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Why am I a Catholic? A Letter to K

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I got a letter, and I mean a letter, not an email, facebook message or sms, but a real letter with a stamp on it and everything from a twenty-year old.  I know, it floored me too.  And it included a self-addressed stamped envelope and a blank piece of paper so I could reply.  The letter went more or less like this:

Dear Fr Chris, I was wondering if you could do me a huge favour.  If possible could you please respond to the question, ‘why are you Catholic’? on the enclosed paper.  God bless, K

So I hopped onto Facebook to ask K if she would mind if I posted my answer on this blog.  No, I wasn’t oblivious to the irony of that either.  K said it was ok, so here it is:

Dear K,

Thanks for writing to me, it was great to hear from you. And thanks for letting me post my response to your question on this blog.

Why am I a Catholic?

I’m a Catholic because I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is Emmanuel: God with us.

I’m a Catholic because I believe in the God that Jesus Christ reveals to us: a God of unfathomable love, beauty and goodness.

I’m a Catholic because I believe that Jesus also reveals to us what it means to be truly human.

I’m a Catholic because I believe that the Spirit of Jesus has been given to me through baptism.  And as a consequence of the Spirit’s power at work in me, I know, as the deepest truth of my life, that I am so completely loved by God that the only Son of God was crucified for me and rose from the dead so that I might  participate in the very life of God.  This means that I experience myself as forgiven, loved even in my blackest moments.  And it means that I believe I have already begun to share in the Love that is God.

I believe all this because I have discovered an inexpressible joy that bubbles up when I least expect it, a joy that emerges when it should least be present, because it is the joy of knowing that even death has been defeated by the One who was raised from the grave.

I’m a Catholic because I believe that all of what I have described above is possible because of the mediation of the Church.  It is in and through the Church that I have met and continue to meet the risen Jesus.  I experience the saving love of Jesus in her Sacraments and in the Scriptures.  I experience the saving love of Jesus in the witness of those saints present and past, those publicly canonised and those hidden and almost unknown.  In the Church’s prayer and in her action on behalf of the weakest and most vulnerable and rejected members of the human family I meet Jesus the Lord.

I’m a Catholic because the journey is better with friends; in fact they’re indispensable.  Being Catholic means we’re in it together.  And there’s more laughs that way.

I’m a Catholic because Catholicism takes both my brain and my body seriously.  As a Catholic I neither have to leave my mind at the door of the Church nor pretend that I am an angel or merely a spirit.  The Catholic faith has real intellectual depth, and yet it is not a religion of the elite but is good news for those who can become like little children.

The Catholic faith provides the only response to the reality of human suffering that comes close to doing justice to the mystery of human misery that I see in the world. For only Christian faith says that God cared enough about our agony to join us in it. And my faith does justice to my deep sense that such suffering should not be by promising that it will end, for our destiny is a life free from suffering and pain, where every tear will be wiped away.  My Catholic faith commits me to the alleviation of suffering wherever I find it too.

I’m a Catholic because it offers a message of sanity and hope when many are peddling messages that are anti-human and destructive.  I’m a Catholic because our faith tells me that me, you and this world are all fundamentally good, but radically damaged, and that Jesus Christ is the Healer who can return you, me and this world to wholeness and harmony.

I’m a Catholic because I value the teaching office of the Church.  That’s not because I can’t think for myself, but because I trust in the wisdom that has been distilled over two thousand years and because I believe that the Lord promised to continue to guide and care for his Church.

I’m a Catholic because I know that I need to be challenged to truly love others as Jesus has loved me. The teaching of Jesus continually puts forward an ethic of radical loving that is at the same time deeply merciful and compassionate.  Being Catholic means that I am challenged not to be content with mediocrity or superficiality.  God means to make me whole, holy, truly human.  And he won’t be content until I am.

I know too that the Church’s witness to all of this is often disfigured and that her members all too often obscure rather than proclaim the truth of God’s saving love.  I know that I too don’t bear witness to Jesus as faithfully or as fully as I truly desire.  That means that I cannot say that the Church’s failures are simply ‘out there’ , because I fail to love as radically as  the Gospel calls me to too.   The Church has never been completely faithful to her mission to bear witness to Christ.  And so the Church always needs to be renewed through the power of the Spirit.  But I’m convinced that the light of Jesus still shines in and through his Body the Church.

Dear K, I’m a Catholic because the Catholic faith claims that Love is the meaning of the universe.  I find that immensely beautiful… and true.

WYD08 – 3 Years on

Today marks the third anniversary of World Youth Day 08 in Sydney.  For me, as for most I suppose, it seems like those three years have flown by.  I get asked fairly regularly about what I think WYD08 achieved, especially for the Church in Australia, and I think there are plenty of possible answers to that question.  I’d like to highlight just one central point for us to give thanks to God for on this anniversary.  It might also help to explain why WYD continues to matter to young Australian Catholics as many young pilgrims make their final preparations to attend the next World Youth Day in Madrid.

You have probably noticed that it’s not all that easy to be a young Catholic in Australia at the moment.  The truth is, it never really has been.  The first young Catholics in this country were Irish convicts, victims of repressive measures in their homeland.  And for the first half of the twentieth century to be Catholic was to be a member of a vilified minority.  In the early part of the twenty-first century young Catholics do not suffer outright persecution, but are all too often easily ridiculed, dismissed or mocked for their religious beliefs.

It is important to ‘read’ WYD08 against this cultural backdrop.  World Youth Day was far from being a dramatic ‘in your face’ sort of challenge to the mockers and scorners, a sort of victory by sheer overwhelming mass of numbers.  This wasn’t a moment of revived triumphalism where we stood down our detractors and got a bit of our own back.  WYD08 was a moment where we recognised and celebrated, in large, loud and highly symbolic terms, that we are part of the Church universal.  Again, this meant more than simply meeting pilgrims from other countries or simply being part of the largest Catholic crowd this country has ever seen.  It wasn’t about safety in numbers, but was rather a reminder that here in Australia, we are not alone, but are part of something bigger.

More than that, World Youth Day helped to connect us to the universal Church not simply in space but also in time.  We are a young Church here in Australia, and unable to trace our Christian roots directly back through several hundred much less a thousand years.  But three years ago today we were made vividly aware through the identifying characteristics of our faith – such as the proclamation of the Word of God, the Eucharist, the presence of the successor of Peter, and the presence of peoples from lands that have an ancient Christian heritage – that our faith is not something that we hold alone, but something we hold with others across the world and in union with others who have gone before us.

For that week it was transparently clear that being a Catholic does not always mean feeling foolish or dismissed or rejected.  Here was a moment where we belonged, where we were reminded that we share in a rich and substantial tradition, where people helped us to understand the rich intellectual vigour of our faith and where we deepened in our love for the Lord Jesus and his Church.  It is not too trite to say that WYD08 encouraged us – it literally gave us new heart in our faith as Catholics as we were reminded that we are part of the Church of Jesus Christ.  May the memory of that week in July 2008 give us renewed strength to give others a reason for the hope that we have.

As Madrid draws near I pray that the pilgrims attending this next World Youth Day will similarly find that their faith is richly confirmed.  And I pray that those of us who were present at Sydney might also be reminded of Pope Benedict’s challenge to us:

Do not be afraid to say “yes” to Jesus, to find your joy in doing his will, giving yourself completely to the pursuit of holiness, and using all your talents in the service of others!

PS I know the photo is of Barangaroo and not Randwick. It’s just too good a photo not too share!

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