Why Are You Catholic?

Letters from a Pastor to His People- May 17, 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Why are you Catholic? Why do you believe in God? Why do you pray and why do you try to live a morally upright life? If you are joyful and peaceful on account of your faith, why?
Don't take offense at these questions. I'm not trying to make you feel guilty or put you on the defensive. And I'm certainly not trying to make you second-guess yourself.

First, I'm asking these questions in connection to our second reading, the letter from Saint Peter. There's a somewhat famous exhortation in this reading. Many saints, martyrs, theologians, and ordinary Catholics have made reference to it over the centuries. "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3:15).
You might never be actually asked to give an explanation for the reason of your hope. No one may never approach you with those questions above. You may never have to articulate your faith. But, as Saint Peter says, it is good to be ready to do so.

Not so you can give a coherent answer, look smart, and convince the other person to have a similar faith. Read the next line of Peter. "But do it with gentleness and reverence," he writes. There's no pressure in rehearsing your answers. It's good to be ready to give a reason for your hope not so you can 'win the argument,' but so you can have a good prayerful engagement with God.

Try to answer these questions before God. Make it a prayer. Imagine Jesus asking you these questions: why are you Catholic, why do you believe in me, why do you pray to me, etc? If you're not sure of the answers, then ask God for help. Ask him for the desire to have a good answer. And by 'good,' I mean not the 'right' answer, but something that authentically reflects who you truly are and what you truly desire. Again, not what you think you should say or what someone, like me or an imaginary judge, would want you to say. But what you know you truly believe and want to believe.

This is what Jesus is getting at when he says, "If you love me you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Love is free and natural. I follow the "commandments" of the government (rules of the road, shelter-in-place mandates, pay taxes) not because I love the government, but because I have to and because it is good for a peaceful society. That is fine because there is no expectation of love in my relationship to the government. On the other hand, I love God first, and my following the "commandments" of God flows naturally from my love. In fact, I don't even see God's commandments as commandments. It's like when you give a gift to a loved one. You do it because you love that person and not because you have to.

And when we give and when we love, we are fulfilled. Life is meaningful and we experience a taste of heaven. I imagine that's why so many people became Catholic in Samaria when Philip went down to preach to them. Acts of the Apostles says, "There was great joy in that city."

That, I suppose, would be my answers to those questions above. I am and do all those things because I love God and when I love God, my life is fulfilling and meaningful and joyful. I hope you can say something similar for yourself.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. James

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