Because I love Jesus.
That is the only real answer. The End…and The Beginning as well. Alpha and Omega.
I didn’t even really know it for a very long time. It was always just sort of in me. It wasn’t until I lost something did it become more obvious.
My first loss was caused by a crisis of faith where I lost my religion, specifically the religion of my childhood. You Catholics out there know it well. The Bible was the inspired Word of God written by a bunch of guys looking up into a light with quill in hand ready to take the divine dictation! The Trinity is like an apple pie cut up into three pieces but not. If this didn’t make sense, well, it’s a mystery. It’s not supposed to make sense, you just believe it. Etc. Etc.
Little did I know that the Catholic education I would receive would throw me out of that easy place. How ironic that my Catholic teachers would challenge my faith by teaching me history and facts that challenged the religious pablum I received over the years. I remember the day quite clearly. It was in Church History and Fr. Gabe, our Franciscan principal, was teaching. I always loved his teaching and his humanity in teaching those topics. What he taught me about the Bible rocked my world and I was left questioning everything I believed. It was a lot like finding out Santa Claus wasn’t real before you outgrow the myth. I asked myself honestly what do I really believe in. Of course, it was Jesus.
My next loss came when I realized I would be somewhat of an outlier if not outright outsider in the Christian community. My hunger and thirst for Christ took me to many places spiritually and theologically. I remember being invited to fellowship with some “Bible believing” Christians and when the Bible came up in conversation a debate erupted culminating in one person accusing me of “not loving Jesus.” And while I hid my feelings, I realized that charge hurt because at the time I was persuaded that they truly loved Jesus and for them that included believing in the Bible in a way I did not. So by comparison, I was faking it. I got over it of course but the accusation really took me for a loop. I was broadsided in a way I had never been before. It was at that time that I was in some ways coming out of the closet, so to speak. I loved Jesus and it was in a way that many of my Christian brothers and sisters did not like, scorned in fact. And I had better get used to it.
My last loss (and found really) came with a second crisis of faith which came during the tumult in the mid 2000’s over the sex abuse scandal (and we are still going through) here in Philadelphia. I was attending a parish with a pastor who I found had attitudes that were problematic at best, esp. with regard to the cover-up of child rape and foisting of child predator priests on unsuspecting parishes. I was at the point of becoming Christian but unchurched. I’m not one for shopping around among denominations. If the Catholic Church couldn’t cut the mustard, I was out. The bishops with whom I had a generally negative view had basically broken the last straw. In my mind I could never be a good Catholic. How could I submit to men in faith and morals whose faith and morals I found inferior to my own, egregiously so. Bluntly, if I can’t trust you with my son, how the hell would I trust you with my soul? So I knew never would I ever toe the line of a group of men charged with being Christ on Earth who could perpetrate such a monstrous evil in our time. The past bad acts were bad enough, and now this again. So I was ready to jettison the Catholic Church and cling the Jesus as best I could on an ad hoc basis. Or so I thought.
By the Lord’s grace, I found myself at St. Raymond of Penafort parish where my family has found a healthy, welcoming, spiritually nourishing home, a real Church family. I learned to take responsibility for my faith and my religion. Christ is the beginning. I truly love him in all the ways a disciple loves his Master. And that means I trust him and walk, not just talk, his path. That has led me to own my faith and consequently my religion. I am a stubbornly intentional Catholic rather than a conventional one. I am Catholic, not because the bishops say jump and I ask how high. I’m Catholic because I love joining with Christ in the Eucharist, singing from my heart to him on 1st and 3rd Sundays, reading the Bible and its scholarly context to get to know him with integrity of not just spirit but of mind and heart as well, and finally professing a faith every Sunday in communion with the saints and him. So my struggle with my bishops is not to challenge their authority but to stick it to them when they fail to live up to it, esp. in their teaching.
Notice that I distinguish being Catholic from being a disciple of Christ. They are distinct. My Catholicism is about piety: the social and cultural way I choose to live out making Jesus The Way, The Truth, and The Life. But being a Christian means Jesus first beyond piety: his commandments, his example, his teaching, his beliefs, his path. You don’t have to be Catholic to live them out. Hell, you don’t even have to be Christian for much of it. Gandhi was far more Christlike in his treatment of his enemies than the vast majority of Christians are with theirs today. And living for Christ is a helluva trip. He is addictive. The bishops might try my patience, even my faith. Not Christ. He tries my commitment against my desires, my works against my words, my heart against my ideas. Even more fundamentally, Jesus shows me who God is and that’s his primary attraction. And from that well spring comes the rest of my faith all the way to being Catholic. I am a changed person because of walking Jesus’ path. I very much like the person I’m becoming.
And that’s why I’m a Christian.