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Catholic by Choice

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I named this blog “Catholic by Choice” with a specific purpose, to communicate to those who read my writing that I choose to be a Catholic Christian and love the Catholic Church. I am a “revert” to the Catholic Church. Though I was baptized into the Church as an infant and received the other Sacraments of initiation, I wandered from the faith as a teenage “hippie” in search of truth. Fortunately, like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” I discovered there really is “no place like home” and came back into full participation in the Catholic Church. That is what is meant by the term “revert”, someone who returned home.

We often hear the term “cradle Catholic” used to refer to Catholics who were raised in a Catholic family. However, though one may be born into a Catholic family, it is not the cradle which makes one Catholic but the Sacrament of Baptism. For most of us, that happened for us when we were infants. However, the Sacrament presumes an ongoing cooperation with grace which will lead to continuing conversion in the life of the one who was baptized. This partly the reason why, in the Western Church, the Sacrament of Confirmation, another Sacrament of Initiation into Christ, was separated from Baptism and is given later as the child matures. 

I became what I now call a “Catholic by Choice” at the age of 18 when I questioned my way through the writings of the early Church fathers and back into the heart of the Catholic Church. Since then, I have sought to live my life within the Church. I experience the grace I need for ongoing conversion through receiving the Sacraments. I seek to renew and reform my mind through her continual instruction as it comes to us through the Bible, the Book of the Church, and the teaching office called the Magisterium.

The Gospel of St John records this beautiful promise given to the disciples by the Lord before he ascended: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” (John 14: 15-20)

Over all these years I have become profoundly grateful that one of the ways in which the Lord fulfilled that promise is to provide the gift of the teaching office of the Catholic Church, what is called the “Magisterium” (from a latin word for teacher). In an age of compromise and confusion in so many Christian circles, the Catholic Church speaks clearly and courageously in defense of the truth. For example, the Catholic Church has not and will not compromise on the truth concerning the inviolable dignity of every human life from conception to natural death or the truth about marrige and the family and society founded upon it. I feel very fortunate to be instructed by her as a mother and teacher.

The Church is not “Some – thing” but  “Some – One”, the Risen Body of the Lord Jesus Christ continuing His redemptive mission in the world until He returns. Let me share a few salient quotes from Patristic sources which underscore this vision of the nature of the Church: “Let us love the Lord our God; let us love His Church… Let us love Him as our Father and her as our mother” (St. Augustine) “No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother” (St. Cyprian) “For where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is also; and where the Spirit of God is, there the Church is, and all grace. And the Spirit is truth.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

For my Catholic readers I ask, do you experience the Church as a “mother”? The Church is a relational reality. Do you believe that you live in the Church and are sent on mission into the world? Catholic theology teaches what the early fathers, Saints and Councils throughout the ages all affirmed; to belong to Jesus is to belong to His Body. Our membership in the Church is a participation in the life of God; what the Apostle Peter referred to as a “participation in the Divine nature”. (2 Peter 1:4)

The Church is also not some “thing” which we try to “change” in the sense of remaking it into our image. The Church is a relational reality, a communion within which God’s Image and likeness is formed in us and revealed to a world waiting to be born. The Church is a communion with the Trinity – and with one another – in Him who is its Head. Living in that communion we are called and capacitated to love the world as He does. He continues to love the world through us.

Through our Baptism the Church became the privileged place in which we live our lives in Christ. To perceive, receive and live this reality requires ongoing conversion and continual instruction in the Christian way of life. In its treatment of this “mystery” called the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the early fathers of the Church states: “To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.”
 
“She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church Par 845).

I teach and help to lead the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process in the parish to which I am assigned as a Deacon. This is a year long series of teachings on the Christian faith which is given to those who were never batized and seek to join the Church, Christians from other traditions who seek to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church (we do not rebaptize) and anybody else who wants to grow in the faith and Christian maturity.

Over the years I have worked in this area it has become all too clear that many Catholics know little about their faith. When they are introduced to its fullness and beauty, the grace of their baptism comes alive and they fall in love with the Lord in a new and fresh way – and with His plan for the whole world, His Body, the Church, which is the seed of the coming kingdom. 

I have also found many “former” Catholics or “non-practicing” Catholics are just waiting to be invited to come home. One of the great defenders of the Catholic Church, a man whose cause for canonization has now been advanced, Bishop Fulton Sheen, once said in a radio reply, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church.” Sadly, the truth of the adage is verified in my work as I find Catholics who have not been evangelized or properly catechized.

There is a growing movement underway of Catholics returning home to the Church. The greatest effort promoting this homecoming is called “Catholics Come Home”, led by Tom Peterson. I met Tom Peterson several years ago at a Catholic Leadership Conference. I remember the year because I had pneumonia and almost did not even attend. However, after persevering through the long trip because the conference is always a highlight of my year, I knew I simply HAD to meet this man.

I had seen my first “Catholics Come Home” commercial months earlier and became convinced that the work of this non-profit media apostolate was going to become one of the most important resources for the New Evangelization in my lifetime. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “someone is using the new integrated media with excellence to tell the real story of the greatest treasure in the whole world, the fullness of the Christian faith as found within the Catholic Church.”

On the first day of the conference I found Tom in the crowd. I was brimming over with enthusiasm. I walked up to him, introduced myself, and told him that I believed the work the Lord had given to him was one of the greatest resources we had in this new missionary age. Those who know me know that when I believe something is anointed by the Spirit and effective, I am blunt and right to the point. However, in retrospect, I was visibly very sick and anything but laid back in that encounter. I probably would have scared myself if I were Tom Peterson.

Fortunately, he was not put off by my manner or my coughing. He was encouraged. We conversed for quite some time and connected throughout that important weekend. I had the opportunity to see the newest commercials they had planned and to hear Tom speak. This gifted and humble man left a successful advertising career to serve the Lord and his Church in this critical time in history.

For  those who have not yet seen a “Catholics Come Home” commercial, you need to stop reading this article and go to their outstanding interactive web site here. Watch these commercials. Read about this wonderful New Evangelization Apostolate. Get encouraged and learn to feel good again about being a Catholic Christian. But don’t stop there!  Respond to one or more of the wonderful opportunities offered on this virtual media apostolate site to join in the mission.

The ads and the interactive website have reached 40 million viewers across the US and 1.5 million viewers worldwide in the past three years.  According to census statistics published by participating dioceses, “Catholics Come Home” ads have helped more than 200,000 fallen away Catholics come home to the Catholic Church.

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