Why I Stay
My Life Lines column running in the current issue of Catholic New York:
Why do you remain a Catholic?” That was the challenge issued to me on Facebook a while back. Never one to refuse a good challenge, I pondered that question anew even though I had wrestled with it before in relation to various crises in the Church, particularly the sex abuse scandal. Why do I stay? I had originally thought the new answer to that old question would be easy. But, as I reflected on it more deeply, I realized that my truth is not that simple, because it would imply that the sex abuse scandal is the only thing that makes me wonder sometimes why I stay. And, quite frankly, abuse is just one thing among many that can make this faith a challenging matter.
Don’t get me wrong. My Catholic blood runs true blue and has for all of my 53 years. I love the Church deeply, but sometimes the Church makes me crazy. You know how your family can make you crazy? Yeah, like that. There are days when I want to run away, change my address and take up a new identity. Family can do that to you, and the Church is my family, the Church is my home, and since I’ve worked for the Church for 30-plus years in one form or another, the Church is also my business. When you spend that amount of time with anything or anyone, it can sometimes make you want to run screaming from the room. And yet I haven’t run. I haven’t changed my identity. I am here, not without some fairly regular whining, but here. Firmly planted, whether I am giddy with the joy of faith or grumbling in the pain of darkness. But why? Why not walk away and be done with even the most minor frustrations? Why not find an easier path or maybe even “create my own religion,” as some tell me they have done, where I crop out the hard stuff and fill the frame with only flowers and light?
Because life is never just flowers and light, because there will always be frustrations, there will always be something to whine about, something that doesn’t go according to my plan, and I cannot imagine getting through my daily dose of drama without God ever present in my corner, without Jesus always in front of me, without the Eucharist providing food for the often difficult journey.
When the crowds around Jesus start to have trouble with some of his difficult teachings and begin walking away, he asks his closest followers if they, too, will leave.
“Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter answers. “You have the words of everlasting life.” That remains at the heart of my answer today. Always I identify with Peter, who never fails to screw up but somehow gets it on a deeper level. He doubts, he denies, he runs away, but Jesus sees through it to the faith that lives inside him. I pray Jesus can do the same with me, see through my mistakes and missteps and failures to the faith that is sometimes shaky, often lukewarm, but always present. For my entire life my faith has been the air I breathe. Like the beating heart we don’t question until it starts to fail, my faith has been beating inside me for 53 years, often without my taking the time to stop and admire its steadfast rhythm and life-giving power. Until someone asks me, “Why stay?”
Like Peter, I can only say, “To whom shall I go?” If not here, where? If not this, what? This is where Truth lives. This is the Way. This is the Word to which I cling. Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega—with me, with all of us, until the end of time.