Maybe I’ll Keep My Religion After All

If you have not already read “I’m Not Sure I Want to be Catholic” I would recommend doing that now as this is its cleverly titled sequel.

In that article I spoke (wrote?) of a genuine love I have for people who struggle, my fellow imperfectionists, but I wanted to prove it by compiling a list of resources that certainly helped me strengthen my faith as well as the blog posts they inspired once I started putting my newfound faith into practice.

This is just a general and bare bones list for those just starting out in their faith walk, those looking to be inspired, those who are looking to understand their faith more deeply, those who don’t believe and think they might like to, those atheists/agnostics looking to challenge themselves or debate me in some way as a representative of the Christian religion they dislike, and/or those who don’t have faith anymore and would maybe like to have it back.

As much as you may think this post is a giant plug and be rolling your eyes, I promise I’m sincere. I know the ins and outs of internal struggle and it is just etched on my brain, which is to say, I remember vividly how difficult and isolating navigating those difficult big questions can be when your life just feels like a series of crossroads and you’re not sure which direction to walk in. And it’s hard to open up to people about that sometimes, I don’t even know why.

So I thought this would be nice because it’s totally anonymous, you don’t have to tell anyone you perused the lists, and even if absolutely no one reads anything I’ll feel a heck of a lot better and maybe one person will believe that I care from the effort itself.

Here goes nothing!

Things I have written on the topic (I put them in sequential order because they build off one another):
  1. Frozen
  2. The Bicycle 
  3. A New Faith
  4. Don’t Give Up
  5. The Littler Way (personal favorite)
  6. The Presence of God
  7. What Is The True Nature of God?
Things people holier than me have written on the topic:

(Anything in parenthesis is an overview or explanation of why I added it to the list so you know what you’re getting yourself into. I tried to add something for everyone.) 

  1. Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality by Mother Angelica (it’s like “the spiritual life for dummies” book so naturally it was very effective for me, she will give you a very strong foundation on which to build a relationship with God and/or give your pre-existing spiritual life some juice)
  2. You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado (really great integration of relatable life stories and powerful scripture, easy but effective read)
  3. Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitley (clears up perceptions about how Jesus loves and how He wants to relate to you)
  4. 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley (Gaitley will explain exactly what the consecration is but I would highly recommend trying it if you have been struggling with anything for a while and having trouble kicking it completely, this consecration opened the door to the faith described in all the above blog posts.)
  5. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (if the modern world has you confused and lacking purpose he will set you straight. A witty defense of Christian faith and doctrine but I would recommend listening to it on tape via youtube or LibraVox because it is so rich)
I wouldn’t recommend anything that I didn’t think worth your time or which I had not read myself.

Enjoy!

I’m Not Sure I Want to Be Catholic

Don’t worry, I’m still as sure as ever that I want to be Catholic but I’m sad to say that it was not always so. I think there comes a time in the life of every religious person where they question whether or not they want to continue practicing their religion and this article is written for the person who finds himself or herself on that lonely boat.

I was complaining to my mother recently about the sort of things published by the various Catholic media groups I follow across various social media. In particular, I read a list of “8 things you should be doing daily as a Catholic” because I was curious what they were and if I was doing them. Unfortunately, the entire list can be summarized in 4 words “pray and be nice” with a recommendation that we do this on social media too.

Ugh. I hate lists like that and I was annoyed that I took the time to even read it.

You should pray and be nice as a Catholic. But I absolutely detest things that (whether intentionally or unintentionally) treat Catholicism as the whipped cream on the overpriced coffee of life. Before you judge me for being as stupid as my simple metaphor suggests, hear me out. So much of what I read encourages a light and “fluffy” Catholicism, one that is unobtrusive and undemanding, something to simply add on to your day. In other words, to treat Catholicism (or whatever your religion happens to be if you have one) as a nice addition, just a little sweet something extra,  to top off your own life and your own affairs. Blogs that remind us to throw in a prayer as we go about our daily business, to try and be nice if it’s not too inconvenient, and to post a peaceful psalm with a picture of a mountain or field on our Facebook page. The end. 

Granted not all the resources out there are like that, but I confess there seems to me to be a wave of Catholicism (especially on social media) that is so determined to maintain a broad appeal in the name of bringing people through the doors of the Church it’s as if they downplay the full force of the truth we believe for fear it would alienate a potential new members. Pinterest can post a quote telling me to “love all people” written in cursive over a sunflower, but I have always liked Catholicism which gives me the image of a crucifix to demonstrate exactly how God desires me to “love all people” in the same selfless and sacrificial way He loves me.

It is not that any of things suggested by the author of the blog I read were a bad means of discovering God in one’s daily life, it is when such external things are valued and emphasized over and at the expense of the interior life of the soul that I get crabby and complain to my mother. I do believe that faith without works is dead but to put the works before the faith is as silly as it is futile because to do that is to miss the essence of love.

There is something about the mysterious nature of love that makes the impossible seem possible, that makes us want to be better versions of who we are already. I do try to “pray and be nice” but not so that I can check it off my “acceptable Catholic living” to-do list. I pray because not only do I love God, I like God, and many a bad day has been made better by sharing it with God. In fact, much of my crabbiness turns to laughter in the presence of God because I have the faith that God loves me even in my crabbiness and even in the midst of my many failed attempts to be patient because He always understands and provides me with many more fresh moments in which to try again. (And again, and again, and again…I’ve been working on patience for quite some time now.)

Believing in God is one thing, but maintaining a relationship with God, especially in the modern world of the prevalent new atheism, can be a daunting task which no man or woman should be expected to go through alone. And when you are in the depths of doubt, when God feels so very far away, and you feel completely lost and alone and unworthy of the love that you nonetheless desire from the bottom of your soul, you don’t need some sunflower and some crappy cursive offering you some cliched and shallow inspiration that you probably already know and have doubtless heard before, you need the cross.

And when you water down the message of the cross to “pray and be nice” with a big old smiley face you either affirm the message to those who already believe it or pander to those who don’t yet believe in the hopes that they might, but you risk losing the most important demographic to any religion; the one Jesus Himself served during His life and died to save: the sinner. The sinner who struggles, the sinner who questions, the sinner who is tempted by the paths of the world that seem so much easier and so much more gratifying (in the short term), the sinner who falls away and isn’t sure how to come back.

And when I who know myself to be a sinner was stuck on the precipice of doubt and dangling precariously over complete despair, it wasn’t the sunshine-y garbage of the world that brought me back. It was instead was a firm conviction of the ever faithful and merciful love of God which I saw laid out on the cross.  A love that transcends all human understanding because it is the love that loves not for a reason but without a reason, a love that is perpetuated not by the merits of the beloved (you) but by the promise of the God Who loves and is incapable of breaking His own word. But in beginning to grasp after a love that was so far above me I found it, to my surprise, not only to be close at hand but ready and willing to enter into my soul once more if I was simply willing to grant Him my permission. So I did. And it is that beginning point of my “yes” to God which laid the groundwork for the construction of a soul that housed not one, but two. And it is to this development that I controversially attribute every good thing I have ever done because it is the motivation behind my every prayer and the inspiration for every attempt to be “nice” or, to use the term I prefer, holy.

And to those of you who find yourselves struggling, promise me you will be not afraid. Because even if you don’t feel it and can’t even bring yourself to believe it God is with you. He loves you so much He could never leave you, and He will make everything all right in its time. There is only one thing we as humans must never do, we must not quit. We must not stop our prayers or our pursuit of a relationship with God, and we must begin to do those things if we have never done them if we ever hope to find what we are truly seeking. And while I can’t answer how each of you specifically are meant to encounter the love of God, I can at least start by letting you know that I’m praying for you, I love you, and that I’m confident in you even if you are not.

Mother Angelica, one of my favorite spiritual guides, is often quoted as saying “we are all called to be Saints, don’t miss the opportunity.” And the darkness of doubt or even the temptation to despair is not a failure or a sign of weakness that you should hide away for fear that others might discover it, it is instead an opportunity to become little and depend on the merciful love of God to raise you back up again and transform you into the person you were always meant to be. Because while we may fail time and time again the love of God never fails or falters, and His mercy endures forever.

Under Construction

So in my job for the past month or so I’ve had to interact with a utility company whose customer service probably made it into the rough draft of Dante’s Inferno. Anyway, I’ve had quite a time working with this company to make a certain structural repair and I was more than a little annoyed by the end of everything with the fairly polite but completely ineffective service calls I spent hours of my life making.

So when I got a report that a similar repair needed to be done at a different property you can bet I whined internally at even the thought of starting the whole song and dance all over again. However, this time I placed one call to request a repair and my call was returned (a first) by the manager who was extremely polite and gave me both a repair time estimate and his contact information (another first). He was one of those good old fashioned guys who takes pride in his work and does his best to keep the promises he makes to his customers.

Afterward, I found myself having a moment of genuine appreciation, but also one of genuine humility, because earlier in the day I had completely roasted that company to a coworker in a way that was scathingly hilarious and at the time felt completely justifiable. Yet I never like when I go down that path because such an unsavory talent makes it socially allowable to say extremely mean things without qualifying yourself as a mean person because you veiled it in humor.

I mean I suppose it’s one thing to vent, I think few are truly literal when they are speaking in the heat of the moment, and it is also true that venting invites exaggeration by it’s very nature. But this is a slippery slope for me because I don’t want to fall back into saying things that are sharp and rather merciless and get away with it because it was funny and full of the snark that the world loves so much. Because in my experience when the world loves something that they know is wrong or mean they start to rationalize the behavior to make it acceptable.

As comforting as it can be to hear these lies, the truth is I always feel bad when I speak candidly without thinking and I always regret when I allow myself to be judgmental because I am annoyed at the person or corporation in question. It may be a very human flaw, but I never want to hide behind my human weaknesses by softening them as something justifiable or twisting them so I can remain in a virtuous light.

I’m Catholic which means I prefer facing my many, many weaknesses head on with the patient faith that God will help me overcome them and the joy that I am loved tremendously in spite of them.

And that merciful love is certainly what keeps me going because this process takes a while and I know I’ve still got a long way to go…