Why be Catholic? It’s a question I struggled with for years myself. How would I explain this to my then 6-year-old son? My thoughts turned toward the Eucharist. … “Because when you are Catholic, you can receive the Eucharist, and that’s as close to Jesus as you can get on earth.”
by Lynda Marie
I was scanning my bag of carrots in the grocery store self-checkout lane when I heard the lady behind me say loudly and enthusiastically, “You should come to our church!”
The words caught my attention, and I looked up to see her chatting with another woman who was obviously a friend of hers. Their conversation went on.
I finished bagging my groceries and headed out the door, but as I loaded my bags into the back of my SUV, the conversation between these two ladies kept playing in my head. Church? In a park? Outside? With food? I was intrigued. I imagined young families like mine, gathered for prayer and fellowship in the picnic shelter; afterwards, the ladies would be enjoying friendly conversation while the men flipped burgers and played horseshoes and the children played in the playground. Prayer plus play. Such a winning combination, I thought.
And the food. Oh yes, the food. I’ve been to enough Appalachian potlucks to know what that would be like: heavenly. Fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, biscuits and gravy, deviled eggs and homemade potato salad. Watermelon, fruit salad, and BBQ potato chips. Three kinds of cobbler, some kind of whipped-topping dessert, lemonade and sweet tea. I could imagine it all.
But most of all, I imagined a church where you were made to feel welcome and that felt like a family reunion every Sunday. A church with men and women of all ages and especially lots of children. A church that combined praise with fellowship and lunch. A church service held outside on the pretty days, where the hymns were sung with gusto and mixed with the songs of the birds and the morning breeze. It all sounded perfect and a very far cry from the over-60, ladies-only club that represented my parish. I closed the hatch to my car and drove home, turning left at the corner across from the First Baptist Church, the largest church in our small town.
“But Why are We Catholic?”
In a few days, my oldest chid will be making his first holy Communion. One day over a year ago, he was riding with me when we were making that familiar turn across from the First Baptist Church. It was summertime, and they were having Bible school, and the church grounds were filled with children outside, playing games and blowing bubbles.
As he peered out the window, he asked, “Mom, why can’t we go to that church?” I knew what he was thinking. There were few children at our church and no Bible school. I replied, “Because we are not Baptists. We are Catholic.”
I knew what the next question would be.
“But why are we Catholic?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. Why be Catholic? It’s a question I struggled with for years myself. How would I explain this to my then 6-year-old son? My thoughts turned toward the Eucharist; the only thing that I knew really set us apart from our Protestant brothers and sisters. I responded, “Because when you are Catholic, you can receive the Eucharist, and that’s as close to Jesus as you can get on earth.” My light turned green and I made my turn, and he seemed satisfied with the answer.
But I wonder if he’ll always be satisfied with that. The longing to be part of a growing and thriving community of like-minded people is strong. I struggle with it and so will he. We naturally want to be with others who look like us, act like us, think like us, believe like us. We want to be accepted. And sometimes, as Catholics, we find that. But more often than not, we don’t. And then what? What keeps us in the flock and not wandering away?
It Will Always be the Eucharist
For me and hopefully, for my son, it will always be the Eucharist. At age 7 now, he anxiously is awaiting the feast of Corpus Christi, which is the day when he will receive the Eucharist for the first time. He is ready. He knows what the Eucharist is (the real presence of the body of Christ) and he knows that he can only get it one way, by being Catholic.
But more than anything, he knows that he wants to be close to Jesus. He wants that more than a Bible school or more kids to play with, or even a piece of fried chicken every week. He understands that all those other things can be found in other churches but not the Eucharist. He knows that the Eucharist is the one thing that makes us Catholic, and that going toward anything else will take him a little further away from Jesus.
I reminded myself of this as I drove home from the grocery store that morning. And the next morning, as my family drove to our little Catholic mission on the outskirts of town, I looked over at the families walking into the First Baptist Church and thought to myself, “You should come to our church! We meet just up the road. It’s really wonderful, AND WE HAVE FOOD!”