The question has been asked of Catholic bloggers by Elizabeth Scalia at Patheos: Why do you remain in the Catholic Church?
So…why do I remain in the Catholic Church?
Because all of my life I’ve had to defend it.
When you defend someone, or something—when you stand up for it– you grow to love it even more. It becomes part of who you are, until people see you as the thing you’re defending. And that’s a big responsibility.
In South Alabama where I was born and grew up, my Protestant friends saw me, first, as a Catholic. Our small town had nearly a hundred Protestant churches, and one tiny Catholic church. My father was from a Protestant family who bristled at Catholicism, as did most Protestants in the Bible Belt; yet he bucked his family to marry my mother, a Catholic, then saw to it that his daughters attended Mass, received the sacraments, and were involved in religion classes.
My mother’s Catholic family has deep roots in both the South and in Catholicism. Her grandparents and their nine children were converted in the late 1800’s by a Jesuit priest, riding through middle Georgia on horseback. Five of her first cousins became priests or nuns.
My Catholic grandmother also married a Protestant. I was very close to both of them. My grandmother, who was also our Religion teacher, designated us as caretakers of our Faith, cautioning us to “Always stand up for what you believe in.” Well, that took courage. We were only a handful of Catholic children in a Protestant town, yet each of us were expected to be able to defend the Church. We were consistently questioned about our religion. When we answered, we were sometimes ridiculed, especially when defending the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother, the Pope, Confession to a priest, Saints, and more. To defend our Faith we had to know it, and know it well.
Still, as much as our friends had to say negatively about Catholicism, there was, at the time, an undercurrent of respect for Catholics that isn’t present today. Often it was spoken in whispers. “(He or she) won’t cheat on that test. They’re Catholic.” “He has to go to church every Sunday. He’s a Catholic.” “Ask her to a movie, but don’t ask her to the ‘blanket party’ at the river. She’s a Catholic.”
This year is the one hundredth anniversary of my parish church which was started in 1915 by fifteen committed people, and today has over 1300 members.
Below is pictured the little, white church of my childhood with thirty or so Catholic families.
Many have said our Catholic church was built with Protestant money since quite a few of the women in the parish were married to Protestants, and many of those men were employers and leaders in the town. Interestingly, like my own father and grandfather, a good many of them eventually converted to Catholicism: a courageous act. I believe that defending the church gave me courage, too. Courage is a virtue we Catholics desperately need today as we face a possible disintegration of our religious freedom.
As I said earlier, when you defend something you grow to love it even more. I love my church. I love her as God loves all of us, despite our many errors. I think we have to remember that our church is made-up of fallible human beings capable of great love and great sin. But human beings are not the church, not really. We are only its hands, and often our hands are full of that first sin of pride. We are created in the image and likeness of God, but He’s given us the capacity to choose whether or not we will show His image in our lives.
Showing His image is not a ‘sit-down’ thing. It implies action, and action requires the force of God’s grace, which is truth. The Catholic Church is not the building and not the people. It is all about God—God’s tremendous push for absolute truth on earth. And He is pushing us. In order to cooperate, we must be more than superficially informed about our Faith. We must think very deeply, yet humbly, about our Faith. And we must be careful to keep our personal pride out of that thinking.
Copyright Kaye Hinckley, 2015.
Photos, copyright Kaye Hinckley, 2015
Video by Defend us in Battle