I was baptized a Catholic more than 57 years ago and I have remained a Catholic, through thick and . . . sometimes thicker, ever since that time.
I have often asked myself why I have held to this faith so firmly. I do not believe all of the things that Catholics are “supposed” to believe. I don’t make it to church every Sunday. Marlys and I had all of our kids baptized and confirmed as Catholics; but, in truth, it was more of a nudge toward Catholicism than a serious effort to brand them as Catholics forever.
I grew up in the old Catholic church; Latin masses, no meat on Friday, fasting every Sunday morning, serious lent restrictions, the whole nine yards. I served as an altar boy, even during weekday masses, for awhile, and spent what seemed like 30 hours in church every Holy Week. In that way, I was, at one time, a “good Catholic”. But I had a rebellious streak even then. I never bought into the One True Church thing; partly because my mom had been a Lutheran and so half of my relatives were Lutheran and seemed, for the most part, worthy of salvation.
But I hung in there; to this day. True, we attend St. Joan of Arc church in Minneapolis, a liberal Catholic church that many old time Catholics would sneer at as barely counting. (Actually, in my humble opinion, St. Joan holds more firmly to some of my core Catholic principles, such as social justice and focusing on the least of our brothers, than any other Catholic church I know.)
As I saw the Catholic Church drift further and further to the right during the past twenty years, I have to admit I found myself, at times, hanging by a thread.I always said I would not leave the church, but I often worried my church might be leaving me.
But I stayed; and I probably will stay until the day I die. Why? I am not entirely sure. Maybe I like the idea of a Christian church that goes all the way back from the beginning, (I have always been a bit suspicious of trendy religions.) Maybe I am just too frightened to leave. Maybe I just stay out loyalty. I am obsessively loyal; it is one of my best qualities. I have no doubt f I was born as a Jew, or a Muslim or, perhaps, even a Lutheran, I would have remained loyal to the faith of my youth. That may seem like a thin, (maybe even strangely sacrilegious), reason to hang with a church. However, I have always had the sense that the major religions, (and maybe even the minor ones) for the most part cling to the same core principles.
I feel like my loyalty was rewarded two years ago when the College of Cardinals surprised the world by giving us Pope Francis. This truly loving man has uplifted my spirit and given me great hope for my church. Not that I agree with everything that Pope Francis says. I don’t have to. Even Pope Francis would tell you that. He just seems to be such a truly loving person that I cannot help but be moved. We live in a complicated world, so it is hard to know who to trust for sure. When I see that much love in humility in one person, I can’t avoid the feeling that the church may be getting back on track.
So; Pope Francis, and loyalty, and maybe a few other things, will likely keep me in the Catholic communion lines for the rest of my life. Maybe not the bold endorsement of the faith that my catechism instructors were hoping to inspire in me 50 years ago; but enough for me.