Being Catholic in an Age of Exodus

"You are my beloved."

Those were the words a benevolent Irish priest told me to meditate on before giving me absolution. After revealing myself as a fraud and all too Pharisaical, this priest chose to remind me of my status before God. I am His beloved. Where else could I expect to receive such gentleness after reciting my hideous sins?

Rather than face the admonition I truly deserved, I was met with tender encouragement. Tears welled up in my eyes as I prayed before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Love and mercy overcame me. I was no longer relying on myself. I was back to being a humble child, reliant on my Father for everything. I've had to confess the same sins multiple times, but our Lord never tires of forgiving me.

I love my Catholic faith. I love the sacraments, the saints, the incense. I love the reverence the altar commands. Sometimes, I sit in an empty chapel, just to feel His presence, thinking of nothing but the sweetest love I have ever known.

My faith is central to all I do. I attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I pray for Our Lady's intercession. I hold back tears while contemplating Christ's Passion and I unite my sufferings to His, though they in no way compare. Day in and day out, I choose Christ-centered living.

Then last year, the Pennsylvania attorney general disclosed horrific details of yet another scandal. More cover ups of the sexual abuse of children, within the walls of my Mother Church, my safe haven, my home. I've heard fellow Catholics try to diminish the horror that happened inside of our sacred home. Instead of righteous condemnation of these priests, they've succumbed to the same sin that the Church has been guilty of: vanity. People have offered criticism towards the media for unfairly targeting the Church. Indeed, we should be equally condemning of abuses that take place elsewhere, but the condemnation received by the Church is well deserved.

Though it makes my heart sink, we do a disservice to more than the victims when we diminish the utter demonic nature of the abuse. We do a disservice to our beloved Church, who requires our Holy indignation when such evil takes place within its walls, that She might overcome this evil, rather than become complacent to it.

Still other Catholics have grown weary of the scandals and the nefarious, clandestine dealings of Church officials, causing many to question their faith, and some to fall away from it.

Non-Catholics must wonder why anyone would stay with the Church, when scandal after scandal infect it. I am reminded of Saint Peter's words to Jesus after a difficult teaching caused many followers to desert Him.

"Jesus asked the twelve, 'Do you also wish to go away?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.'" Jn 6:67-68.

Indeed, when those followers left, they were leaving the greatest earthly gift Jesus was offering, Himself in the Eucharist. The Lord of the Rings writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, offers his insight: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth."

Though this central tenet of Catholicism is frequently mocked, the truth is far too beautiful to compromise. Even while the majority of Catholics are non-believers in the true presence of the Eucharist, I am willing to declare this truth even to my own detriment, for it is the greatest expression of love existing on the Earth, nay, the universe. That God from all eternity, would deign to take such simple form for my benefit. Where else can I go when only the Catholic Church offers me the quintessential miracle of miracles?

When I pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I know I am in the presence of the Almighty. The feeling is palpable. However, I didn't always feel this way. Nor would I expect others to feel this way. Each of us is on his or her own spiritual journey. Much like the apostles who failed to recognize the Risen Christ on the walk to Emmaus, I had to learn to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. And now, I too feel my heart burn within me when I face my Lord in that precious host.

Despite the Church's failings, I will continue to take part in its liturgy, to pray to the saints, to sit in an empty chapel, darkened, with only the light from candles and what little gleams from the sun can escape through the stained glass. Of course, this pales in comparison to the true light kept within the confines of the tabernacle. I would rather have that light than any false light the world offers.

To God be the Glory!


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