I am an American. I am proud to be an American. I was born an American, but often during my life, I chose to be an American. I did not ask to be born here. However, I am grateful I was. Once after high school I spent some time in Europe. It was a great experience. I met all kinds of people. We had much in common. There was a lot that separated us, but we got along. Language was the big thing. Yet there were other things. Call it style if you will. I remember toward the end of my time in Europe I longed to come home. I wanted to see New York City again. I wanted to see my family and my friends. I longed for the English language. No, I longed for the American language. I missed American movies and the way Americans did things. I remember when I arrived home at JFK I cried, literally cried. I was so happy to be home.
As an adult, I have often disagreed with some Americans. The racism, the wars, the way in which we try to bully people, especially people in other countries who need us. However, in all of this I have never ceased to love America. It is my country. It is my home.
I’m proud of Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and
Americans I have rubbed shoulders with who work hard for justice. I consider these great Americans to be my mentors. I use this example because it is the same for me with being a Catholic. It is who I am. My mother was a Catholic, as were her Irish fore bearers for centuries. She was a good person. So was my dad. He was not a Catholic. He taught me a lot but he did not give me my identity as a Catholic. My mother did that. She was a good woman. As a child. I saw her pray. She taught my brother, sisters, and me how to pray. She loved people; she cared for many people.
There are other people I met growing up who were Catholics. Some were stronger Catholics than others. Yet we were connected not only as human beings but also as Catholics. I remember a kind of esprit de corps. I am a Catholic first because of God’s grace, but also that grace in others. People. Good people. I have admired many people who taught me things. I wanted to be like them. They were mainly people who served other people. They seemed always to want to reach out and help. They were not always praying or going to church. They were sane, balanced people who called themselves Catholic and tried to live with a respect for other people. They also were people who loved life.
I especially remember the men, women, and young people I have met who cared for the sick, who looked after kids, and who tried to make a difference in society. There are also people I admire whom I have never known personally. St. Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century. I admire the man. He lived a kind of crazy life for a while but then he experienced God in Jesus and he spoke about how restless his heart was. I like that. I have a restless heart too. I admire St. Thomas Aquinas, his mind, his search after truth. Always restless.
I admire St Francis of Assisi, more than I can say. He loved Jesus. He was so like him. He loved the Eucharist. He loved people. People loved him. The world admires him. I look up to him.
I admire, Catholics like Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker woman who lived the gospel deeply by serving the poorest of the poor in New York City.
I could go on. Catholicism is God’s grace in people who have found Jesus Christ. We Catholics respect life deeply, life from the womb to the tomb. We do not believe in killing children or killing the aged or the developmentally disabled. Where do we learn this respect for life? We belong to a church that teaches us. As a community, we have always struggled to learn. It was the Catholic Church that founded the great universities of Europe: the universities of Paris, Oxford, Bologna, and Freiburg. The Catholic Church has kept learning alive through the centuries. We live in a community of discourse. It is not always easy to know what to do. Therefore, we talk to one another. We sort things out. We have people who teach us; we respect them. They are not always right but they are seekers after the truth. Some we call bishops. One we call the pope. He has something to say about people, community, history, civil rights.
That is why I am a Catholic and why I stay a Catholic. I know that there are many sinners in the Catholic Church. I am one of them. However, I know that and Jesus said: “The gates of hell would not prevail against us.” It is up to you and me to help make the Catholic Church a community of joy and peace hope and love with Jesus Christ and with one another. What a challenge!
David J. McBriar, O.F.M.