The Persistence of Faith

Yesterday at Mass, a baby was baptized into the Catholic church. This was the first time I had seen a baptism at our parish, and I was oddly moved by it.

Flora was the only child to attend Mass with me yesterday. During the baptism, she leaned against me to watch the proceedings from our pew.

“Did I cry when I was baptized?” she whispered.

I told her I honestly didn’t remember.

The little baby kicked her feet during the christening and anointing. I was reminded of spending the day after each of my children was baptized leaning over to smell the chrism on their little heads.

I watched the parents, a young couple — “young” being a relative term; they are probably in their 30s, maybe late 20s. They beamed with pride and hope.

I, too, felt a measure of hope and pride. Hope because a church that is performing public baptisms is a church that can continue to grow and thrive. And pride because in the face of the challenges that the church faces, these parents decided to stand up and declare their dedication to said church.

I don’t think that Christians or Catholics in America are under siege the way some far right religious people might feel. There’s no “war on Christmas”.

At the same time, I do think it takes a certain amount of bravery to stand up and declare yourself among friends and family who may have different religious or spiritual beliefs.

I’m not a great Catholic, but I am a practicing Catholic, and I make no bones about it. I’d like see the Vatican change the policy about ordaining women; I miss Mass sometimes, usually on Holy days of obligation during the week; I don’t know my catechism by heart by any stretch of the imagination. I am a creed Catholic; that is, everything that is said during the Nicene creed, I believe, wholly. Although I do wish they would change that part about “for us men” and just say “for us.” I leave off the “men” when I pray the creed aloud in church.

And I also believe and try to practice Jesus’ first commandment, which is simply, “Love one another.”

I was excited to see that these parents and godparents were happy to participate in this child’s baptism. I wonder if they get questioning looks or snide comments from friends or acquaintances about their faith. Conversely, of course, I wonder if they married in the church and are baptizing their child in the church because of familial expectations. (I didn’t get that sense from them. They were *beaming* during the ceremony.)

I think Pope Francis has introduced a freshness into the public Catholic face, and I couldn’t be happier that he is the leader of the church in the world. But the things that he preaches are not new to us practitioners of the faith. It’s a relief that the focus is being taken off of sexual ideology, and the conversation is once more focused on loving *and serving* each other.

I know that sometimes people think we faithful are judgmental, or old fashioned, or stuck in the past, or irrational. (Granted, some religious people are any or all of these things.) But the church is a living breathing organization of real people as well. The people in the church, from the Holy See on down, are imperfect, thus the Catholic church is imperfect. But we’re trying. The best of us (and I don’t necessarily count myself among the best) are trying to live and serve God, and bring the message of Jesus to everyone.


On Christmas Eve, I tweeted:

One of my friends marveled that they make faith so hard. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, unless she was speaking about faith as a set of rules to follow — which is not how I think of my faith. I find my faith very freeing. It’s not difficult for me to be a person of faith. Although, again, I am not a great Catholic.

Looking at those parents holding their child as the priest performed a baptism, I was heartened. For the Catholic church, as well as for my parish. They truly gave the sense that participating in the sacrament was a joy, not a chore. And I hope that more Catholics feel joyful when it comes to their faith than don’t.

Catholic Books for 2014
Two books my parents gave my family for Christmas. Can you say, “Mixed messages?”

18 thoughts on “The Persistence of Faith

  1. Ah. What I should have said is that they make “religion” hard. Faith I think is the easy part. I see it in your post: “Although, again, I am not a great Catholic”. In who’s eyes? The Catholic Church (aka in the past and currently a large group of mostly white men) or God? I would hope that the God I have learned about thinks you are just great. In my eyes you are a great Catholic. Fwiw, haha.

    • I guess if you think of religion and faith as separate things, I do see what you mean. The Catholic church does present some rules regarding receiving communion, as an example — fasting an hour before. As I continue to participate in my faith, I guess my view of the “rules” is that they want participants to be aware of the solemnity of their practice. The seriousness of it, as it were.

      When Dan and I went to our pre-Cana classes, one of the anonymous questions submitted at the end of the weekend was, “Why does the Catholic church make us jump through hoops to get married in a church?” (I may be paraphrasing.) And my thought about that was that the Catholic church is invested in my marriage and my family. Cynically, it’s a numbers game; they need people in the pews. But less cynically — they need people in the pews. Sacraments in the church are joyful and meaningful. They really want people to THINK about their faith and religion and how it pertains to marriage and child-bearing and so on. (Of course people think about those things, usually, before they do them; but the church wants you to think of how it pertains to your faith and your relationship with God as well as all the other considerations that go into making a family — or living one’s life in general.)

  2. There is a lot to respond to in this post. I’m not sure I can (or should) get to all of it.

    I think what struck me the most is how you mention this was the first baptism you witnessed. It makes me think you either just started going back or recently switched parishes. Either way, that’s something I want to hear about. There are baptisms three times a year at our parish, and I hate the fact it is only then. They should be held more often. Sort of a big topic, or topics to take on here.

    And only you and Flora went? Why is that? Again, I think that is a topic much larger than a blog post comment. We attend mass as a family, all of us. Saturday at 5, the Vigil Mass. They know us as the loud obnoxious family up front with all the kids. It is a pain in the – well, like I said, bigger than the format here.

    I have my own thoughts on the Creed. I believe it for the most part. There are bits about the teachings of the Church I just don’t buy. Kind of like you, I’m a bit more on the “progressive” side, and that brings about a lot of discussion – and maybe that’s what this post feels like, an invitation for discussion. That’s also one of the things that I like about the Church, the deeper you get into it, the more discussion there is about faith, religion, etc. I have found the more people question and explore the deeper their faith runs.

    • You misunderstood the baptism comment. It’s the first one I’ve seen at my parish. Baptisms are done at the 10 a.m. Mass, which is not the one we usually attend. I’ve witnessed several baptisms, and am godmother to several children.

      Only Flora because. Sometimes we go as a family, and sometimes we don’t.

  3. See – discussion.

    That baptisms are (only) done at the 10am mass is…. wierd.

    I didn’t mean to call into question your history with baptisms or your Catholocism or such. Just the way you presented it as “first time I had seen a baptism at our parish” – the kids love watching the baptisms when they happen.

    • In my experience to date, parishes in our area didn’t do baptisms during mass until recently. They were usually performed after the last Sunday Mass. I’m glad they do them during any Mass now. It really confirms the idea of a Catholic community, which I think is vital. I think it makes sense to only do them during one Mass — my parish does five Sunday masses (including 4 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday). They changed the First Communion policy this year as well, and are spreading them out throughout the masses over two weekends. I think that’s a great idea! We’re all in this together, after all. There could be a baptism each Sunday for all I know. We usually go to noon mass, although that is something I’m trying to change this year.

  4. I enjoy your blog. Even though I am a Presbyterian (and a retired news editor), I think you are a good Catholic too. I started following you on Twitter several months ago because of something you said about editing. Your blog and your Tweets are always interesting. Thoughtful and very smart. Keep it up.

  5. I don’t consider myself a good Catholic, and I said this even when I attended daily mass when I was underemployed for a few years. Like you, I disagree with some things, and for that reason, at times I feel guilty for even being in church. But also like you (though in a somewhat different way/for a different reason), I get very emotional during baptisms and first communions. I particularly am moved by the Easter vigil mass, as I am in awe of adults who have looked into the faith and decided that Catholicism is for them. I wish I had their faith. If you have never gone to the Easter vigil, I highly recommend it. For some reason (to me), those two-plus hours barely seem longer than a regular mass. In fact, if you can swing, I also recommend doing the Triduum.

    Oh, and for many years, my family had a huge Christmas Eve meal, with much alcohol, and we all went to church. a few hours later. I figure if wine is served at church, nothing wrong with getting a head start. 😉

    • Easter vigil and other long masses are going to have to wait until my children grow out of their antsy pants. I do love taking them to church, though. I think children should be welcomed in church. Mileage varies!

  6. Dawn, seriously… who IS a great Catholic????
    Who was the monk who prayed, “Lord, I don’t always know what the right thing to do is; but I think the fact that I’m trying to please You pleases You”?
    You’re wonderful and thoughtful and willing to question and (hopefully) as willing to reconsider yourself as you are to stand by your conviction.
    In any case, I love you very much!
    (sorry… I wrote this from the Mac)

  7. Dan, I can’t believe you didn’t think of me when the term “great Catholic” came up!!! Truthfully, though, I have been a practicing Catholic all my life. Some days I may be up there with the “great Catholics” and some days not so much. But what my Catholic religion and community does for me is enrich my relationship with God and I think that what Faith is about.

  8. Honestly, that’s why they call it being a “practicing” Christian and not “perfecting” one. I just led my first class in iconography (10 people have actually committed to paint an icon, or as I like to say “praying by numbers”) tonight. One of the things that I have loved in learning about icons is that the Orthodox Church theology focuses on the eternal spark of the Divine within us that no matter how far we get from God, we cannot extinguish. God is always leading us back to Him (Her?) and is always joyful at our movement toward Love. It’s not about being a ‘good Christian’, as much as it is about trying to be good, and to listen for the still small voice in the whirlwind, who will always lead us back when we lose our way.

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