This year, I'm celebrating my 5 year anniversary as a Catholic. I'm more convinced than ever that I made the right decision. My family still looks at me sideways when I talk about my faith. They still warn me about bowing down to idols or praying to Mary & the saints. “Follow Jesus” my mother tells me. Little does she know that icons & statues, praying with Mary & the saints & observing other specifically Catholic beliefs have actually helped me grow closer to Christ.
Before I became a Catholic, the Bible felt anemic & disconnected. But as a Catholic, I actually read the Bible more. Not only have I come to understand where the Catholic Church gets its traditions & beliefs, but the Bible seems to make sense now. Catholicism makes the connections that often get glossed over, like the foreshadowing of Mary, the reality of Purgatory, etc. The rituals & rhythms of the Catholic Church make the words of scripture present & bring them to life.
It's not all Mary or Jesus or the Saints or Purgatory or anything else one immediately associates with Catholicism. True Catholicism is about God. Each facet of the faith is a connecting point to God. How easy it is to forget that it was God who chose to overshadow Mary with His Holy Spirit. It was God who gave us the gift of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.
God, from whom every good gift comes down from above, guides us through His Word & through the traditions passed on from the Apostles. He has provided for us spiritual bread & wine to sustain us daily. He has provided for us rituals & rhythms through which we learn how to conduct our lives in this world. He reminds us to Whom we belong. We belong to Him. We are related by faith to those who walk with us on this earth & we remain related by faith when death divides us from one another. Death is merely a veil that separates us from those who have gone before us & those who have gone ahead.Those in Christ who “sleep” the sleep of death in this life are still alive in the next, whether in Purgatory or in Heaven. Because God is a God of the living & not of the dead, true Catholicism connects us to one another & to God.
True Catholicism is about balance. There seems to be a dizzying array of devotions in Catholicism and it can definitely become distracting. Many are approved by the Church because they can contribute to faith of a believer in a positive way, but none are required.
When I first became a Catholic, I wanted to do it all. I sought out a lay religious community. It felt a little "culty" for my taste, so I politely excused myself. I bought a scapular and wore it for a while, but now it hangs on the wall draped over the crucifix. I bought the 4 volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours, but I prefer the shorter Office of Readings over everything else. I bought a prayer kneeler that remains a devotional focal point, but it has since become more of a shelf for my missals & prayer books. After many attempts, I discovered I have difficulty connecting to certain practices & devotions favored by other Catholics. And that's ok.
I've always been more drawn to the Rosary, the Divine Mercy and the Anima Christi, so these are the things I tend to practice now. I'm in the middle of a year long Bible reading plan & am constantly digging through Thomas A' Kempis' Imitation of Christ. I recently completed a 33 day consecration to Jesus through Mary and I wear a Miraculous Medal to commemorate the event. I also seek the intercession of Mary and the Saints on a regular basis, asking them to intercede for me with Jesus to the Father. Overall, I've learned to keep things simple. There's something for everyone, but everyone can't be devoted to everything. It's all about growth, connection & balance.