Why “intentional Catholic”?
To answer this question, I need to go back: far back, to me as a little girl, running around church parking lots on the first Sunday in November, slipping prolife flyers under windshield wipers. To a little girl who went to Confession and said, “But Father, I don’t feel anything,” and was told, “If a person is cold because they have no coat, do they need you to feel something, or do they need you to give them a coat?”
I was a super-analytical kid growing up in the midst of a large and extended family of opinionated German Catholics who spent too much time arguing right and wrong in the context of American politics. As a college freshman, I accidentally landed in an honors English course focusing on Darwin. Confronted by atheism, I dug in my heels and recommitted to conservative politics, convinced that in every position thereof lay God’s will for the universe, clearly laid out in black and white. I was called “super Catholic” by my older sister, and not only did my husband and I practice NFP right out of the gate, we taught it for seventeen years.
But then this other thing happened to me. I gave birth to a child with a disability, and my world turned upside down. Not all at once. But turn it did.
The first blow to my neat and tidy view of the universe came when, in my self-analysis, I realized I’d been skirting an unpleasant truth through years of infertility: I was not open to “whatever God sends,” because I was not open to having a child with Down syndrome. At all. Those first days in the hospital with my second-born, I had a bruising collision with my own inadequacy as a disciple of Christ.
But as that old saying goes, the cracks are where the light gets in.
As I fell in love with my daughter and became a passionate advocate for her right to a place in the world, I began to see that my pat definition of “prolife” was woefully myopic. It wasn’t enough to say that people with disabilities are a gift and they have a right to be born. I had a front row seat to the steep cost of this gift—and don’t get me wrong, she is a gift. But there were surgeries. ICU stays $5000 orthotics. Five therapy appointments a week. We are lucky—we live in a place that is held up as a model of what can be done for people with disabilities, and between the services offered here and fantastic (and publicly-funded) health insurance through my husband’s university job, we’ve had a pretty easy time of it.
But what about those without the supports we have?
I realized it’s not enough to say that people like my daughter have a right to be born. Disability imposes a burden on families—a joyful, beautiful, rich burden, but a burden nonetheless. If we truly want to build a culture of life, we cannot tell those families the kids are a blessing to society, but the burden is Not Our Problem. Such a position is the opposite of prolife.
And with that one brick, the neatly-constructed wall–the one that protected me from seeing how complex and nuanced the intersection of faith and the real world really is–began to crumble.
Now, I live in a mess, with problems to wrestle on every side. Every hot-button topic in modern America has been revealed, in light of this new understanding, to be a rat’s nest of complications. But I wouldn’t give it up, because the quest to become the woman God is calling me to be is more real, more meaningful, more enlightening, and altogether precious to me because of the mess.
How does one live the Catholic faith in the real world? By being open to the mess. By considering, pondering, wrestling, and praying for God to make his will known in the specific circumstances, the practical, concrete realities of daily existence. Even when the answers don’t line up in neat black and white categories. Even when they challenge biases and reorder priorities.
How does one live the Catholic faith in the real world?
By being intentional about it.
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