Are You an Authentic Catholic?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes being true to my Catholic faith is a challenge.  Let me be clear, I’m a convert.  I chose to become Catholic after prayerful consideration, many long talks with my then boyfriend (now husband) and a desire to share one faith in my marriage.  It was a decision that was three years in the making.  Bottom line?  I knew what I was getting into.  My evangelical Protestant self had been a mighty member of three vastly different congregations before taking the Catholic plunge.  I can honestly say that I’m a better Christian today for having made that leap.  I am proud and honored to be Catholic.  That, and I’m not really a wallflower or an introvert.  So, being myself pretty much comes second nature.

But then, I find the response to my faith challenged:

The spirited discussion among friends about the size of my family ends with quizzical looks.  Inevitably, the question arises, “Are you planning on having more children?” followed by the litany of “Oh, my husband took care of that” from all of them.

The nice lady in the grocery story who, after seeing my children in school uniforms, innocently remarks, “My kids went to public school and turned out just fine.”

There’s the curious looks from the bank teller, the Starbuck’s drive thru attendant and the Target cashier on Ash Wednesday when they quip, “Oh, I think you have something on your forehead.”

Or, there’s the reaction of the Protestant-sponsored basketball coach when he asks my son’s name and I reply, “John Paul.”  “What’s the deal with that Pope of yours anyway?” he says.

On an evangelical Christian friend’s Facebook status update, I comment with a St. Francis of Assisi quote.  He questions the validity and says “it’s a lame cop out” for original thought on my part.

Yes, I’ve experienced all five scenarios – and countless others.  Just how should I respond?  How DID I respond?  By nature I don’t usually get up in people’s faces about my beliefs.  I prefer to judge the situation and ask myself two questions, 1) is it the time or place or 2) should I just walk away?  Sometimes, the latter prevails.  I’m not bailing on my duty to go and preach the Gospel, I’m simply taking the St. Francis of Assisi approach, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary, use words.”

In our family, we live our faith.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a neighbor, acquaintance, family member, sports coach or teacher that doesn’t know we’re Catholic.  Authentically Catholic, I might add.  Meaning?  In today’s secular world, we don’t apologize for what we believe.  We own it.

They know we don’t use artificial birth control.  But, they also know I don’t judge them if they do.  That was a teaching that took us seven long years to embrace.

They know we value a Catholic education for our children and choose to make the financial sacrifice to make it a reality.  My husband and I ARE products of public school (and I’m the daughter of a public school teacher!) and we did turn out alright.  Today, however, this is the right choice for us and I’ll stand by it any day of the week.

They know we participate fully in the teachings of the Church, whether it be Ash Wednesday services, Sunday Mass or Feast Days.  And, they know if they invite us over for dinner on a Friday during Lent, they better have fish!

They know that we respect, honor and love our Pope.  He is the Vicar of Christ.  But he’s not Christ.  We know the difference.

They know that no matter what they say to bait us, we won’t respond with belligerence.

Ultimately, we have to meet people where they are.  It’s okay to be passionate, but not so much that you alienate yourself from everyone except those that are like-minded.  Christ never alienated himself.  He never wants us to think of ourselves as “better Christians” than the neighbors down the street.  A sin is a sin is a sin.  There is no differentiation in his eyes.  Why should there be in ours?

We continue to draw strength in our convictions by seeking support from other strong, Catholic families.  They inspire us to follow the teachings of our faith and not be swayed by the secular world.  Every time I find myself in a “how Catholic am I?” moment, I pause and say a silent Hail Mary.  I haven’t been led astray yet.

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