I was making the final long drive in a set of long drives this past weekend, when I found myself thinking about the course of my life and the course of my faith life. My thoughts went something like this: “Almost everyone you knew from high school, a few of your friends, even some family members, have lost the Faith. Some have out right left. Others have gone to other Christian denominations. Why haven’t you?” From the outside, I’m sure people would say, “well, no duh, Jared. Look at your life. A cradle Catholic who only went to Catholic school growing up, has a degree from a Catholic college, and who now works in a Catholic school? You went on a retreat at a monastery where half the monks knew you by name. It’s pretty clear.” Maybe not. In my reflection and pondering, these weren’t the reasons. Allow me, then, to share with you the strongest reasons why I haven’t lapsed from the Faith.
Other religions have their “holy men;” leaders who have stood up for the tenets of faith and led their people to prosperity or have guided the people in proper conduct. That’s good and all. But, the Catholic faith has something more compelling, in my opinion: the Saints. The reason the Saints have compelled me to keep my Faith is because, in their own right, they kept the Faith. They ran the race and finished. They lived well. But, here’s the kicker: they were terribly, horribly, unapologetically human. Many of the stories I have heard of “holy men” from other religions almost always glorify these people to an almost god-like degree. Any faults are explained away and moved on from. Not the Saints. They embrace their fallen humanity. Many Saints were very fallen people! St. Peter denied Christ three times right to His face. St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was an opium addict who went most of his life without receiving the Eucharist. Blessed Anthony Neyrot was a Dominican priest who renounced the faith, reverted, and became a martyr. These are just a few examples of Saints who, though fallen humans, were able to receive the grace of God through faith in Him and go on to their eternal rewards. If they can do it through their faith, then, God willing, maybe I can too.
A Church Standing Firm
The Catholic Church has been around for a few thousand years. During its relatively young life, I cannot tell you how hard the enemies of the Church have tried to destroy it. Think about that. A faith started by one Man, the Son of Man, and spread throughout the world by a ragtag group of fishermen and otherwise unassuming characters. A faith that has gone through the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the grasp of Modernism, an increasingly hostile society, a faith that has stood firm in its roots, even when other Christian denominations fall to the temptations of modernity. You can’t kill the Church or change it. It has stood the test of time. The Church hasn’t changed its fundamental teachings, even when other faiths cave to the pressure of modern culture. But for me, that’s a reason to stay: the Church has always stood by its guns, and planted itself in the truth. Do I like all the teachings of the Church? As a fallen human, not always. But when I look at the Church compared to other popular denominations or other “churches” of today, there’s no comparison for me. A faith that goes to and fro and makes you feel good without challenging you to be a better person, a faith who can change its identity to fit the norm? That’s not for me. But the Faith which has stood, will stand, and will keep standing in its fundamental identity and teachings, a Faith that challenges me to confront my failings and become a better person because of it? That’s the Faith for me.
If you didn’t see this coming, shame on you! But, there can be no other greater reason: the priceless gift of Christ Himself in the Eucharist. I once took a class in college called “Protestant Tradition.” The class was about teaching the (mostly) Catholic students about the different Christian denominations and what they believed. For a class project, I attended a Methodist service. It was a nice service, the pastor was very welcoming, but there was something missing. As I looked around the worship space, it hit: Christ was missing. What do I mean by this? When you walk into a Catholic church, you will see many things. Hopefully, one of them is a crucifix, Christ crucified on His cross. That was missing. In a Catholic mass, there is the liturgy of the Eucharist. That was missing. Without that tangible presence of Christ, the service felt… hollow. Incomplete. Like a puzzle that was missing one or two crucial pieces. As well, allow me a moment to talk about Eucharistic Adoration. Other religions or denominations can talk about feeling the “presence” or “spirit” of the divine. That’s good, and I can attest to times I felt the Lord moving in my life. But! I don’t have to wait to feel a presence, a moving. I can go to Adoration and the Lord is right there! Present in the Blessed Sacrament! How many religions can say that when you want to talk to God, you can do it? Have a face-to-face conversation with Him? My Catholic faith can.
Now you know. While there are many more reasons as to why I believe I haven’t left the Catholic faith, I’ve given you some of the most important ones, to me at least. In leaving you, I hope something in this can touch your heart, encourage you to strengthen your own faith. I believe the Gospel of John says it best: “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
- Jared Nigrin