Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of several books, including The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at www.carriegress.com. (Photo by Renata Grzan Wierczorek, RenataPhotography.com)
My dear friend Nora passed away eight years ago from cancer. Her life had been a long quest for happiness and meaning. But somewhere after a disastrous marriage (quickly annulled) and well before her death, she said to me: “This is how I have always wanted to live. I have always wanted to live close to God, but I never knew that’s what I wanted. I’ve finally found it.”
What Nora articulated was the sense of order, completeness, mission, and an awareness of being loved that she finally found when she came back to the Catholic faith in full force. Like so many, she had been raised Catholic, but what she was taught scarcely touched her heart. It wasn’t until she finally met a wonderful group of faithful men and women led by an even more wonderful priest that she was able to make sense of it all. Living as a true Catholic became second nature. Her whole life was transformed – the way she saw the world, her family, her struggles and her blessings. And even in all its messiness, she could still praise God and trust what he was doing in her life and in her death.
Recently during a homily, a priest was articulating a great number of wonderful things about what it means to be a true follower of Christ. While listening, it struck me that he never actually articulated his premise that Nora knew so well: “Things are just better when we live faithfully to Catholic teaching.” I was struck by this because it is something I know I forget to articulate often, even though there isn’t a day I’m not thankful for my reversion to the faith. More particularly, I’m thankful to God for giving me answers to the questions I struggled with; for dispelling my doubts; for giving me a sense of mission; and for the peace and joy that have quietly seeped into my soul, even when there is pain. I had none of these before I was truly living my faith.
The reality is that most people living outside of deep faith have a negative perception of what it means to be a Catholic: strict, stuck in past, rigid, medieval, and hypocritical are some the kinder terms often used. Others use more unprintable descriptions that generally say more about those who have been unfaithful to Church teaching than faithful to it. Sadly, the view from the outside is dramatically different than the view from the inside.
The benefits of Catholic living are affirmed in the newly published book, A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction. Authors Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild focus upon the negative effects – largely from technology — of our scattered attention, our shallow thought, and our frenetic pace of life. But the real antidotes to these modern problems are ancient: “Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (St. Augustine). The book’s chapter headings read like a laundry list for a happy life: being steadfast, reliable, noble, resilient, attentive, creative, wise and humble. These are realities that the outside world craves, but can’t quite put its finger on what exactly it is thirsting and hungering for. And so the world looks everywhere, while authentic Catholicism hides in plain sight. Catholicism — if we let it — brings order to our souls, peace to our hearts, and balm in our pain (because there will always be pain, but it doesn’t have to be in vain).
Yes, life is just better as a Catholic. Most of us have tried surrogates and found them wanting. Sometimes we forget it or get distracted, but it could go a long way to help others understand the faith better if we remembered and vocalized it more often.