The problem with the Catholic Church is that most Catholics don’t have a personal answer to this question. We have gotten so used to seeing the Church in a de-Jesus-ified way. We think of Baptism as “entry into the Church”. We think of Sunday Mass and regular Confession as, “ways to keep your church membership current.” We often think that believing and following Catholic teaching is what will get you to Heaven. But the Catholic Church is not the world’s savior. And her sacraments, teachings, and beautiful architecture doesn’t save anyone.
Now before you call the heresy police, faithful Catholic, I ask you to hear me out. I learned a lot about the Church growing up. I memorized the Baltimore Catechism. I served Mass faithfully. I learned all about church history, Church teaching, and the sacraments. I defended Church teachings. I even wrote my own apologetics articles when I was in high school. I was fascinated with everything Catholic. This fascination eventually led me to the seminary.
Over time, I started to see another side of the Catholic Church. Not all priests were kind or holy, not all Bishops were good people. There were plenty of bad Catholics, poor liturgies, and broken promises. I became cynical about everything. If the Church wasn’t perfect, did God really exist? Was it really worth being a priest? The spring of my junior year in college I had a study-abroad experience in Rome. And there my worst fears were confirmed: the church had a long history of sinfulness, failures, and flaws. Far from perfect, the Church was a tragic mess.
But then I saw something I hadn’t seen before: Jesus was there. Under the mess, behind the flaws, within the wounds, was the love of Jesus. Everything had been pointing to Jesus. Only Jesus saves. The sacraments, teachings, and even the architecture are meant to point us to Jesus. The Church is both human and divine, sinful and saved, a piece of bread and the Body of Christ. We make the church flawed and messy; Jesus makes the Church beautiful and lovely. The heart of the Church is the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Being Catholic means being part of a group of that are deeply in love with Jesus. Except many of us have never really fallen in love with Jesus. We know a lot about Jesus. We try to follow the Ten Commandments and do the Catholic thing. We know intellectually that Jesus loves us. But we have never experienced his love, or given our lives to him, or allowed his love to heal and transform us. This, I believe, is what is missing in our Catholic Church today.
The love of Jesus didn’t become real for me until years into seminary. For a long time Jesus was just another friend. He was the guy I asked for help when I ran out of other options; the friend I hung out with when everyone else was busy. That started to change when Bishop Zubik sent me to Rome for my last 3 years of seminary. I had been comfortable at seminary in Chicago. I didn’t want to move. The transfer left me feeling lost and alone. I had nowhere to turn so I turned to prayer. For the first time in my life I started to do a regular daily holy hour. I began to realize that Jesus was with me and he cared about what I was going through. I began to trust Jesus more, to share more with him, and to allow him to become the center of my life. And that’s when I really started to fall in love with Jesus.
The process continues to this day. His love has always been there, I just didn’t always notice it. I continue to see His love and fall more and more deeply in love with Jesus. What about you — when did YOU fall in love with Jesus? I invite you to share your story with me. I love to tell the story, and I know you will too.
Share Your Story Here or in the Comments below.