August 26, 2018

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Why Do You Stay?

Why do you stay a Catholic?

Today’s Gospel reading comes from John 6. John chapter 6 is all about the bread of life. In it, Jesus shocks his Jewish followers by announcing that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to achieve eternal life.

When some of his disciples challenged this formula for immortality, Jesus doubled down, saying:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:53-54)

Like most civilized societies, cannibalism was verboten in Judaism. So, this revelation shocked Christ’s disciples. And many of them left.

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Today’s homily by our pastor, Father Joe Kempf, asked us to answer this question for ourselves. Why do we stay?

With the sex abuse and cover-ups, with the pope’s change to the Church’s teaching on capital punishment, with the multitude of inconveniences Catholicism imposes on its practitioners. Like the inconvenience of sex only inside marriage, the inconvenience of no contraception, the inconvenience of no abortions, the inconvenience of going to mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation, the inconvenience of going to confession and giving voice to our sins before a man, the inconvenience of paying for a Catholic school education for our kids or trudging them to PSR classes every week, the inconvenience of obedience to the Church’s teachings, the inconvenience of praying for our enemies, the inconvenience of being called to evangelize and spread the Good Word, the inconvenience of being mocked and persecuted for our beliefs. Why would anyone stay a Catholic?

For me, the answer is simple. But so am I simple, so it took me a long time to see it.

For a long time, I simply refused to obey the Church’s teachings. I did not dispute those teachings. I simply broke the rules. Many times, many rules.

I avoided confession because a true confession requires a true intent to never sin again, and I usually had pretty concrete plans to sin on any given day of the week. Sometimes, I even scheduled sins in advance and conspired with others to commit larger sins. So, I was rarely in a position to truly confess.

Then, there was the problem of evangelization. I always associated evangelization with comical TV preachers who smack people on the forehead and yell “HEE-YALL!” I didn’t learn of the Church’s mandate of evangelization until about 10 years ago. One of the conveniences of growing up Catholic in the 1970s was bad formation. I thought Catholics were supposed to evangelize only by living a good life, never by discussing Jesus with other people. “They will know we are Christians by our love,” was our motto then.

It turns out, though, one of the precepts of the Church is to evangelize. Precept Number 7: “To participate in the Church’s mission of Evangelization of Souls.”

Why do I stay a Catholic? Because I am sick of sinning, and I’m sick of keeping my faith to myself when so many people I love can benefit from the Eternal Word.

Okay, so that’s a good reason remain a Christian. But why not find a church that’s not constantly embroiled in such disgusting controversies?

Good question. But it’s one I just answered last week.

I need all the graces God has to give. I need them in every form they can take. I need them more often than most people do. And most of these graces, these sacraments, are only available through the Catholic Church from an ordained and anointed successor of Peter and the original bishops of the Church.

** Only an ordained Catholic priest can turn bread and wine into the flesh and blood of the Son of man for our consumption.  (1 Cor. 11:23-29) ** Only an ordained Catholic priest can guarantee our sins are forgiven. (John 20:23) ** Only an ordained Catholic priest can ordain another Catholic priest. (Acts 14:23) ** Only an ordained Catholic priest can administer Last Rites to the dying. (James 5:14)

I need these things to keep me from running off the path. I can get them nowhere else.

I believe that Christ founded a church, The Church, as his kingdom on earth; that he appointed a group of bishops to spread the Word to every nation and to appoint new bishops and priests and deacons to help spread the Word; that the people he appointed to do this holy work were broken, simple fishermen, laborers, and tax collectors who brought much baggage and many flaws with them; that one of the men Jesus personally commissioned turned out to be the person who betrayed; that every human being is capable of doing evil and committing sin; that Jesus understands our brokenness and loves us anyway; that the best we can do in this life is to accept our brokenness the way Christ does and do our damnedest to become saints; that the bar for saintliness is extremely high; and that Jesus knows the bar is extremely high and asks us to clear it anyway.

And that is why I stay a Catholic. For me, there is no other way than the way, the truth, and the life through the Church founded by the Way, the Truth, and the Life when the Holy Spirit invaded an upper room in Jerusalem on Pentecost in about 33 A.D.