Many of us have been raised in the Church, but why do we remain Catholic? This author shares her favorite reasons and invites you to consider your own.
By Kathy Coffey
“DO YOU ALSO WANT TO LEAVE?“ (JOHN 6:67).
When Jesus first asked his disciples this question, it was poignant. Its original context made it heartbreaking. He had recently told the people, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). He had offered himself as balm for their deepest longings, promising, “whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). How did they receive the shining promise, that generous outpouring of his life? John’s Gospel is full of words like quarreling and murmuring, and “they could not accept it.”
Before we are quick to condemn those who turned away, we must ask ourselves the same question: “What about you, do you want to go away too?”
I’d be the first to admit I’ve been tempted. At times, Church politics gets depressing; at other times, the institution seems terminally ill. When some of our thinkers and writers are silenced, I grow sad. Some of my friends have left. So I asked myself, “Why do you stay?” I found it a challenge—as we all might—to articulate beliefs so long and so deeply held that they had become almost dormant.
I’ve borrowed an organizing device from David Letterman’s “Top Ten,” but I’m going to cheat. I’ll give only nine reasons. Then it’s the reader’s turn. If I don’t include your favorite reason, number 10 is up to you.
2. Catholicism has universality.
We Irish have our gifts, but mariachi music isn’t one of them. So I’ve been grateful to the people with Spanish and African-American backgrounds for the richness, the color, the vibrancy they bring to our faith. No one tradition has the resources to meet the challenges of the next century. Yet in the Church, we find the pluralism that the human race will need to survive.
Some examples may clarify number two. In Santa Fe, I once attended a workshop that concluded around 10 p.m. It had been a wonderful day, but we were all tired. So when we heard that we’d end with the blessing, the Anglos assumed with typical efficiency, “one size fits all”—one blessing for all of us. Wrong. Every single person got an individual blessing. I learned that night that there are some things so important they don’t fit on a tight schedule.
What universality means, in practical terms, is that on Wednesday night I can visit a poor parish where the people come through pouring rain to sit on folding chairs in a gym with a leaky roof. Then on Saturday, I can fly to a mega-church which cost millions, a parish with the highest concentration of M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s in the country. In both places, we explore the same, unchanging Sunday Gospel that cuts cleanly across all the differences.
At the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the range of liturgies makes this principle visible. Twenty thousand people fill the Anaheim arena, all glad to be Catholic, all holding hands for the Our Father. Universality takes on flesh when African Americans dance “The Deer’s Cry,” an eighth-century Irish prayer.