This year saw the fifth anniversary of my reception into full communion with the Catholic Church and also my ordination to the priesthood. It is therefore a time of personal thanksgiving. When I meet new people within the Church they often ask me if I am glad that I made the decision to become a Catholic. Sometimes there is a hint of disbelief as the questioner cannot fully understand why someone would choose this path.
There are various contingent reasons why I took this step of faith. Sometimes there is a tendency to be pessimistic about our faith which prevents us seeing the many positives. However, I feel that there are innumerable reasons to celebrate and be proud of our faith and what it can offer our world today.
As I have grown into the Catholic Church I have begun to appreciate just how diverse it is. This is a completely underappreciated gift. Secular institutions and society claim to champion diversity and yet the Catholic family around the world has lived with difference since the time of Jesus. The presence of different liturgical rites and uses stands testimony to the distinctiveness of a wide variety of communities and expressions. Even the Latin rite provides a home for those from so many different ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
James Joyce once claimed that the Catholic Church means “Here comes everybody”. I believe that in this country there is no organisation more diverse than the Catholic Church. Our communities make the universality of the Church visible for all to see.
With such diversity it is completely understandable that there will be tensions from time to time and in my relatively short period as a Catholic I have experienced aspects of this. I regularly reflect about the way the Catholic Church has held together when other Christian communities have so many splinter groups and breakaways.
Somehow the Church holds everything in balance even when it can seem that we are splitting at the seams. I believe people stay because this is their home and where they belong. The Catholic commitment to unity has a powerful and evangelistic draw to those like me who have known an existence outside of the Church. I now share this responsibility and recognise that whilst the Church is not always perfect it is my home.
Pursuit for the truth drove my journey into the Catholic Church. The desire for communion with St Peter and the foundation that it provides had an almost magnetic pull, so that in the end I could no longer resist. I recognise that whilst humans within the Church may falter, Church teaching remains steadfast and true. This does not mean that I am not ashamed when those we put faith in cause scandals and hurt. However, the failings of individual people do not erode the deposit of faith. The Church throughout history has been tested by various storms but our faith in Jesus remains undiminished.
The Catholic approach to death also provides a reason why I rejoice in belonging to the Church. In the school where I am chaplain we give November a particular emphasis as the month of All Souls. Throughout the month there are various Masses for the dead, themed assemblies and an intercession box is placed before the altar.
I like the way that the Catholic faith does not shy away from death. The ability to pray for the souls of our loved ones means that the relationship that we have continues in a different form. By performing this great act of charity we can still do something for our loved ones. I also appreciate the pattern and rhythm of a Catholic funeral from the vigil to the Funeral Mass. It allows space to grieve and through the sacrifice of Calvary places our grief into a wider cosmic context.
One of my greatest joys is the saints. As well as providing inspiration and intercession, they give our faith historical depth. Saints remind us of our own divine vocation as we live history, and are part of the continuum of God’s relationship with humanity. Following the Church’s year with the Saints is tremendously enriching, renewing and inspiring. It points us to the greater depths of the Church and connects us to the hope of eventual reception into the Church triumphant in heaven.
There are many other reasons I am grateful to be a Catholic. It is easy for all of us to become complacent and forget what a blessing it is to belong to this family.
Pastor Iuventus is away
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