It is a question I asked my children often when they were in high school and for a few years after. I still ask them once or twice a year, and when they ask me for advice (not often, but when they ask) the question above is always the opening query. Philosophy, for the little our education system teaches these days, is still the foundation for making sound decisions, and it is important for each person to remember what their own foundation is periodically. Some call it ‘centering’. I prefer ‘foundation’. One builds character on some foundation.
Consider the children’s story of the Three Little Pigs. Has your mind already jumped ahead to which of them had the stronger foundation of faith or belief to last out life’s storms? Do you already know who or what your own ‘Big Bad Wolf’ is? This simple childhood story represents Western philosophy education at its basic level and typically in the home. Then, there’s the popular culture book “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. What is taught in education today? A myriad of concepts come to mind and to discuss them would veer off my intent here. What is relevant is that each of us finds some level of commitment to some principle of life, and we move forward with our lives. Few venture beyond what was learned in middle school or high school, testing what they believe in their forays into their work or through their college years and beyond.
For all the years I asked the question of my children my point was to know what they chose to hold true from what their mother and I taught them, and what they picked up along the way on their own to strengthen or replace those lessons. It remains a question they don’t like answering,…yet. One day, I hope the example with have their own children squirming in a chair. This is not some sadistic plot but an effort to get them ready for their own ‘Big Bad Wolves’.
For all the asking of what they believe, they have never turned the question back on me. I can’t say why because it would be speculative, and that is always a mistake when building friendships. However, I have been doing some reading about how to continue to build this friendship with my children I am prompted by the author to answer the question posed for myself. In all my fifty-seven years, no one has ever asked me. I’ve been studying theology at the Master’s level for three years, and the question hasn’t come up there either. I’m certain my actions have demonstrated for those around me, especially my children, what I believe. The deeper answer is why?
“Why am I Catholic?”
Simple answer is, I believe. Sure, I was born and raised, schooled through grammar school. But I joined the Navy, for crying out loud, and stayed 20 years. With all I’ve seen, why ‘stay’ Catholic?
Because, for all I’ve seen, it is True, and the Church remains a repository of Truth, and that Truth is carried to every corner of society, every day of the year. The reason the Catholic social networks are as strong as they are is because the embodied spirits of the people let the life of Christ shine through in what they do, some a little, some a lot, and some in everything they do. Catholic health care makes up one sixth of the healthcare economy in the U.S. Catholic Charities is the largest relief organization in the world. The Catholic school system, from grammar school through high school, and into post secondary education, is the largest private school system in the world. These are the works of the Church that come from the faith.
What the public hears more of, though, are the sins of the Church. Of course, it’s what we expect. Two-percent of our priests have committed unspeakable acts in the past several decades. Movies portray these same servants in poor light since the 1960’s. Long forgotten is Pat O’Brian’s portrayal of Father Flanagan, founder of Boy’s Town in the 1940’s. The Exorcist was a pop-culture phenomenon and now a ‘new’ fall drama on a major TV network. Charlton Heston’s Moses in the 1956 Ten Commandments is now dependent on implied illusions of a child messenger because of Christian Bale’s bump on the head, a far more earthly portrayal of the myth-history. The modern stories of Saint Pope John Paul II and Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta can hardly keep up with the world’s reminders of our real sins and culture’s distortion of both our work and our theology. Zombies and vampires are somehow more believable than God becoming man and sharing our embodied spirit existence here on earth.
I still choose to believe. I continue to be inspired by the Spirit. I continue to hold that when I attend Mass I am at an intersection of this material world and the spiritual heaven. And in receiving what appears to many as only bread and wine, I affirm that it is the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God as described in the Gospels. It is both an act of Faith and an act of Will of my Conscience.
If you ask yourself the title question, what answer do you come up with?