Kerry Alys Robinson

The audacious gift of being Catholic

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Years ago, Mercy Sister Margaret Farley, my professor and spiritual director, asked something I have never forgotten: “What is it you most love about being Catholic?”

It was such a simple, direct and meaningful question. As it turned out, it was also prophetic, especially for a young woman whose vocation would be to serve the church, to harness intellectual and philanthropic capital to strengthen the church, and to promote justice and accountability in response to the church’s twin crises of sexual abuse and distrust of leadership.

Sister Margaret continued, “Always remember what it is you love most about the church and membership in it. Name it. Claim it. And be radically grateful for it.”

She knew that there would be times when the institutional church failed to live up to its potential or manifested ignoble qualities — clericalism, fear, control, sanctimony, prejudice, mediocrity. And she knew it would break my heart. She urged me to be clear about what I most valued, so that it would provide ballast to help me navigate the course of my life of service.

My response is long and wide. I love that the church is the largest global humanitarian network in the world. I love that every day there are women and men of faith, ordained, religious and lay, who stand at the vanguard of human suffering, bear witness to the worst that humankind does to one another and to our common home; and respond by alleviating human suffering, advancing justice, promoting peace and providing education, health care, social services and hope. I love that we are called to be Christ-like in the way we live our lives.

I am grateful for the rich intellectual tradition of Catholicism, the substantive compendium of Catholic social justice teaching, the primacy of conscience, and the sacramental nature of our faith. As the theologian Father Michael Himes so beautifully describes, because grace is everywhere, all of the time, in order for us to recognize and appreciate it, grace must pierce our consciousness so that we are made aware of being in the presence of God. And anything can be sacramental, pointing us to transcendence and awe: a shared meal, friendship, a view of the natural world, laughter, a kiss, liturgy.

I love that Catholicism inspires works of art and architecture, music and memoir of breathtaking beauty. I value the celebration of the Eucharist, the community of saints, the holiness of others. The way the church at its best responds to the needs of a broken world with uncommon mercy. The importance of reconciliation, the dignity of the human person, the preferential option for the poor and the sacrosanct belief that everyone is capable of redemption.

These are not easy days to be Catholic. In times of desolation, I think of the women who stood at the base of the cross, full of anguish at the suffering and death of Jesus. I think of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. For a period in time, all of Christianity rested on her faithful response. She bore witness to the signs of new life. We can bear witness to the signs of new life for the church in our day, too.

It is now the season of Easter and I am reminded that I love that there are 40 days of Lent but 50 days of Easter and the greater proportion of joyful celebration is not incidental.

Perhaps there are as many personally held and valued reasons why one loves the church as there are members of the church. What is it that you most love and value about being Catholic? Your answer will make all the difference in the world.