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Every Day Catholic - August 2011

Every Day Catholic uses an engaging and practical approach to help readers confidently apply Christian values to their everyday decisions. Great for group or individual study, and FREE online discussion guides are available for each issue. Get more information and order here.

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Why Community? Why Church? Why Catholic?
By: Jim and Susan Vogt

People have many reasons for belonging to the Catholic Church. Most are good, yet some seem weak:
*“Sunday morning without Mass would seem a little empty.”
*“I was raised Catholic. It’s all I know.”
*“I’m not sure there’s a God, but I’d rather err by believing than be surprised when I die.”

These aren’t bad reasons, but they may not stand up to the temptations of modern life. They’re like the house built on sand. When the storm came, “it fell—and great was its fall!” (see Matthew 7:24-27).

The storms are many and may include disillusionment and anger about the clergy sex-abuse scandals; dissatisfaction with the limited role of women; judging the Church as too wishy-washy, politically involved, rich or concerned about rules; and hurt from negative personal experiences (e.g., “The Church wouldn’t bury my father”).

Just as there are mixed reasons for remaining Catholic, the reasons for leaving the Church range from serious decisions of conscience to apathy or busyness. For some, their faith hasn’t been rooted in the deep soil of a personal relationship with Christ and an understanding of the teachings of the Church as relevant to their daily lives.

The practice of the faith may be seen as only a cultural commitment with no roots once a young adult leaves home. Sometimes people aren’t welcomed when they approach the Church for marriage or other sacraments. Our Church must walk a delicate balance between staking out an identity that includes upholding unpopular values and welcoming all with unconditional love as Jesus did.

We’ve been thinking about these thorny conundrums lately as we’ve listened to folks who have left the Church and others who have remained or returned to the active practice of Catholicism. These are some of the more significant reasons we’ve heard about why people stay.

The communion of saints
Many in the Church have encountered holy people over the years, some deceased but others still alive, who’ve been powerful witnesses of lives lived for others?true followers of Jesus. Their integrity and sacrifices have been such strong influences that we’re drawn to the person, the spirituality and the community?the Church?that inspired them.

Nobody looks for hardship, illness or a life crisis, but few escape adversity in life. As unwelcome as suffering is, sometimes it drives us to ask the ultimate questions about life’s meaning. God often touches us during difficult times, and we come to understand that life is about more than collecting stuff or even surrounding ourselves with loving people. God breaks in through prayer, circumstances and other people who carry a message of God’s redeeming love.

The sacraments
The Catholic Church has a rich tradition of combining the Word with actions and symbols in its seven sacraments. This reflects an understanding of human nature and how ordinary things?water, bread, oil, rings, words of forgiveness or commitment, and human touch?help us experience God’s love.

Many Christian churches offer their own forms of baptism, communion, confirmation, marriage and even confession/absolution. But few acknowledge the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist as Catholics do.

Many people have told us that they were attracted to the Catholic Church because its heritage goes back to Jesus and there’s a unity of belief around the world. Of course, unity doesn’t mean sameness. People from various cultural backgrounds pray in their own languages and use symbols that are relevant to them, yet the same faith is being expressed through a unity of beliefs and rites.

Service and social justice
No human institution perfectly cares for the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized. We still have far to go to become a truly inclusive and caring Church, one that fully embraces the demands of Catholic social teaching. Still, the Catholic Church has perhaps the most extensive social service network in the world?tending to and living among the poor, coordinating aid in times of crisis, and challenging all members to live more simply and help their neighbors because that is what Jesus taught.

Faith is not just about feel-good friendships. In fact, tested faith often pushes us to stand apart from the crowd and take an unpopular stance for the gospel. Still, living a Christian life isn’t about being a “lone ranger.” Being in community with other believers, we can pool our resources and support each other. Sometimes the different personalities, political views and needs of community may feel like a curse. Working out these differences respectfully and lovingly is part of the work of salvation.

‘Lord, to whom can we go?’ (John 6:68)
This world holds good people from a variety of religious backgrounds. These include holy Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians of all denominations, and good and loving people who aren’t affiliated with any religion. Does God love them? Of course. Perhaps the reason that God didn’t claim a name beyond “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14) is that God didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a particular gender, denomination or race.

In the end, one of the reasons that we?Jim and Susan?are Catholic is that it’s where God has called us and spoken to us. There may be many routes to God, but the Catholic Church is where we have experienced God’s touch. There may be Church policies with which we disagree, but we’d find human foibles and failings no matter what religion we followed.

Some of the best and worst things in human history were done in the name of church, God and religion. We must align ourselves with the best and repudiate the worst. The challenge is to be humble enough to remember that we’re not in charge and that we’re all imperfect sinners, still loved by God. As a community inspired by the life of Jesus, faith calls us to devote ourselves to the good of others.

Bottom line? Love.

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Imprimatur was granted for this article, “Why Community? Why Church? Why Catholic?” by Jim and Susan Vogt, from the Most Reverend Joseph R. Binzer, Bishop-Elect and Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 4-14-2011.

Jim and Susan Vogt have four adult children and live in Covington, Kentucky. Jim directs the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative. Susan speaks and writes on marriage, parenting and spirituality. Learn more at

Making Connections

■ Which of the reasons for being Catholic do you find most compelling?

■ How welcoming are you to visitors and new members of your parish?

■ Who can you invite to explore membership in or a return to the Catholic Church?

Movie Moments

Gran Torino
By: Frank Frost

The yearning to belong goes to the core of the 2008 Clint Eastwood hit Gran Torino (he stars and directs). The movie begins and ends with a funeral Mass, and what happens in between reveals how little Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) feels he belongs to that Church, or even to his own family.

Walt is an angry curmudgeon living alone in an old neighborhood that has changed around him. He resents the presence of the “gooks” next door. In contrast to his isolation, his Hmong neighbors form a tight-knit community. The only community Walt really “belongs” to is a group of old friends and acquaintances like his barber, with whom he exchanges ethnic insults.

The plot gets rolling when Walt points a rifle at some young men who are intruding on his lawn. As a by-product of this action, Walt rescues Thao (Bee Vang), a meek next-door neighbor boy, from getting beat up by a Hmong gang. (The gang element of the plot brings out another dimension of the search for belonging.)

Walt’s life changes when the Hmong community starts leaving food at his doorstep in gratitude for his rescue of Thao. Under the tutelage of Thao’s sister Sue (Ahney Her), Walt gets drawn into their extended family. He takes Thao under his wing, and a new bond of belonging emerges, expressed when he mutters to himself, “I’ve got more in common with these gooks than I do with my own spoiled rotten family.”

This sense of belonging to the human race leads him back to his Church and to put everything on the line for those he now considers his responsibility.

Next time you watch Gran Torino, ASK YOURSELF:

Walt tells the priest that he’s “an overeducated, 27-year-old virgin who likes to hold the hands of superstitious old ladies and promise them everlasting life.” Does Walt still hold this opinion when he goes to confession toward the end of the film? Is it an honest confession?

■ Does Walt “belong” to the Church in the end?

Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Melanie Rigney
By: Joan McKamey

Melanie Rigney encountered a locked church door at a time of teen crisis and took it as “a sign from God that God didn’t want to have anything to do with me.” She says, “Nobody asked me why I quit going to Mass.

“I was almost 16 and wondered, What’s the point?My parents don’t go. My sister and I went by ourselves. My parents just weren’t engaged in community,” Melanie says 40 years later.

Melanie hadn’t given up on church altogether. She tells Every Day Catholic, “I tried going to Mass in Chicago a couple times, especially the Easter after my mother’s death in 1990. Then my life started bottoming out while I was living in Cincinnati: The company I worked for had been sold and my marriage was deteriorating. I tried three churches, and none of them felt right. I don’t think I knew what was right at that point. I was expecting God to do all the heavy lifting.

“I realized the people I admired didn’t have more marital or financial stability than I did and yet they seemed happier. What they had in common was faith in God,” continues Melanie.

“Seven years ago, I left Cincinnati and moved to Arlington, Virginia. I had left my husband after 20 years, had huge credit card debt and had moved to an area where I didn’t know anybody. I thought therapy might help. So I went to this therapist and told her the usual, ‘I’m spiritual but not religious.’ She suggested I try her church.

“I left her office and walked to the church. At 6 p.m. on a weeknight, the church was unlocked! Inside, I saw a notice about a program for returning Catholics. I went to Mass there a couple Sundays and then mustered up the courage to call and ask about the program.

“The main thing I learned is that the Catholic Church is big enough to stand toe-to-toe with all my questions and help me find God’s answers. I received Communion for the first time in years on Christmas 2005 and have been around ever since. I love being Catholic!

“God is brave enough to love me when I’m at my worst and strong enough to encourage me to be better even when I think I’m at my best. For me, that only comes through the Catholic faith,” she says.

Melanie has served on her parish team for returning Catholics twice and has co-authored a book, When They Come Home: Ways to Welcome Returning Catholics (Twenty-Third Publications), with her parish facilitator, Anna LaNave. In it, they offer parishes guidance for starting “returning Catholics” programs and for becoming more welcoming communities.

Melanie says, “I wanted community and, boy, do I have community now. One of the reasons it was easy to stay away from the Church is that I thought nobody cared. If no one else cared, I was sure God didn’t care.” Melanie now knows this isn’t the case and works hard to make sure others feel welcome in the Church she loves.

Passing On the Faith

Desire to Belong
By: Jeanne Hunt

Charlotte welcomes another grandchild and secretly worries that Kelsey Marie will remain unbaptized. Kevin and Sarah haven’t been going to Mass. They say they don’t feel they belong and that Holy Family Parish doesn’t feel like a “holy family.”

Charlotte is delighted when Sarah asks to use the family baptismal gown. Kelsey’s arrival has rekindled her parents’ faith and awakened a desire for a faith community. Yet both Kevin and Sarah feel out of touch with their parish. How can they make meaningful connections in the community?

A response
Parish staff and active parishioners can look to life moments (e.g., weddings, funerals and baptisms) as opportunities to invite people to get involved. Extend a sincere welcome and follow up with a phone call, encouraging them to participate with you.

Newcomers can join parish activities that attract them. Look for anything that fits your lifestyle and background. If you’re a CPA, join the finance commission. If you’re a young mom, get involved in preschool religious education. If you can sing, join the choir.

Feeling welcomed, however, requires some determination and effort. If you feel like a stranger at Sunday Mass, your aversion to the cold shoulder might lessen your desire to practice the faith.

Parish groups can pray for opportunities to widen the circle of love. Prayer cannot be underestimated as a powerful force against all the negative energy that keeps people from feeling a part of God’s family.

We all desire to belong, to be part of the community. We want people to know our names and notice when we’re not at Sunday Mass. It’s not enough to suggest that our daughter, brother or friend go to church. We need to invite them to Mass and go with them. We must help one another make connections with parishioners and stay with the effort. Remember that strong faith requires strong roots in fertile soil. Commit to staying engaged in parish life until a good root system has been established.

Charlotte looks forward to Sundays when her family joins her for Mass. She’s pleased that Sarah has made friends with other moms with toddlers. Kevin even missed a Saturday of golf to attend the diocesan men’s conference.

As Charlotte tends her garden, she thinks about the parable of the sower. Seeds grow in fertile soil. Holy Family Parish is that fertile soil of hospitality and community, and her family finally feels at home in God’s house.


Prayer for a Homecoming
By: Jeanne Hunt

(for praying alone or with others)

Preparation: Place an open Bible, lit candle and the parish pictorial directory or other collection of parish members’ names on a prayer table. Have strips of colored paper, pens and tape prepared for the ritual.

“All Are Welcome” (or similar hymn)

Father, let us open wide the doors of our parish in hospitality and hope. May all the empty spaces in our Church be filled again. May there be a full house at your table as a result of our extended hands and hearts. Amen.

Genesis 18:1-8

In the spirit of Abraham and Sarah, I invite you to think of members of our parish whom you know and love (pause), the faces you look forward to seeing each week. I invite you to name them. Participants spontaneously say the names of those who come to mind.

Now let us remember those we miss, who through either death or change are no longer a part of our parish family (pause). Participants spontaneously say the names of those who come to mind.

I invite you to come forward now. Write your family name on a strip of paper and create a paper chain by connecting your link to the next. When the chain is completed, place it around the candle.

Eternal and welcoming God, bless us and all those whose names are a part of the larger chain of love that is (name the parish). Help us become a truly welcoming community. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Wolfgang of Regensburg: Wolfgang was born in Swabia, Germany, and was educated at a school located at the abbey of Reichenau. There he encountered Henry, a young noble who went on to become Archbishop of Trier. Meanwhile, Wolfgang remained in close contact with the archbishop, teaching in his cathedral school and supporting his efforts to reform the clergy. 
<p>At the death of the archbishop, Wolfgang chose to become a Benedictine monk and moved to an abbey in Einsiedeln, now part of Switzerland. Ordained a priest, he was appointed director of the monastery school there. Later he was sent to Hungary as a missionary, though his zeal and good will yielded limited results. </p><p>Emperor Otto II appointed him Bishop of Regensburg near Munich. He immediately initiated reform of the clergy and of religious life, preaching with vigor and effectiveness and always demonstrating special concern for the poor. He wore the habit of a monk and lived an austere life. </p><p>The draw to monastic life never left him, including the desire for a life of solitude. At one point he left his diocese so that he could devote himself to prayer, but his responsibilities as bishop called him back. </p><p>In 994 Wolfgang became ill while on a journey; he died in Puppingen near Linz, Austria. He was canonized in 1052. His feast day is celebrated widely in much of central Europe. </p> American Catholic Blog Keep your gaze always on our most beloved Jesus, asking him in the depths of his heart what he desires for you, and never deny him anything even if it means going strongly against the grain for you. –Blessed Maria Sagrario of St. Aloysius Gonzaga

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