The Mass and the Eucharist bring peace and sustenance to Catholics, keeping them coming back to the church. I usually feel that sense of centeredness, but not that day.
A few weeks later, Pope Benedict XVI announced he was retiring. The thought crept in: “Why don’t I retire from the church too? I don’t need the fancy send off, but I could take on the title ‘Catholic emeritus.’”
But that’s the thing. Even if I were to “retire” from the church, I’d still identify as Catholic—lapsed, former or emeritus—just like Benedict is still a pope. And many who “leave” the church by never attending services or rejecting teachings on sexuality, still see themselves as Catholic.
I know “Catholics” who never attend service, I know Catholics who Episcopalian churches. I know others who attend Mass faithfully while rejecting church teaching on sexuality. Certainly there are plenty of Catholics who remain faithful without question, but many of us struggle with the church while ultimately and somewhat defiantly remaining Catholic.
Still, one-third of those raised Catholic have left. They see a church plagued by scandal and hypocrisy, rancor and hubris. Catholics have become a divided lot, with each side arguing that God favors one faction or the other. As I experienced, even at the Mass, our sanctuary, we cannot escape our profound problems.
So why do we stay?
In his homily about the sex abuse documents, the young priest talked about how he wanted to be a priest to serve the church in a time of darkness.
The desire to heal the church is a sentiment I’ve heard from other young priests, and it’s a sentiment they share with liberal church reformers, too, even if the two groups’ visions of the church are radically different.
Most of us are somewhere between, but we believe in redemption for the church and ourselves.
“I still hold onto a flicker of hope within; that love, justice, and action will prevail – that our church can and will heal,” Porsia Tunzi, an intern at National Catholic Reporter, told me.
Family and community
My grandmother was my confirmation sponsor. By eighth grade, I had developed my own rudimentary spiritual ideas, but I went through confirmation because of her and my family.
With time, I realized that church expanded my family. My high school youth group and Amate House, a post-college volunteer program, helped me experience the love of God through others.
Many contend that the exodus of Catholics is a pastoral issue. If parishes were more welcoming, we’d keep more Catholics in the pews.
I have experienced the lack of hospitality in parishes (this U.S. Catholic essay describes the problem well ). Indeed, a fellow Amate alum told me this is a big part of why she no longer practices Catholicism.