I mean, I could make it very easy if I wanted to. We’ve all slacked off when we know we’re not supposed to, and I’d be lying if I said I never got distracted during Mass or wondered why the person across the church from me keeps handing their screaming toddler Goldfish crackers, the loudest and messiest of Mass snacks.
Despite all of that — despite the getting distracted and not remembering all the books in the Bible and whatever else I’m supposed to know — being Catholic means it’s okay to not be perfect. Can you imagine what it would be like to be part of something perfect? It’d be exhausting trying to keep up.
What I love about being Catholic is that, despite my sins and failings and short attention span, the Church isn’t going to leave me behind. Is the physical Catholic Church here on earth perfect? Definitely not. It’s a human institution, taking on the weight and challenges of its members, learning and growing and striving toward heaven. We have a lot in common, me and the Catholic Church.
What’s incredible — mind-boggling, when I really think of it — is that no matter the earthly imperfections of the institution or of me as a member, Catholicism is not something just of this world. Jesus founded the Church in, what, 33 AD? — and millions of men and women have borne their own crosses to carry that same faith to me today.
Being part of any religion doesn’t mean that you automatically check every box of what you are supposed to be or do or know. There have definitely been struggles and questions while growing up Catholic, but I know that no matter how many times I fail, it’s a learning opportunity. And if I dig into it, I’ve found that the struggles and questions usually strengthen my faith.
At the end of the day, being Catholic means being human, and I wouldn’t trade all the growth I have experienced in the Church for anything.
It seems harmless, but the most irritating question anyone can ask me is, “How was your day?”
Staying at home with four kids, my daily emotions range from “I’m too exhausted to get out of bed” to “My kids are the most wonderful, brilliant people in the world!” to “GET THAT KID’S HANDS OUT OF THAT TOILET AND PUT HIS COAT ON!” The tone of my answer — and sometimes my whole day — swings completely with one toddler kiss or screaming tantrum. (Charming, right? My husband is so lucky.)
So when I walk into Mass, I’m a different person each time I approach the altar. I always feel I need God, but the way I need God is never the same. Luckily, God meets me in the Church in rich and varied ways that seem to recognize my emotion and either heal it or deepen it. The words and art and tradition of my Church are the result of the love of millions of people over hundreds of years. They surround me and embrace me.
Some days I need the beauty of the Church: the smell of incense, the ringing of the bells at the consecration, the glory of the light streaming through the stained glass, the choir chanting, the statues and paintings so lovingly created. Some days I need the readings. Though they are prescribed by the missal, they can feel as though the Holy Spirit has given them just to me on days when I need them most. Some days I need the homily, and the priest speaks on something that has been in my heart or on my mind. Some days I need the tradition: the ashes on the forehead, the blessing of the throats. It connects me to those who have gone before me.
Some days I need the quiet. Some days I need the community. Some days I need the saint whose feast day it is. Some days I need the Eucharist. To be honest, some days when my kids refuse to be confined to a pew and I’m hoisting one on a shoulder and chasing an escapee down the aisle, Mass can seem like a blur. But even then, I often find that a few words or even just a phrase from a prayer or a response or a reading will float around in my brain, providing me with some spiritual nourishment for the day.
And the richness of God through the Catholic Church meets my needs beyond the Mass. Some days I need God the Father: the powerful, protective, Creator. Some days I need God the Son: the humble one, the one who stood with the outcasts, the one who forgives. Some days I need God the Holy Spirit: the giver of gifts and talents, the one who inspires. Some days I need our holy Mother: the comforter, the tender friend, whispering my needs into the ear of her Son. Some days I need the saints, whose words resonate in me, or whose actions inspire me.
St. Augustine said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The daily laughter, tears, and joys of my life make me want to lean on God, and I am Catholic because my faith and my Church provide ways for me to rest in God in a different way each day.