Seven Things I Like About Being Catholic

I knew the theory, yes, but not how to do it. It was if I’d suddenly been drafted to play for the Red Sox in their pennant run. I knew how to stand in the batter’s box and swing the bat, but not how to hit the slider or the change-up that looks like a fastball or how not to have a heart attack when the pitcher threw hard inside.

Of the whole shape and feel of lived Catholicism, I knew nothing when my family and I entered the Church fifteen years ago. Of the practical blessings of the Catholic life I knew very little. Here, speaking as an adolescent Catholic, are seven of those practical blessings.

To be fair, some of these were blessings I knew from my Protestant life. But I didn’t realize how being a Catholic intensified the blessing. Grape juice is good, but wine is better.

Sundays, Impositions, and Sins

First, Catholicism gives me something to do every Sunday. Mass orients my whole week. It reminds me what’s life’s all about, and lets me put the past week into context and prepare for the next one. If the past week was a bad one, Jesus is here and offers comfort. If it was a good one, Jesus is here and offers a challenge. In either case, I leave Mass having reset my course.

Second, Catholicism imposes itself. With holy days of obligation, fast days, and the other rules, Catholicism requires me to do things when I don’t want to do them. That reminds me that my life is not my own to do with as I please. My time (and my space, now that I think of it) belongs to a higher authority. I don’t eat much meat and I like fish, and Fridays in Lent still make me grumble. The Church’s impositions make me a little less self-centered than I would be otherwise.

Third, Catholicism makes me see and feel my sins. I can find lots of ways to avoid facing the truth about myself. “I know I fail to reach the ideal” is a good one, because no one expects you to reach the ideal. Saying “I know I can be difficult” is another good one, because you’re admitting imperfection but not really admitting sin. Also useful are the many versions of “It’s not my fault.”

As a Protestant, getting forgiveness required only a quick private prayer. This did not induce a real feeling of sorrow for my most grievous faults. From reading a standard examination of conscience with the prospect of having to admit it all to a priest, Catholicism tells me, “No, you’re not being difficult. You’re being a jerk. And it’s your fault.”

Fourth, it forces me to do something about my sins. My Evangelical friends like the idea that they can say a quick prayer and be cool with God, but I don’t. It wouldn’t be good for me (and it’s not good for them). I have to drive to church, get in line, tell everything to the priest, say an act of contrition, do the penance. The effort makes it feel real to me.

I also get to hear the absolution. Someone who speaks for God tells me God forgives me. Someone who is not me, with my pliable sense of sin and ability to presume upon God’s love, assures me that I’m really forgiven.

Friends and Saints

Fifth, Catholicism reminds me that other people know things I don’t know and can do things I can’t do, and these insights and actions are not the ones my world naturally values. God not only works in mysterious ways but He works mysteriously through people that people like me would not in the usual course of things notice. Being at Mass and at Catholic gatherings reminds me that me and my friends — who are pretty much like me, despite our differences — are just a few fish in a huge sea, and not the most interesting or useful fish out there.

It reminds me that some of those people who are so different from me are saints and sages, and the others know things and see things I don’t. People who wouldn’t know the word “eschaton” or “Mariology” if it showed up in a tuxedo tell me things I would not have seen on my own in a million years. Small fish, meet bigger fish.

Sixth, Catholicism makes the world feel warmer. We aren’t left on our own. Jesus just wasn’t here on earth then, he is here on earth now. He’s right over there in the Tabernacle. In a place with so many churches, you know that Jesus is always just around the corner, or around a few corners. Whatever life throws at you, Jesus is with you. You can go look at him and talk to him.

Seventh, it makes the world feel friendlier. Protestants like to talk about our being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. But they mean something like the people in the stands at a football game. They’re witnesses and may even be fans, but they’re not friends. They’re too far away. Being able to talk to the Blessed Mother and any saint I like makes them friends.

These are a few of the practical blessings the Catholic Church has given me and my family since we entered the Church fifteen years ago — blessings I didn’t expect because I didn’t know about them. The Church has been the mother who gives you what you expect and then even better gifts you didn’t know you wanted.


image: The Canonization of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II by JEFFREY BRUNO/ALETEIA

David Mills


David Mills writes a weekly column for Aleteia. He latest book is Discovering Mary. He’s edited Touchstone and First Things.

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  • Maryanne

    David, I’m sure many people would like to hear about the journey that led you and your family to Catholicism. While appreciating your points I’m almost on the point of leaving the faith I was born into because it’s changed so much I hardly recognize it any more. The Greek and Russian orthodox churches are beckoning. Just saying.

  • AdversusHaereses

    The Church is in crisis, and it may or may not be the worst crisis in its history, but the fact remains that it is the only true Church, there is no other.

  • David Mills

    Maryanne: I’ve written a good bit about it and will try to find the links. I had the advantage of growing up semi- and generically churched and then spending years on the inside of conservative (i.e. believing) Protestantism, which gave me a kind of baseline from which to see the Church and a contrast that illuminated her life. Later observation of Orthodoxy added to this. Having a sociological turn of mind helped as well.

    What I found (looking from the outside) was an institution moving through history that history battered and shoved around as you’d expect, but that also amazingly maintained itself and its commitments and that had unexpected and practically-speaking very unlikely periods of renewal and revival. It is hard to explain that except on the assumption that the Church is who She says She is.

    Her life in history was exactly what you’d expect once Jesus left his followers in charge. Why He did so, we don’t know, but once He ascended into Heaven what we’ve seen over 2,000 years was pretty much predictable — except for that continuity and those revivals. In purely practical terms, she wasn’t worse than the alternatives and even during her bad patches was in many ways (again in purely practical terms) better. And then there was that evidence that the Church really was what She said She was.

    So that was part of the reason my wife and I entered the Church with our family. It wasn’t a small decision either. I was working at an Episcopal seminary at the time and expected to be sacked for it. In the event, I wasn’t, for somewhat accidental reasons, but when we decided to become Catholics it was with the expectation of being jobless. I mention this because it’s especially painful to have found this treasure (in an earthen vessel, for sure) and hear that people have been so hurt they want to leave it.

    My one, more polemical, comment is that as an Episcopalian I went through an Orthodox-philic phase, but blessedly, it didn’t last. I saw enough, and have seen more since, to argue that the appeal is chimerical. If it hasn’t changed, that’s the result of external factors (like its very small and ethnically homogenous numbers and its social and cultural irrelevance) and internal (its stasis and inertia).

    Some of my Catholic friends, for example, lament some of the things the pope has said or written. Even if they’re right (and I tend to disagree with them on the specifics), the life that produces those statements also produced all the things they (we) love from Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We wouldn’t have the second without the engaged and energetic life that produced the first. The Catholic Church sticks its neck out in an heroic way, a way the alternatives, particularly Orthodoxy, don’t.

    So please hang in there.

  • Uuubigdummy

    There is always this conterversity between catholic and protestant the spiritual reality that they share is there opinion and what these people share is based on the natural world view and what someone taught them. And not on the spiritual experience like a “road to dramas as expsrience# that saint Paul talks about. Or even an acts 19 baptised in the holy spirit.

  • Pete

    Thanks be to God for he gave us His Son, and He sent us the Holy Spirit and with their love we have been called to our salvation and to join His Church. With Christ as the head of our church the Gospel has been spread through word and sacred tradition so that we all might taste and see His goodness. After being catholic for 59 years I have come to appreciate more fully how much has been done to save a poor sinner, such as me.