Our Catholic faith remains part of the fabric of our lives
For years now, I spend a day or more every summer working in the forest of the family ranch with a good friend on soil conservation structures we built under his supervision. Since our lives have paralleled in many ways, we always have much to talk about: politics, religion, social justice and family.
Both of us were associated with a missionary society. He and his family worked as lay missioners in Latin America. I was an employee, and, as a magazine editor, I traveled to the society's missions in Africa, Asia and Latin America. From a large family, he had siblings in the priesthood and religious life.
Of course, we talked about our experiences, many good, some bad. Nothing demythologizes better than working in such an environment and our conversations sometimes touched on that. We realized, as Pope Francis humbly commented recently, that we are all sinners, whether pope, bishop, priest, nun or layperson. But I was more apt to talk about the problems than he was.
This past summer, as we evaluated the rock and log structures for damage during the past year and resumed our conversation, he surprised me by saying he and his wife have stopped going to church. Shocked, I asked when that happened, and he replied: "Several years ago." The tipping point seems to have been the scandals constantly in the headlines.
At times like that, I ask myself what keeps me in. I have no easy answers. I am just as disillusioned by the scandals. The homilies at Mass often have little relevance to our lives. We recently moved to Connecticut, where every day I walk the streets and other walkers or runners greet me and engage in conversation. We live within a mile and a half of three parish churches. No one in any of them has stopped us before or after Mass and said: "You must be new here. Welcome to our parish."
Over the course of our lives, we have moved many times and been in many parishes. In only one, Holy Ghost Parish in Albuquerque, N.M., were we welcomed with those words. Fellowship was real there.
Still, every Sunday my wife and I go to Mass. As I reflect on what draws us there, I think the scriptural readings are the major attraction, followed by the hymns. Often I find myself humming one of the hymns afterward or thinking about the Gospel reading for that day and its relevance. I also draw inspiration from the faith I perceive in the ordinary people, moms, dads and children I see there.
It is simple enough, of course, to stop going to church. But faith is part of the fabric of our lives, and it remains. When I wake up troubled in the middle of the night, I do what my mother always did at such times: I pray the rosary. One of my sisters, whose late husband was not Catholic, does not go to church, but she prays the rosary regularly and gave me the best one I have.
I have also been inspired by great Christians I have met: the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero; Cesar Chavez, who spent his life struggling for a better future for farmworkers; missioners such as Maryknoll Father Robert McCahill, for decades in service to the poor in Bangladesh; and, not least, Mayan peasants I once met who walked 10 or more miles to Sunday Mass in Yucatan.
Finally, there is the matter of historical continuity. My ancestors have been Catholics for millennia, and I am not about to break the tradition.