By Ryan Bao
Anything that you would find in any standard college student, you will find in me: I am a brother, son, intern, employee, friend, colleague, and so on. At the center of it, though, I am Catholic.
I was baptized as a baby, went to Mass pretty much every Sunday of my life, and received all the sacraments all the way up until Confirmation. Throughout middle school and high school, I was very active in youth group. I spent so much time at my church that it was as if I lived there.
Looking back, being involved in the Church was more than just a lifestyle — it has given me life-long relationships, opportunities for learning and a career, and a place of belonging. That sense of belonging and forgiveness is something that I will be attached to for life. I strongly believe that I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the Church — I wouldn’t be fully living to my best, which is what the faith has pushed me to do.
I’ve always owned my faith as something I was responsible for forming. I always try to improve and nurture it in every way. In a practical sense, I try to love all people I encounter, whether that means holding the door as people walk through or sitting down to have a one-on-one with someone in need. These activities are not only rewarding in my faith life but also on a purely human level.
By Megan Toal
About three years ago — my third year into a very Catholic college — my mom and dad were divorced. While I was going to weekly Mass, singing in the choir, and surrounded by a strong Catholic community, my mom pretty much stopped going to church. I guess you can call her a “Creaster” — she goes to Mass for Christmas and Easter, and that’s about it.
One morning, when I was home for Christmas, I asked my mom if she’s ever thought about just dropping Catholicism and moving on to a different church, or if maybe she wants to drop religion altogether. She looked up from her newspaper, chuckling. “Meg, I’ve always been Catholic. I was born into it. It’s like . . .” she set her coffee down, thinking. “It’s like being Minnesotan — I have identified with it my entire life. Even if I were to ever move away — which I really don’t think I will do — I’d still be Minnesotan. Besides,” she said, turning back to her newspaper and taking a sip of coffee, “I don’t really want to live anywhere else.”
I completely get what she means about being a cradle Minnesotan. I’ve lived in five different places, excluding my college town, and three of them are major cities — two are even overseas. I have loved all of these different places for very different reasons. And I have belonged to them in many different ways, but not in the way that I am a Minnesotan at heart.
In Washington, I never was a Seattleite because I was a “transplant” (a fair name, given that so many people have moved there in the past decade). Even overseas, when people easily guessed I was American and asked me which part I’m from (sorry not sorry, I’m not from Manhattan), I proudly said, “From Minnesota!” with a heavily ingrained sense of home even from afar. I’m proud of my beautiful and extreme home climate, of my northern kinsmen and our strange stereotypes and quirks, our resilience, our kindness. I was born to and bred by the land, the people, and the way we live together.
I currently live in Chicago and I am still a Minnesotan, and I always will be — it’s what feels familiar and right. It’s what I’ve always known, and it’s where I can always go home.
I mean, I can always go home to Catholicism.
In every city where I’ve resided, there’s always been a church where I know exactly what is going on, why people are there, and what’s important — even if I don’t speak the language. There’s familiarity in the actions, the songs, the prayers, and the mysteries. Whether I’ve gone to Mass every single week or after a long time, I can still find that sense of recognition, peace, togetherness, and community.
Do I want to live anywhere else?
By Rick Becker
A couple Sundays back, my wife and I snuck away to late-afternoon Mass at St. Patrick’s downtown. It’s a motley collective, that Mass congregation, all kinds of folks from all walks of life converging — some are parishioners, but most are outsiders from other parishes or none. There are rich and poor, professors and plumbers, all manner of ethnicities and primary languages, as well as varied attention spans — edge-of-their-seaters mixed in with homily-nodders (like me). Singles and young marrieds, elderly couples and boisterous families overflowing their pews.
What’s it all about?
It’s about family, really — the best kind of family. The kind of family that makes room for you as you are, but pushes you forward, nags you, upbraids you even, to become more — in this case, to become who God beckons you to be, intends you to be. And you can nag back, and argue and fight, and make up, say you’re sorry, and then fight all over again — and you can still come home.
It’s like a weekly Thanksgiving or Christmas with your brothers and sisters, mum and dad, uncles and cousins, grandmas and grandpas, and that guy from down the block who has nowhere else to go. It’s family and everyone belongs, and we put up with other’s tics and idiosyncrasies — like the way Sam clears his throat, or Louise bickering with Bill, or that brother-in-law who can’t help quoting from “Elf” and “Die Hard II” — and everyone puts up with yours.
The door is always open, and home is everywhere. Go to any city, and you’ll find a Catholic church that’s open at odd hours, or a hospital chapel, or a convent, and you can just go in and sit and be quiet and rest. Is there a Presence? There’s something there, Someone, and I felt it from early on. It’s surely one of the primary factors that made me curious about Catholicism: What is it there in church? Why do people go and sit in silence there? Why did I want to return? Is it really God up there? Why can’t I forget about that Presence?
Plus, there is the heterogeneity, the glorious mix of spiritual stumblebums gathering for sustenance to carry on. It impressed me most the first time I went to Mass at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. To my left, a coiffed, minked Brahmin; to my right, a barely conscious down-and-outer; and me, in the middle, an angsty outsider searching for answers, yet welcome. That’s when I first decided I wanted to be part of that family, to share their name, to sup with them, to try to become more like them and their heroes — all those holy ancestors, men and women and children, their images and icons and statues around the liturgical living room. Who were they, anyway?
I became a Catholic because I was convinced it was true. The whole flailing, disastrous mess — all true, all somehow in accord with what is, and, despite itself, ably engaged in bringing our distorted grasp of things in line with that reality. You can’t make this stuff up. Who could concoct such a ridiculous idea, this shabby assortment of sinners bent on becoming saints? Who’d dare assert that they’re somehow a corporate expression of God Himself, a loose-knit assemblage of faulty cells that amount to an incarnate global Person?
At St. Patrick’s, I glanced around at our ungainly gathering, and smiled. I leaned over and whispered to Nancy, “I’m so glad I’m Catholic.” She smiled back. We were home and we belonged. It’s good to be home.