[Inter-religious dialogue] cannot be based on religious indifferentism, and we Christians are in duty bound, while engaging in dialogue, to bear clear witness to the hope that is within us (cf. 1 Pt 3:15). We should not fear that it will be considered an offense to the identity of others what is rather the joyful proclamation of a gift meant for all, and to be offered to all with the greatest respect for the freedom of each one: the gift of the revelation of the God who is Love, the God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). … this cannot be the subject of a dialogue understood as negotiation, as if we considered it a matter of mere opinion: rather, it is a grace which fills us with joy, a message which we have a duty to proclaim. Novo Millennio Ineunte n. 56Most of you who read this blog either know, or have figured out by now, that I am Catholic.
I was baptized Catholic as an infant, a choice made by my parents. I was raised in a Catholic home and attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. Like many Catholics, practices such as attending Mass on Sundays and holy days, praying before meals, and abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent were traditions I grew up with. It was just what one did -- like going to school or brushing one’s teeth twice a day or eating clam chowder on Christmas Eve. I gave it little thought, and it held little meaning for me. Some would say my Catholicism was inherited, like being Polish, French, and German.
In high school I was involved in our parish’s youth group, mostly for the social aspect -- I was a “good” kid and wanted to spend time with other good kids, without the pressures of other peer groups. But in the winter of my junior year, I had a conversion experience. It happened on the group’s annual winter retreat. I was listening to a new boy speak about prayer and about Jesus like I had never heard anyone speak before. I saw or heard or felt something about this young man that made me yearn for what he had that I realized I was missing -- a personal relationship with a living God.
From that time, and for a couple years after, I was involved in an interdenominational charismatic community, a group to which this young man also belonged. I never completely abandoned my Catholic faith, but during this time I was much more concerned about being a Christian than with any one denomination. I still attended Mass weekly -- in fact, I lectored and taught Sunday school and CCD classes and sang in the choir and was president of the youth group. But I didn’t “buy into” everything Catholic. I thought the sacrament of confession was foolish -- why couldn’t I just confess my sins privately to God? I thought the Church’s teaching on contraception was authoritarian -- who were these old Catholic celibate priests to tell me how many children I should have? I thought annulments were just a loophole Catholics had devised to justify divorce. This was a time when I called myself Catholic but made my own decisions regarding what parts of being Catholic I would follow and which ones I would conveniently ignore.
In college I experienced what I now refer to as a “reconversion” to my Catholic faith. In high school I fell in love with my Lord; in college I fell in love with His Church. It happened one evening during my sophomore year. I had already decided on being a theology major and had met a lot of the seminarians on campus because we were in many of the same classes together. Some of these friends had invited me to the community's Thursday evening Mass. I remember feeling like I was at Mass for the first time. I remember hearing the strong male voices singing. I remember watching the devotion of the concelebrating priests -- two in particular, standing next to one another, one very old and one very young. I remember crying during the consecration. I was in love again.
It was at this time that I began to be more deliberate about how I lived my faith. I sought and was blessed with a wonderfully holy and joyful spiritual director. I began spending time adoring Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I began attending Mass as often as I could. I began a more regular prayer life. I began to study my faith and seek answers to the questions of why the Church taught what She did. I declared a second major -- Catholic Studies.
And, finally, I had to concede that I was not the arbiter of truth. I began to trust that a Church with a two thousand plus year history knew a little more than my twenty-year-old self. I discovered the reason I didn’t “buy into” some of the Catholic teachings was because they were hard or made me uncomfortable or I was selfish or I had a false notion of what happiness was and what would make me truly happy. I realized that what bothered me about the sacrament of confession was that it made me uncomfortable to admit my failings (it still does). But I also learned that this is precisely one of the reasons I needed the true graces to be received in the sacrament of confession. I have learned about humility. I realized the reason I thought the Church's teaching on contraception was authoritarian was because I was selfish -- I wanted to enjoy a sexual relationship with my spouse, but I wasn't sure I wanted to have as many children as a relationship without contraception might involve. I learned, however, about the freedom found in the Church's teaching on openness to life. And now, after almost eleven years of marriage, I have experienced profound blessings in my relationship with my husband and in the gifts of each of my children, not despite of, but precisely because of, difficult times of abstaining due to health issues and difficult pregnancies. I have learned to trust. I realized that I had absolutely no knowledge of the Church's teaching on "annulments" -- they're not even properly called that -- Declarations of Invalidity and the process of investigating a prior marriage can be a real opportunity for healing and are necessary for dealing with the reality of unhealthy and incomplete attempted marriages. I have learned what makes a marriage a true marriage. I found the words of G. K. Chesterton to be true: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." I realized much more about myself and I learned many things about my faith that I had never even considered. I am still learning.
And I am still in love. I am in love with our Lord, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. I am in love with his Church. Being Catholic is more than something I inherited from my parents and grandparents. Being Catholic is a choice I’ve made, a choice I embrace. It’s a choice I live with every day and upon which I base the decisions I make in my life. It is often difficult to express the graces I have experienced in my life with others, sometimes especially those I love the most. But, if I say my goal in life is to get myself and those I love to heaven, I have a duty to share the joy of my salvation.