It is as if Christmas season just finished. The ornaments are just put away, the crèche wrapped up in tissue for another year. But still Lent arrived before we were ready, and I found myself a bit overwhelmed. Lent, already??? I grudgingly began to pull out our Lenten materials, trying to focus on the meaning of this season.
It seemed so much easier during Christmas. During this past Advent when we were celebrating yet another saint's feast day with dessert for dinner, one of my children wiped the ice cream from his face, smiled with deep satisfaction of having a tummy full of sugar and said, "It is so good to be Catholic." In their minds, being Catholic, especially during Advent, meant days of activities, celebrations and just plain fun.
But what about now? While the fasting and giving up chocolate will make my New Year's resolution to lose weight easier, Lent seems just a bit of struggle, almost drudgery. But as we talked about how we will celebrate Lent and focus on what Christ did for them on the cross. I heard one of my little kids say to a sibling, "So, the cross is kinda like our ticket to heaven!" Yeah, kinda.
Their simplicity in finding joy in their faith gave me reason to ponder what I find joyful in the faith. I discovered I have a nice list of things to be thankful for quite beyond the deposit of the faith, though that is an awesome a gift to be sure. As I pondered what they said, I discovered that my joy in being Catholic has little, if anything, to do with the centuries of teachings passed along or truths upheld. No, my reasons for being glad I am a Catholic have more to do with the more mundane and human reasons.
I am very glad that our faith gives us more than one option for Sunday Mass. Unlike some faiths where you are expected to be there at one specific time or be deemed 'absent', I have six choices at my parish. This availability of times to meet and receive Jesus is very important to a family like ours with eight children at home ages 13 yrs. – 7 mos. At times, depending on how everyone slept the night before, a 'divide and conquer' approach to getting everyone to Mass is the only one that works. And noon Mass for a teenager is always welcome.
In that same line, I am grateful that I am within a twenty-minute drive of over three dozen churches! While attending my own parish is preferred, I have found a Mass to fit our lives both during the week and on the weekends. We have no reason to ever miss Mass.
It is a source of joy that we have so many saints and their accompanying feasts days to celebrate. As a good friend once stated, "If you like to party, be a Catholic! You can have one for every saint, almost every day if you want!" We have friends in heaven to remember with a slice of cake and ice cream or a good story to read at bedtime and someone to call on when you're overwhelmed, have lost your keys, or just need a shoulder to cry on.
It is wonderful that we can travel the world and participate in the same Mass. The language may be different and there may be slight changes in when you stand and kneel, but there is continuity in the service rarely found in any other faith. I have been blessed to attend Mass in Italy, Belgium and Ireland. It was very satisfying knowing that the readings I heard (while not always understanding the language) were the same readings being said back home. The commonality of our faith is very comforting.
I am personally indebted to many religious but very appreciative of all the priests, nuns, brothers, monks, and consecrated men and women who do as Christ spoke of in Matt. 19:29, "forsaken home, or brothers, or sisters, or father or mother, or wife (husband), or children, or lands for my sake." They leave all, endure public misunderstanding, loneliness and, at times, even ridicule, to serve Christ and us. On some days, recognizing their sacrifice makes the sacrifices I make at home taking care of my family easier to handle.
Our lasting endurance is inspiring. We have survived Roman persecutions, heresies, schisms, public scandals both old and new and have managed to continue to try to be Christ's church. Dan Brown, Phillip Pullman and James Cameron can do what they like but we will still be here long after their books or films have fallen off the best-seller list.
I am thankful that we have a welcoming faith. You are 'always welcome at our house' as an old childhood song goes. While becoming Catholic would not be described as easy, and many converts will tell of their difficulties and friends and family lost because of their decision to cross the Tiber, they still come. This is especially visible now when, at our small, humble church, we have twelve people from pre-teens to seniors seeking to join us in full communion. It is always very edifying to witness those people who become Catholic by choice. I wonder if I would have their bravery had I not been born a Catholic.
Finally, I am grateful that we are what we say we are: Catholic — universal. No matter where you go, you will find another Catholic. Our churches have been built in jungles and deserts, our Masses said in concentration camps and jails, our missionaries have traveled to every country in the world and been martyred in many of them. Still we are there. We are not perfect, we will fail Christ time and again but we will always get up and continue to bring His message of love and salvation. For this, I am forever grateful.