When I opened my email today, I found that your mom had sent me pictures of your baptism. I got to see your proud parents and godparents, your big brother in his first slacks and tie, and you in your big white dress, looking bewildered by all the activity.
About forty years ago, I was baptized myself. I don’t remember it, of course; at one month old, I was even younger than you are now. But it was my entrance into the family of the Church, the first step in a spiritual journey of many phases and changes. As I reflect on that journey, there are a few things I’d like to tell you about your new faith.
First of all, I have to be honest: you won’t always love being Catholic. You’ll have to confess embarrassing sins, sit through boring homilies, maybe even give up candy for forty days. No doubt, too, there will come a time when you’ll question whether you even want to stay Catholic. If you’re like me, you’ll drift away for a time during your college years as the world becomes bigger and the Catholic definition of what is permissible feels narrower. And you’ll be annoyed by Catholic guilt, that old killjoy that makes an entrance just as you’re about to try something that everyone else seems able to do without a thought. But bear with it, because as you grow older, you’ll discover a few things. You’ll learn that even though guilt can sometimes trap you in spin cycles of useless worry, it can also be your wisest and best friend, keeping you out of tangles that it could take a lifetime to undo.
I don’t want to imply that being Catholic is all struggle, because that’s far from true. You’re already learning that yours is a faith of beautiful objects and words and rituals. You’ve felt the splash of water on your forehead, and soon you’ll find even more things to captivate your senses: incense to tickle your nose, the heat of a candle as you pray, the primary colors of a stained glass window, the echo of the Ave Maria. You won’t even be conscious of these things at first; they’ll just be there, seeping into your bones, a thousand little images and sensations to capture your heart and, in the end, make it impossible for you to be anything but Catholic.
There’s community, too. You now share a faith with many of the people who are closest to you, as well as millions more around the globe. You’ll soon learn that although Catholics don’t always agree with each other, they come together nonetheless because they understand an essential truth: faith works best when it’s practiced in community. Your fellow Catholics will challenge you with questions about what you believe, but they’ll also hold your hand during a funeral. They’ll pray for you when times are tough and you’ll pray for them, too. And you’ll realize the truth of Jesus’ statement: wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am.
Truly, Christina, at the core of all this is Jesus, the man who gave you your name. He’s the God who came down to earth and loved everyone without exception, even the most difficult people, who loved them into becoming the most joyful people they could be. And here’s the best part: you’ll meet this God-turned-man a million times throughout your life. You’ll see him in faces of those who need your help and love, and in the faces of those who help and love you. And in about seven years, you’ll discover what it’s like to let his love dissolve into your very body, your very self. If you’re like me, the real meaning of that experience won’t hit you for a while — say, twenty-three years. But it doesn’t matter, because he’ll be loving you all the time, nudging you towards the peace that he alone can give.
It’s a lot to take in, Christina, especially for someone who hasn’t even gotten all of her teeth yet. But I pray that no matter where this Catholic journey takes you, you’ll always find a solace in your faith. I pray that even when you find yourself questioning everything you were taught, frustrated at the way the Church can sometimes fail to live up to its own mission, you’ll learn what I’ve learned: that ten minutes spent sitting in an empty church can fill you with a peace and comfort that nothing else can. In those ten minutes you’ll be feeling the sheer beauty of being Catholic, a tenacious beauty that never lets you go.
Welcome to the family.
Copyright 2013 Ginny Kubitz Moyer