He asked “Because it’s easier?”
Most people who heard about my new direction responded positively, if with some surprise. A few of my conservative friends were shocked that I would be attracted to an “unbiblical Christianity” with complex rules of behavior. My liberal contacts also occasionally expressed concern, for reasons different and yet similar. I haven’t often found a pragmatic occasion to discuss my journey into Catholicism.
Except for here. On my blog.
So here (in no particular order) are five reasons I became Catholic.
(1) They have the best cafeteria. As great as the PSR dining hall is, the Catholic cafeteria is virtually impossible to beat. It offers both traditional and modern fare as a matter of course, and services an incredibly broad spectrum of specialty needs. Because Catholic culture is a global phenomenon, the cafeteria is huge. It took me awhile to figure out the layout, simply because there is such an immense variety to sort through, but eventually I found my way into the patristic buffet.
(2) It keeps me humble(r). Every day I discover a new corner of Catholicism, places I didn’t even know existed, places I will never go, people beyond my reach, cultures outside of my comfort zone. It puts me in contact with other human beings with problems worse and better than mine. Like a mother who knows her son must mature, the Catholic Church pushes me—gently but persistently—to grow, both spiritually and socially, and helps me keep life in perspective.
(3) They know the authentic me. And by “they” I mean, “a priest I talk to sometimes,” and for me that’s a huge improvement.
When I began inquiring into the Catholic Church with an open mind, probably the most significant discovery I made was the Rite of Penance, or Confession. The rite keeps me honest and accountable, with the added social security of a confessional seal.
I was skeptical at first. But I discovered that—setting aside the crucial dimension of accessing Christ’s perpetual forgiveness through the priest as an agent of His Church (or whatever)—confession is just telling someone about your worst decisions and habits and resolving before God and man to keep improving. It’s not quite the same thing as psychotherapy, but it is therapeutic (Is there a word for spiritual + therapeutic? Is that a thing? Salvific?).
(4) Catholics are practical people, morally speaking. Overall, the bar isn’t set too high and it’s not set too low. It produces Christians of a solid and durable caliber. The Church makes a concerted effort to meet people wherever they are, with special attention to individual capacities—some people are deeply spiritual, others broadly intellectual, others essentially disinterested but well-behaved. In the Catholic tradition there are things to do for all levels of engagement, at all stages of life. Not everyone is a nun or a deacon or a priest, but any Catholic can practice a relevant Christianity.
(5) They were nice to me. That’s really all it took. A Dominican priest offered me his own glass of water during a nerve-wracking impromptu meeting. When I had the audacity to ask, a Jesuit priest-in-training shared his bread to help me settle my stomach. Little gestures like that accumulated in my memory over time. I came away with the impression that I genuinely mattered.
This isn’t a sales pitch—maybe Catholicism isn’t for you, for reasons good or bad or both. Mostly this list is just to assure people that yes, I thought it through.
But if you’re hunting for a religious institution that fosters a healthy spiritual practice and engages centuries of insight into the human condition, you might think about visiting your local parish. Take a dollar or two with you so you don’t feel awkward during collection. Observe communion from the back. If you’re brave, you might make your way forward with the rest of the congregation to receive a blessing. Think of it like a test drive, with minimal commitment.
At the very least you’ll see new things with your own eyes.