My decision to convert to Catholicism came as a shock to many of my peers and family members, and I can see why. While most people my age were turning their backs on their respective religious upbringings, here I was turning towards a church that seemed riddled with nothing but evil and scandal and close-mindedness.
One young woman in my writing class told me after spending all her formative years in Catholic school and going to church and being a "model Catholic," she had to finally turn away. The molestations, the cover-ups, these unbelievable crimes being committed by church leaders was too much for her.
"I just can't justify being Catholic anymore."
It is seriously difficult to justify being a member of the Catholic church nowadays. There is a constant stream of news concerning all the horrible things that Catholic leaders are doing. Denying rights to women, turning their backs on the LGBT community and denying them rights, and sexual abuse by clergy members; just to name a few atrocities. Stories about nuns promoting fiscal responsibility and the plight of normal Christians gets lost in all that negative noise. Obviously, and for good reason.
While I feel that most of my peers understand that the "Church" doesn't speak for all Catholics, that doesn't solve any problems. When friends post news stories about the next big Catholic mess-up, I can't stand up for the church. Even though I believe that some of the bad things church leaders do and say begin as good intentions, it's not enough to excuse them. Being a jerk, even though you don't mean to be, doesn't make you any less of a jerk. It makes you an ignorant jerk. Throwing what you believe is "the will of God" into the mix, really isn't helping matters. Trust me.
So why be Catholic? That's the big question, isn't it? That's what I feel non-Catholics don't understand about me. If you can't stand behind the Catholic church, why bother?
It was difficult for me to leave behind nondenominational Christianity for Catholicism. Protestant Christianity has a multitude churches, so whenever one crazy church does something horrifying like screaming obscenities and waving "God Hates Fags" signs at military funerals, you can simply say "that's not my church." You don't have to bear the personal responsibility, because the Protestant churches are so separated from one another. Catholic churches don't have that luxury. We're all connected. There's a system, a hierarchy and sometimes that leads to all of us bearing the shame of a select few.
We're all connected. It's my catch-22. It is the best and worst part of Catholicism for me. I stay because we are connected, and we need to stay that way if we're ever going to get anything done. I love that we all get to be part of this big community; that I can go into any church and know the words will be the same, the songs will be familiar, the routine will be familiar. I take comfort in knowing we are all worshiping the same God.
I got tired of searching for a Christian church that suited me. I got really tired of trying to find a church that didn't have a God rock band blasting electric guitar at 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning.(Let's be honest, in my perfect world we'd be singing old fashioned hymns and Gregorian chants, because I'm weird like that.) It's the separation of Protestant churches that drove me away in the first place.
However, the connectedness and routine of the Catholic church still doesn't fully explain why I stay. It's nice, but the bad probably outweighs the good in that particular respect. The reason I stay is because I believe that below the higher-ups who make us all look like jerks there are a whole lot of decent people; people who want to make the world a better place and want to model love for the world and want to stay here and fight it out, because they, like me, believe our faith worth it.
It's small scale Catholicism that keeps me strong in my faith. It's the good priests at small churches who say "all are welcome" and truly mean it. It's the nuns who work quietly and humbly to make our city a better place. It's the laypeople who devote their time to help the poor and homeless and hopeless through volunteer work. It's seeing an open-minded young man enter the priesthood who just might change the face of Catholicism as we know it.
It is the beauty of being connected with these sorts of people that keeps me here.
Strong in faith and hope and love.