I'm a cradle Catholic -- sort of. I was born to Catholic parents, baptized in the Catholic Church and received the sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist and Confirmation. I went to public school, but we went to church, too. When my sister was very sick as a child, my grandmother went to Mass every single day to pray for her. I didn't understand the enormity of her faith then, let alone the enormity of the Father to whom she was praying. I just knew Nana went to church early in the morning.
Then, I went to college. There, I learned to question things. A lot of things. And I became a cafeteria Catholic. After graduate school, based on an article in the newspaper that essentially said you're either Catholic or you're not — there's no such thing as "I'm Catholic, but...." — I decided maybe I wasn't Catholic after all. I believed in birth control and a woman's right to choose. I still loved the liturgy, but believed profoundly that the Church and I parted ways when it came to contemporary issues.
And then I lost 15 years. Fifteen years of church family and music and liturgy and foundation. Fifteen years of blaming a whole church for a misguided newspaper article. Fifteen years lost because of one person's opinion.
It was a strange thing that brought me back to Mass. Shortly after my daughter was born, my mother was telling me about a visit she'd made to a boutique near her home. On that particular day, lots of little girls were there, shopping for First Holy Communion dresses, parading around like little princesses in white.
And it hit me. My daughter wouldn't do that. She wouldn't grow up with the liturgy and traditions that had been so much a part of my childhood -- so much a part of the person I became.
The following Saturday night, I went to Mass for the first time in fifteen years. A few months later, I found the church we attend now — an imperfect place filled with imperfect people, many of whom struggle with the same things I do.
But my church is losing people — good people. Some who were born into the church, and others who chose it, only to feel rejected by it later on.
And when well-meaning, church-going people preach others into corners, they perpetuate this loss. God didn't send His son for just a chosen few. As I understand it, nothing would make God happier than to have heaven overflow with people He chose who chose Him back.
But so many of us insist on being obstacles to that, throwing up walls held together with doctrine and aphorisms and thinly veiled judgment. And then we shake our heads because people refuse to climb those walls. Man-made walls. I wonder if God is shaking his head, too, but for a different reason.
The thing is, God wants to be found. But people keep getting in the way. No matter how well-meaning. No matter how well-read or seemingly well-informed on what it is God wants, these people are human beings. Flawed. Imperfect. Wrong.
And me, with my big mouth and my Jersey attitude? As I see it, my job is to show people the best that God has to offer so that they don't lose any more days. To love and accept and keep my judgments to myself so they can tune out the noise and find out from God what it is He wants for them. Some days are successes, others are not, but all have three things in common.
Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.