I was raised Catholic by my divorced father and paternal grandparents. As an infant, I was baptized at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida. I took my First Communion at age 7. Throughout my childhood, I attended Mass with my family on Saturday nights.
By the time I reached my teenage years, however, I wasn’t spending as much time with my father as I had during my childhood, and it was easy to fall away from the Church. At the time, my mother wasn’t a church-goer. I had also entered a long phase of rational, logical thinking with no attention to spirituality. I focused only on earning college degrees and advancing my career. Although I went occasionally to a Protestant church, I remained unmoved and became a firm agnostic. I didn’t go to Catholic churches at all, rationalizing that the faith of my youth hadn’t “taken” or provided me with any long-term spiritual sustenance, so why bother? I know now that my decision was made out of ignorance and failure to understand the deep spiritual richness the Church offers. I just never learned that as a child. My family members observed the rituals with no explanations — or maybe they explained but I wasn’t listening. In any case, my lack of curiosity prevented me from seeking out those explanations for myself.
I didn’t return to the Catholic Church again until I was 50 years old. A crisis in my personal life propelled me to seek solace from the Faith I knew long ago. As I sat in Mass on Sunday mornings with tears streaming down my face, as I went to RCIA classes every Monday night and listened to the priest unlock the deep wisdom of Catholicism for me for the first time, I lamented all of those lost years, and I knew I was home. I was confirmed during the Easter Vigil of 2015, and I have no doubt that I will remain a devout Catholic for the rest of my life for four reasons.
- The Sacraments. The genius of the Catholic Church is consecrating everyday, tangible things of our world — water, bread, wine, oil — and using them to reinforce our connection to God and strengthen our spiritual power. For me, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the most powerful of all. At least once a week, during Holy Communion, I am physically united with Our Lord Jesus Christ. The experience never fails to be humbling, moving, and empowering all at the same time. For a clear and complete explanation of this Sacrament, I recommend the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
- The Catholic Church is the original Church established by Jesus Christ himself. It’s important to me to be a member of the Church that Jesus himself founded when He told his apostle Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The various denominations of Christianity were established by people whose human opinions and interpretations led them to break away from what Jesus described as ONE church, not many. To me, the authority of the Church resides at its source.
- The intellectual depth of Catholicism. In the encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), Pope John Paul II wrote: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” He was expressing the Catholic belief that faith and reason are not in conflict and incompatible; on the contrary, both are necessary to understand reality and the Truth because reason makes faith understandable. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, for example, had PhDs in philosophy. Catholics are encouraged to educate themselves, read, think, and discuss ideas. Because I am compelled to do all of the above, Catholicism’s emphasis on reason is essential to me.
- The beauty and power of the ritual, the liturgy, the art. Some Protestant churches have done away with what they consider to be the “trappings” and stripped their sanctuaries bare of all but a minimalist cross, if anything. I want the rich, sensory stimuli of the Catholic Church — the figure of Jesus crucified on a large cross behind the altar, the incense, the candles, the bells, the statuary, the stained glass, the images of saints and angels, the priest’s beautiful chasables. I love to be surrounded with reminders (at church, at home, and everywhere) that keep God and my Faith at the forefront of my consciousness at all times. When I see and smell the incense during Mass, I see and smell our prayers rising up to God. Every morning, when I see my small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Mary garden my husband planted for me beside our carport, I’m reminded to pray the Hail Mary. Every time I dip my fingers in holy water and make the sign of the cross, I am reminded of my baptism and Jesus’ sanctifying grace.