The sick man held me in his thoughtful gaze for a moment and then softly asked: “Why are you Catholic?” There was no animosity in his eyes -- only a gentle curiosity that almost hid a profound thirst under the surface. It was the third week of my summer ministry at Baptist Health, working as a chaplain visiting patients. Expecting the unexpected is part of hospital work, but this patient’s question still surprised me, and I felt my heart pounding. Succinctly, I tried to give him a glimpse of my soul’s passion for the faith and love for Jesus: the top four reasons why I am Catholic.
• The Scriptures: The written Word of God is a treasure all Christians share, and I hoped to connect with the patient on this common ground. The Scriptures narrate God’s faithful love for his people since the beginning: how God created in love, chose and guided us, and ceaselessly works to unite us with him. The Old Testament's prophetic, poetic and historical texts all prepare for the coming of Jesus: God’s love in the flesh. Then, the love story continues with eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life and letters to the first Christian communities striving for holiness. Immersing oneself in this love story and finding one’s place in the narrative of Scripture is the hope and goal of all Christians and one reason I am Catholic.
• The Tradition: Paired with the Word of God, the lived Tradition of the Church teaches, guides and spiritually protects the people of God. It takes the timeless truths revealed by God and works to apply them according to the present needs. I am only 24 years old, so my lived experience is extremely limited compared to my grandparents. I lean on their stories, advice, interpretation of issues, and perspectives when finding my way. As a Catholic, I have more than 2,000 years of experience to lean on. Just think of all the martyrs, Church fathers, councils, silent prayers and Masses ever offered that each Catholic inherits at baptism. It’s a huge family, both flawed and filled with grace.
• The saints: Speaking of family, I highlight the saints as another reason I am Catholic. Like each of us, the saints are human beings, born into the craziness of the world, carrying their baggage from life. Yet, they shine as examples because of their dogged love for God and neighbor in simple, practical ways, one day at a time.
• The Eucharist: No surprise here! If for no other reason at all, the Eucharist is why I am Catholic. It enables me to love others, find meaning and purpose in life, and have the strength needed for the present day. Jesus’ body and blood give life to my soul even as physical food nourishes the body. When I struggle with doubts or am appalled at the brokenness in myself, the Church and the world, I reach out for the Eucharist like a starving man for a crumb. Jesus alone satisfies us, as St. Augustine testifies: “You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
John Paul Hartnedy, a seminarian for the Diocese of Little Rock, attends Assumption Seminary in San Antonio.
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