us, and keep us going?!

There are so many more uncountable reasons why I am a Catholic.  We know that there will be no paradise on earth; in the end, that it will be even better. It will be HEAVEN, where God Himself dwells. God’s arms are open to everyone.

All this can bring comfort, that our God has such a compassionate heart, that he gives us the best, and only the best. That he welcomes anyone and everyone to join him in the eternal feast.

That is why I am Catholic.

Violet Bruno, age 13

Why I am a Catholic?  To begin with, my parents were Catholic.  I was baptized, received First Communion, and was confirmed in Seattle.  Though I did not attend Catholic schools after second grade, our family always attended Catholic churches.

When I decided on who I was going to marry, he was Congregational, so we were married in the Congregational Church.  I attended church there, and all of my children were baptized and confirmed in the Congregational Church in Aurora, Illinois.

When I moved back to Seattle, after living twenty-six years in Aurora, I found that my life had changed from being a housewife and mother.  I was now a working single woman with grown-up children.  I realized I had options to decide for myself what my religion and spiritual life would be from now on.

One day I was near Seattle University having my car looked after.  I had heard about the new St. Ignatius Chapel, so since I had some time, I went over to sit for a while in the Chapel.  After seeing it, I began to go to Sunday Mass there.  But I had also heard about Great Music for Great Cathedrals.  I attended one performance and that decided me on trying out Mass at the Cathedral, and I kept going there.  When I saw a card that talked about “Welcome Back,” I signed up, and after that I never looked back.  I realized that not only did I want to be, but I needed to be, a member of this Church to continue my spiritual journey.

And finally, I heard about the Cathedral Kitchen, and after five or six years volunteering there, I have learned what a blessed life I have lived.  How grateful I am for becoming part of the community of servers as well as the community of people that are served there.

Why am I Catholic?  The beauty of the Cathedral, everywhere you look is something special; the feeling of taking communion with so many others; Father Ryan and all the staff who make the Mass so meaningful and us so welcome; the unbelievable beauty of the choir’s voices singing the liturgy, hymns, psalms; the organs; the Kitchen, where you become the servant of a great community; the RCIA, because you learn the depth of the Mass, and the call of Christ.

It makes for a great life—and I feel fortunate that I am living it.

Mary Denney

Up until a couple of years ago, I kept my spirituality largely to myself.  Intuitively more than anything I sensed the loving and guiding presence of God in my heart, almost tangible in the deserts of Jordan, dim churches in Jerusalem, a small convent in Germany, hidden away in the woods. And yet before I came to St. James I had never experienced a community where Jesus’ legacy was so alive, his loving compassion for the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the lost, those who had made poor choices in their lives, those marginalized by society.

At St. James it seemed that the essence of our faith was so real, so put in practice, so many hands reaching out, our responsibility carried by so many shoulders. The people I have met here are exceptional, where they have come from, what they have experienced and endured, how their faith saved them, how it gave them new life. I feel honored to be their friend and share with them the realization that it is the tough times which shape us, that the acceptance of one’s woundedness, one’s vulnerability is the beginning of giving hope to others, of being radiant testimony to God’s grace.

Coming to St. James, celebrating Mass in all its solemnity, all its splendor has helped me through some tough times, has allowed me to forgive those who hurt me, forgive myself for my failings, to continuously grow as a person. This is my church, this is where I find peace and healing.

Julia L. Richardt

Why I am a Catholic?

Because I believe it’s all true.

C. S. Lewis said that was really the only reason for being a Christian, and the supposed benefits—fellowship, comfort, beauty, peace, even the prospect of salvation—were all by the way, and secondary to the question of whether the events described in the Gospels really happened.   When, through many twists and turns, and futile efforts to avoid it, I came to believe all that, then there was nothing else but to become a Catholic.  And it’s still true, so I stay.  When the novelist Walker Percy became a Catholic late in life, his friends wondered why he would do such an odd thing.  He told them, “What else is there?”  Just so.

Aquinas wrote that “believing is an act of the intellect, assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.”   True, and for me a long process that took up practically all of my life, and moved contrariwise to the way St. Thomas expressed it.   The intellect is a tricky creature, and can generate infinite arguments against a movement as weighty as conversion.  Here I was influenced by Simone Weil, one of my chief spiritual guides, who, while pursuing the life of a saint, never joined the church.   But she did write something that stuck in my mind like a burr:  that we are called to a pure love of God, and that this consists in being equally thankful for our afflictions as we are for our blessings.   And I thought, that’s the answer, if you could do that, if your intellect and will could do that, then that would be the end of all arguments.  You wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore, of anything.

As it turned out, however, you can’t get there from here; at least, not alone.  You have to be moved by God through grace, which I didn’t really understand, and so I sort of hung uncomfortably on the fringes of the religion until, at a particular place and time, I was treated to an unusually spectacular outpouring of grace, and was converted.  I had thought it was something you figured out, or accepted, like a proposition in philosophy, but I discovered it was a lot more like falling in love.  I think it would be impossibly difficult to fall out of it now, not being at all the same person I was.

Michael Gruber

When first asked to write this, I had assumed it would all be so easy to put into words. On the contrary, upon beginning this short, and supposedly easy endeavor I found that it was not what I had expected at all. I found myself searching for words that could explain what drew me to being a part of this wonderful faith, to being Catholic, only to realize I could not.

And then, after failing numerous times in my attempt to write about my reason for faith, it hit me. The one word which could sum up everything that I had struggled to say.  The funny thing was: it wasn’t even a word, but a name. With this one seemingly simple yet so very complex name, I could put all of those jumbled thoughts into words. God!  With this perfect word everything fell into place.  He is all the reasons for me being Catholic.  Some believe in a coincidence or a twist of fate, I believe in an act of God. When my brother and I joined RCIA, he was there, guiding us.  When I was baptized in the font three years ago, he was there.  When I decided to join the choir and learn how to use my musical gift, I know he was with me. And even when I made the choice to become a reader at Mass—no matter how afraid I was of faltering—he was there to hold me up, and give me a voice.  It is undeniable that he has been with me the whole process of my faith journey and I know he will continue to be the rest of my life.  

I had always heard that God was in every single person, but for a child you can imagine that that might be a little difficult to grasp. I had always tried to find the light in each human being, knowing that God was there somewhere. But since having been adopted into the parish of St James Cathedral, I have come to see the little bits of God that reside in everyone.

Megan L. Leland, age 14

I am Catholic because I was born into a family that deeply believed in the existence of God and the Holy Trinity.  These foundational beliefs were passed to me in the normal cycle of family example and history.

With this behind me, I was enrolled in Catholic grade school where the Dominican nuns filled in the blanks and gave me a solid framework of belief.  I then passed on to a Jesuit High School where the Priests and Scholastics demanded attention to scholarship and reasoning that moved me from a family believer to a personal accepter of my religious beliefs.

Several years ago I decided to move back to Seattle from Edmonds after spending many Sundays on the highway to hear the great music and solid homilies found at St. James Cathedral, together with a beautiful liturgy that provided me with the rubrics I learned as a youth and understood as an adult.

The beauty of the Mass is what pays tribute to the everlasting God I believe in.  The Mass presents us with a recitation of our foundational creed, a homily that provides sound religious and human reasons to consider how we may use our time in the following days to ensure we keep in touch with God and maintain our commitment to his teaching as well as we can.

From my perspective the Sunday sermon is a great source of grace.  Not every priest is a great homilist, but I believe Father Ryan is an especially gifted speaker who adds perspective to every complex matter we must address.  He does it with relevant comparisons or clarifying insights we can understand.  It is the provocative nature of these homilies that provides the basis for reflection or discussion among our families and friend of the matters raised and how we can address them in thoughtful living.

So I see the Catholic religion as a rational means to respond to God.  The Church provides us with a linkage to God.

Joe McGavick

When people find out I’m Catholic, and that I chose to convert, they usually look shocked and even a bit fearful for a moment. I can see them do a quick face scan and I see the gears working behind their eyes. They’re judging me, trying to figure out whether I’m a “religious nut” or deeply conservative or maybe just plain nutty. Why on earth would I convert to a traditional religion when I’m so obviously a liberal, urban person? Strangely enough I rarely get asked why I did it. When they do ask, my quick answer is “it gave me hope when I had none.” But even that is hard to understand and doesn’t address the “why Catholicism” part. As a friend said, “I get the Jesus part, but why does it have to be with the Catholics?”

The real answer is more complex and personal and hard to put into written words, but I’ll try. Most importantly, it wasn’t a choice, it happened TO me. I could point to different aspects of the Catholic faith that I love, but those are just details. The real story is that it was within a Catholic context that I could finally see, that I gained faith, and my life was profoundly changed, from the inside out. It happened slowly over my lifetime, of course, as many conversions do, but it coalesced at a particular moment:  I stepped into Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal as a tourist and left a Catholic. The walls of a side chapel are covered in the crutches and canes of pilgrims who came to heal. André Bessette, the saintly healer who built the basilica, has been beatified. The basilica is huge, half of it ornate and the other half stunningly modern. From the outside a skeptic looks at a church like this and cries “misuse of money,” and sneers at the “superstitious” pilgrims crawling up the steps. But these are not gimmicks or clichés or the doings of crazy people. These are the physical manifestations of faith and belief to me. They moved my very soul at a time when I had lost my way and turned a lifetime of negativity, cynicism, and disconnect into hope. And that hope renewed my life. What more could anyone want or need?

Elise Gruber

Why we are Catholic?  Just to list three main reasons for our family:  First, I would say because we believe in The Holy Trinity and the seven sacraments.

Second, we accept and adopt the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Third, we’re proud to be part of this Catholic Community.

And “Why are we still Catholic?”

I must say that St James Cathedral is and always has been a main cause for our family.

It’s such a blessing to see the whole family together joining at Mass to pray, to celebrate and to participate every Sunday.

Finally, we need our Catholic faith to maintain our sanity and our health so we can stay on the way of heavenly God.

Chi Nguyen & Family

The main reason I’m Catholic is because of the exceptional opportunity that  God offers me and my family in the wonderful community at St. James Cathedral.  I can remember when I was younger, even before we decided to get baptized, I always felt very attached to the church. I have many memories of going to church every now and again (not anywhere close to how much we go now), of resting in the pews on many Christmas Eve Masses when I was younger, going to the children’s dismissal in the chapel. Then three years ago I joined the RCIA adapted for Kids program and later was baptized and that was really a very big thing for me.

Shortly after my baptism I started faith formation and began altar serving. Now I know a lot of people at the Cathedral. I feel very comfortable in the church like it’s my second home. Whenever we go to Mass I feel so much love and nothing can tear that away from me. I know many people there, so now when I talk about my family I include my faith family. I also meet people when I go to faith formation and try to help out in other things when I can. The founding reason I’m Catholic is because of my friends, God’s love, my family and my faith family, which I believe to be a special thing.

Greg Leland, age 12

I wasn’t always Catholic… well, maybe I was… but didn’t know it until I started to really see the world around me.  For that is where God is for me as a Catholic—in the color of the sunflowers in my garden, in the voice of my aging father, in the aroma from the kitchen when my oldest daughter is making one of my mother’s ancient recipes, in the artistry of my youngest daughter’s cultural dance, in my grandson’s gentle touch, in the sweet twilight silences of summertime in the country, in the ethereal music of the Duruflé Requiem.  If we do not see God in these common and uncommon places, we will not see God at all.

The mystery of Jesus is that he is divine and human.  I must say that my Catholic sensibility draws me first to the human, then… and only then… to the divine.  I delight in telling my friends that for me being Catholic means that God exists not just in my heart and mind, but also in my gut and in my sweaty hands.  I love the poem by Hilaire Belloc:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

We surely intuit the divine when caring for the most vulnerable in our midst.  But do we not also do so with every experience of joy or pain, or with every act of integrity?  Or simply while sharing a meal with friends?
For we cannot escape the flesh.  Even in creating the bread and wine for the Eucharist, though God is the source of its life, it is our soiled hands which tend the grain and the grapes, and we make the bread and the wine with ingenuity and time and sweat.  We cannot escape the flesh.

But, of course, the last word is Love.  The new commandment is that we love our neighbors, our parents, our children, our friends, and yes, our adversaries and those who have hurt us deeply.  And we love them with no expectation of gain.  Another intensely human thing… or is it divine?  Well, for sure, it’s Catholic.

Glenn Lux

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