Last week, I met some friends at the playground and we began talking about another friend who converted to Catholicism many years ago. When I clarified that they were not “cradle Catholics”, another mother, a non-Catholic, laughed and said that was really backwards. That normally people don’t move from a Protestant faith back into a “strict” religion.
I couldn’t help feeling offended. Is it a common perception that people only come into the Catholic faith through birth or marriage and that later they leave to become Protestant because they are fed up with all the “rules”?
In that moment I was quite taken aback with her comment and as we were supervising kids on the playground, I didn’t really have a chance to lead her into further discussion . Plus, I’m not really quick on my feet with my two-year old yelling, “swing me Mommy, swing me” from across the playground.
But since our meeting, I have been giving her comment much thought.
Was she alleging that people usually pick their faith by who has the least rules or requirements?
That people want to worship God in a way that doesn’t intrude on their daily life?
Because I didn’t have that desired detailed discussion with her, I can’t put those words into her mouth. But I think her statement might be a common misperception among other Christians.
I also feel that I missed an opportunity to break down a stereotype of the Church and help someone understand what could draw a person into the Catholic faith.
Our church is not simply one of tradition and strict rules, but one of devout faith. Catholics might not be as demonstrative of our love of Christ as many other Christians, but that does not mean our faith is any less real. In the Mass, I actually feel the real presence of Christ with us, both among the congregation and within me. That feeling, that experience, is something I would love to be able to convey with words, to explain why we are Catholic.
There is a difference in Christian religions, and it’s not how many times we stand up, sit down and kneel or the alleged strict rules of no-no’s. There is a very real difference in what we believe and how we choose to exercise those beliefs. It has taken years of exploration since my Confirmation as a teenager to begin to understand the depth of my faith. I would not trade that journey or think for a moment that it is over. I welcome it and invite others to walk with me as I learn more about Christ, our Catholic faith and myself.
Thousands of people a year come into the Catholic church as adults because of this real presence of Jesus Christ, because of our devout faith, rich traditions, and heritage. For some reason, our American Catholic Community is not recognized for the surge and growth in membership.
Here is my challenge for you: Learn more about your faith so that when someone says something disparaging, uninformed or jokingly about Catholicism, you may take the time to politely educate them and share your faith.
If you have a friend who is a non-practicing Catholic, don’t be afraid to discuss your faith with them, invite them to reconnect through literature, prayer groups, internet sites, and podcasts; anything you think might help them better connect with the Church.
Our journey never ends and only leads to growth in our relationship with Christ – and through Christ with each other.