It was an honest question. After listening to me recount all my frustrations with the Catholic Church one night after dinner, my sister-in-law, who is not Catholic, asked me very honestly, “So then why do you stay?”
The question stopped me in my tracks. At first I bristled a little at the question, feeling a bit defensive. But then it occurred to me that I really didn’t know how to answer her.
Later that night, as I was trying to go to sleep, I started thinking about her question.
Why do I stay? I wondered.
I had never really, truly thought about it. Is it because it’s all I’ve ever known, so I stay out of comfort and familiarity? Or is it something deeper?
The question haunted me for weeks, often popping up at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways. Suddenly I found myself on a path of questioning and rediscovery regarding my faith. It’s a journey I continue to walk every day. Some days the path is clearer than others. Some days I’m ready to quit.
Working in the Catholic press only adds to that back-and-forth feeling. After 16-plus years working for this magazine, I have covered the good and the bad of the Catholic Church. I have reported on the clergy sex-abuse crisis and its fallout in some way, shape or form nearly every month for the past 11 years. On the other hand, I have also had the opportunity and honor to interview and write about some of the most inspiring and faithful people our Church has to offer.
I was born and raised Catholic. I’m a product of Catholic grade school, high school and even college. I have been a member of the same parish my entire life. But even those are not the main reasons I stay.
I’m still in the fold because being Catholic is who I am. And underneath all the arguments and disagreements that seem rampant in our Church these days lie beliefs that I hold near and dear to my heart. Are there things with which I struggle? Sure. Are there days when I’m ready to head for the doors? Yes.
But just as I don’t walk out on my husband, Mark, because he puts the peanut butter in the refrigerator when I know it belongs on the pantry shelf, I stay. I stay because I believe, as I say in the Creed each week, that Jesus suffered and died—for me. (That’s even though that wording in the Creed will be changing slightly come this Advent with the use of the new Roman Missal—speaking of things with which I struggle.)
Every time I feel like throwing in the towel, something or someone gently pulls me back, reaffirming my faith. Sometimes it’s as simple as hearing a poignant reading on a certain Sunday. Or it’s the way I see my kids discovering and developing their own faith. Other times it’s the fact that when all else fails, my faith is the only thing I have to hold on to.
A few years ago, my daughter Maddie was experiencing some health problems. We took her to the doctor over and over. We ran tests. We tried lots of things, few of which seemed to do anything. And while I wholeheartedly believe in doctors and medicine, none of that could help me when my beautiful 10-year-old girl looked at me and said, “Mom, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t they fix this?”
As a mom, I had no answers; the doctors had no answers. All I could offer her were my prayers and faith that we would find some answers and she would be O.K. I had nothing else. Luckily, we eventually were able to find the necessary answers, but many prayers helped carry us to that point.
It was the Rosary that comforted me through countless sleepless nights during four pregnancies, the repetitive prayers distracting me from all my worries for my unborn children and lulling me to sleep.
Those same prayers—often in much less organized form—are what I choose to recite during the MRI tests I have to undergo because of my multiple sclerosis. I cherish the opportunity to pass on to my children all the comforts and traditions my faith has brought me over the years.
I take great solace in the fact that no matter how many times I have “had enough” and turn away from the Church and my faith, when I decide to come back, like the father in the story of the prodigal son, my faith, my Church is always there, waiting with open arms.
I continue to walk this journey of my faith, firmly believing that it’s like any journey or trip. It’s a journey during which I’ll get lost at times, but keep going because I know the destination is worth it.