By Molly Cruitt
I’m Catholic because everything makes more sense to me from inside this faith community. My faith is the lens through which I see the rest of my life, and the only way I’ve found to be able to understand this world.
Everything that happens here — everything that happens to me, my family, and my friends — is given real meaning through the lens of my Catholic tradition. When my loved ones and I suffer, the cross and Christ’s suffering give that pain meaning. I know that the pain we sometimes feel isn’t in vain, but allows us to participate more fully in the suffering and death of Christ, which leads to something new. My Catholicism also reminds me that I’m not alone in suffering, in trials, and in pain — that even our God bore the wounds of humanity.
In the same sense, my joys and my celebrations are made brighter and deeper when viewed through the lens of my Catholic faith. I recognize that I’m not living just for me, but as part of a greater community of humanity and a communion of saints — saints whose examples guide me through my life and provide me with direction, whether I’m overjoyed or lost. As a Catholic, I’m a part of a community who, throughout the world, in different languages, utter the same prayers week in and week out, which deeply connects me to the earth, to God, to myself.
Because of my faith, I’m never alone, and my life is given meaning.
By Abby Braun
My list of reasons to leave the Church is longer (and more rational) than my list of reasons to stay. So why do I still find myself in the pew of a Catholic Church most Sundays? Why are my husband and I raising our daughters in a faith that I cannot bring myself to fully profess right now?
With the unfolding of the latest sexual abuse scandal, the internet is full of people wrestling with the question of what to do with their Catholic identity. I cannot promise to offer anything uniquely profound here and certainly will not attempt to convince anyone of anything. I can only offer my own fumbling and ever-evolving answers, which are inevitably marked by my personal history and rooted in my life experiences.
So, here goes.
The Catholic Church was the spiritual home of my parents and thus the Church in which I was baptized and raised. It was the place of my original encounter with God. To borrow an image from Barbara Brown Taylor, Catholic Christianity is my “mother tongue,” the first religious language I learned to speak.
Initially, I spoke it because it is what my parents taught me. As I grew older, I continued to speak it because I fell in love with the language and claimed it as my own.
The Catholic sacraments, especially the Eucharist, have given meaning and beauty to the most defining moments of life to this point: my dad’s sickness and death from cancer, my struggle with anxiety and depression, my marriage, the birth of my children. It is imperfect, and I have always wrestled with pieces of it, but Catholicism has helped me discover and celebrate what feels true at the core of my being: that the world is full of the goodness of God, that out of death comes life, that Jesus blesses our brokenness and calls us to share it with others as a way of bringing light into the world.
Lately, though, even these things I have loved most about my mother tongue haven’t been enough to explain why I ought to stay Catholic. I have been asking myself why I keep showing up at Mass, week after week, and the answer I come back to every time is the people. Messy, beautiful, generous, complicated, faithful people.
In my parish and in other Catholic communities I belong to, I encounter people — of all different ages, races, political parties, abilities, economic status, and so on — who challenge and inspire me to be more kind, more just, more peaceful, more human. People who love my family and me, imperfections and all. People who offer companionship and who remind me that I am not alone.
In the words of Dorothy Day, one of my favorite Catholics: “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know God in the breaking of the bread, and we know each other in the breaking of the bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.”
I fully believe it is possible to know God and to find this companionship outside of my own mother tongue. For now, though, as far as I can discern, the Spirit isn’t calling me to be anywhere other than right here, speaking this language and breaking bread with these people.
Back then, the words we recited at Mass were: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. But only say the word and I shall be healed.”
For my 10-year-old brain, these words begged the logical question: “What’s ‘the word’?” I had no idea at the time why I needed healing, but I nevertheless figured it was a good thing, something worth shooting for. And, like in the Nancy Drew mystery novels I read as a young girl, I needed the code word to open the door to this magical healing.
Despite my pious fear of disturbing the parishioners around me, my curiosity got the better of me one particular Sunday, and so I whispered my burning question to my mother, who was kneeling at my side. “Mom, what’s ‘the word’?” She looked at me, paused, and answered astutely, simply, “Jesus.” With that, she returned to her prayerful state, preparing herself to receive this very Jesus, this “word.”
As for me, I was instantaneously dumbfounded. How could Jesus be “the word?”
“Abracadabra” seemed a more fitting code word. Nevertheless, I figured I’d test it out. Still kneeling in the pew, I scratched my leg, hard, and proceeded to utter “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus” under my breath, fully expecting the white scratch marks to miraculously disappear. They didn’t.
Mom was the smartest person I knew, so I figured I did something wrong with how I said “the word.” Little did I know at the time that I needed a different kind of healing, as well as a different experience of Jesus.
Twenty-some years later, my awareness of my need for healing has grown. At times it has been my deflated self-image; at times my condemnation of those who are different from me; at times my broken or lonely heart. Regardless of the specific need, I now believe that Jesus is not just “the word” but “the Word” — “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). In other words (no pun intended) Jesus is the eternal God, the One that John describes elsewhere as “the way, the truth, and the life.”
That day, and almost every day since, my mother has gone forward from her spot on the kneeler to receive the Eucharist, perhaps the most defining element of Catholicism. For her, Jesus is present most profoundly, most real-ly in this sacrament that becomes the body of Christ — in literal, fleshy reality. She is Catholic because of the Eucharist, the “Real Presence” of God on earth, which has healed and continues to heal her each day.
I am Catholic, too, because of the Eucharist, though in another sense. Catholicism’s Eucharistic theology teaches that we become what we eat; we receive the Body of Christ and, in turn, we literally become Christ’s Body to one another. My self-image, my judgmentalism, my loneliness — all these things (and much, much more) have not been miraculously fixed by my recitation of the word “Jesus,” or even by my reception of the Eucharist, as if Jesus were a code word or magic pill that erases scratches. No, my brokenness has not been fixed but rather healed, over time, through the love of God made manifest in the Body of Christ — in the community that literally becomes Jesus to one another.
My college teammate, Shelly, helped me to see myself more positively, regardless of whether or not our coach put us in the basketball game on a given night. A young woman with a developmental disability, Laurel, taught me that it’s okay to be different, and that there is no pecking-order in God’s community. My husband, Patrick, has loved me not in spite of, but through my brokenness, thus easing the isolation and loneliness that I felt captive to before our marriage. Shelly, Laurel, Patrick — I could document hundreds of people (friends and strangers alike) — all of them are Jesus, the “Real Presence” of God on earth to me. And perhaps even more amazingly, I have gotten to be Jesus to them in return.
This transformation — not simply of bread into Christ’s body, but of you and me into Christ’s Body — is, in my eyes, the paramount miracle of the Eucharist. This is the mutual exchange of love that allows Jesus to take on flesh each and every day in our world. And, ultimately, this is where I have experienced “the Word,” the healing that, as a 10-year-old girl, I did not even know I needed.
My mom gave me the correct code word; I did not need to utter it but, rather, to eat it and then, in turn, to become it.
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. But only say the word, and I shall be healed.” Indeed, may we be the Word to one another, and in doing so, allow God to heal the world.