I arrived home Sunday night from a trip to Rome. Jet-lag has the same effect on me as post-partum blues. No matter how wonderful the experience, the heavy headedness and physical exhaustion of sleep deprivation leave me drained of energy and excitement.
This was my eleventh trip to the eternal city. While the novelty of the land-marks has worn off, the history and grandeur is still impossible to ignore. The day I arrived, I headed out for a leisurely tour of the city with a dear, American friend. While discussing a possible agenda, he begged `anything but churches and stones`! I chuckled. But I also understood.
I remember the awe I felt the first time I stepped into the grand basilicas of Rome. The size and majesty of St. Peter`s alone still takes my breath away. My Catholic heart beats a bit faster as it takes in the history and significance of this sacred place. This is our spiritual family home. Yes, it`s dysfunctional at times, but still our home.
My Catholic mind also reminds me of the reality of the boom years of Renaissance construction. The grand churches in Rome were built on the backs of the poor, desperately buying their way into heaven with indulgences. How many lives were sacrificed to the hard labor of such grandiose, papal monuments?
The sheer number of churches is mind-boggling. After the excitement of the first few, I find myself making a cursory walk up and down the side aisles and chapels with diminished emotions. The mind begins to wonder, dreaming of the next plate of pasta and bottle of wine.
Majestic fountains, sweeping ruins, and catacombs are found at the turn of every corner. Tacky souvenir stands sell the same trinkets year after year. Street vendors surround you with passionate pleas to buy their scarves, cheap jewelry, or knock-off purses. The distinctive sounds include the sirens of Roman ambulances and speeding motor-bikes and scooters.
Ah, Roma. It will always be more than a city. It is both symbol and a unique presence.
The family is supposed to be the primary educator of the faith. In his 1979 Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesi Tradendae (Catechesis in our Time), John Paul II stresses that it is within the ecclesia domestica, or domestic church, that children are formed in their faith. When I first read this, I interpreted it as a wonderful shout-out to the subsidiarity of the family unit. In a church that too often thinks in hierarchical terms, here`s an example of Mom and Dad coming out on top! Do you hear that, Father?!
Of course, all families do not accept or embrace this responsibility of primary educators; whether in secular or religious education. It’s easier to pass the buck to the ‘professional’ teachers, even if those teachers are ill-equipped or under-qualified volunteers.
Formation in the faith is more than memorizing dogma and prayers for one hour a week. It requires being immersed in your faith, allowing it to weave into your daily life. The sacramental spirituality of Catholicism encourages us to put flesh on our beliefs through meaningful routines and ritual actions.
Crucifixes on our walls and around our necks remind us that our darkest worries can be raised in hope-filled prayer. Statues and pictures of Mary and the saints remind us that we have friends standing by to pray with us and pray for us. Praying as a family answers the summons of ‘where two or more are gathered in my name’. Collecting pennies from our Lenten sacrifices connects us to social justice actions around the world, with a preferential option for the poor. And we gather as the Body of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist; the source and summit of our faith.
But what about the child who comes to the parish catechism class with little or no exposure to their faith? What about the child who seldom sets foot in a church? Where does a catechist begin? What would Jesus do?
We know what Jesus would do. He would welcome all the little ones with open arms, without judgment. And this is what a good catechist would do. If the one hour a week of parish catechism classes is all the faith formation that a child will receive, then the catechist will try to make the best of that hour. And let God do the rest.
Following the happenings in the Catholic Church can be a heady endeavour. At times you want to pull your hair out and scream “enough!” It begins to weigh you down, and sucks all the energy from you. The rants no longer bring relief. The right-left bashing and incivility on the discussion boards seem meaningless and petty. People, get a life! And then that ever-present question starts to wind its way from deep within…so, why am I still a Catholic?
Last week, in the midst of my funk, I read a review on a book called Why Stay Catholic?Unexpected Answers to a Life-Changing Question by Michael Leach. (March 15, 2011). Thanks to the glories of my new iPad, I down-loaded the book in seconds and dug in. It’s format is very readable. This isn’t a heavy, theological tome trying to convince you with apologetics and dogmas. The chapters are short reflections, full of quotations from spiritual masters and ordinary folk. It’s an unabashedly optimistic and hopeful look at the good that is present in Catholicism, despite the sinfulness.
Here’s an example. The chapter is called “The Bethlehem Principle (There is Room in the Church for Everyone or There is Room for No One).”
There is room in the church for every pope and for everyone he corrects and for everyone who corrects him; for members of Call to Action and followers of Opus Dei; for those who receive communion on the pillow of their tongue and for those who prefer the cup of their palm; for those who save their money for a pilgrimage to Medjugorje and for those who blow it at Vegas; for sinners, saints, and fools…If there is not room for everyone, the church is not a home but a country club.
It was James Joyce who said “Catholicism means here comes everybody!” I need to be reminded of this when I feel weighed down with doctrinal walls and those who spend their energies building and fortifying them. I need to be reminded of this when small-minded pastors and bishops draw lines in the sand like bullies, daring anyone to step across. I need to be reminded of this when I get irritated with those who espouse ideologies and theologies that differ from mine. The Church is greater than our pettiness. And, we do a grave disservice to the Church when we try to judge who is in and who is out.
I love the serendipitous aspect of books – when the right book falls into your lap at the right time. Why Stay Catholic? is one of those books. Here’s to hope and optimism!