You Can’t Be Catholic Alone

A frequent question I hear from young people, is “why do we need organized religion”? It isn’t just young people either; there are many in our world today who don’t think our Church is necessary, and they can have a relationship with God and with Christ that will sustain them without having to go to church, or join a religion.  Whenever I am asked about this, I always quote a professor of mine from college, an Augustinian priest, who told us “you can’t be Catholic alone. It isn’t possible.”

Directing the St. Peter’s Confirmation preparation program for the past 8 years, the thing that I have strived the most to help our candidates understand is that being Catholic means being a part of something bigger.  As Catholics, we are part of a community: our parish community, our local church community (our Archdiocese), and our universal church.  A large part of our confirmation program for high school students is to try as much as we can to immerse them in the life of the parish.  They participate in Mass by performing liturgical ministries, they attend parish events, and hopefully participate in youth group.  Our preparation program is somewhat unique, in that we hold class on Sunday mornings, and require Mass attendance as part of class.  In fact the candidates are told that, “class starts at 9 in the main church”.

In this weekend’s Gospel, we hear the story of The Road to Emmaus.  Two of his disciples encounter Jesus, but do not realize it is him until they see him break bread.  And what is their immediate reaction? To run and find the eleven remaining apostles, and share with them what they saw. They wanted to share their experience and their encounter with Christ with others, with their friends, with those who share in their faith.  Of the many wonderful elements of this story, this is but one for us to focus on: how often do we joyfully share our encounters with Christ?  Maybe we tell our spouse, or other family members.  Do we post it on Facebook or Twitter? Do we call friends to tell them about our experience, the way we would to celebrate a new job, a raise, or an achievement by our children?

At Workcamp, all campers are encouraged daily to share ‘God Sightings’; a time that they saw God at work that day.  ‘God Sightings’ are moments where we have no doubt that we are seeing God in action, and that he is right there with us.  ‘God Sightings’ are shared in small groups, but also every night at program, in front of the whole camp usually over four hundred people). It becomes powerful to see how so many people are directly experiencing God’s love, presence and providence on a daily basis.  Like the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus, they want to share their encounters with Christ with everyone, and spread his love.

Sometimes, there are people who feel like they aren’t experiencing ‘God Sightings’.  I have tried the past few years to extend the discussion of ‘God Sightings’ to both Confirmation classes, and also Wednesday night religion classes for our middle school students.  Sometimes it is hard at first for our young people to realize when they have seen God, but the more we talk about it the more it hopefully stays with them.  We all have encounters with Christ on a regular basis, the trick is being able to recognize it.  It can be easy to take them for granted, and to chalk up an experience to coincidence, or good luck.  Just as the disciples did not recognize Christ as he walked with them to Emmaus, so we frequently do not recognize or identify his presence and providence in our lives.

So, how do we become better attuned to recognizing ‘God Sightings’, and being aware of these encounters we have with Christ? The more we move him to the forefront of our thoughts on a regular basis, the easier it becomes.  The more we participate in the community of our faith, the easier it becomes. Jesus was (obviously) very smart. He knew that we would need each other to live the way he wanted us to live, and to live the faith the way he intended us to live it. That is why he established the church for us; as a community for support and growth. We are not alone in our faith. The parish community is not intended to only be a place for us to come for one hour on Sunday each week. It is a COMMUNITY, where we gather together, share together, grieve together, celebrate together, and LIVE OUR FAITH together. If you are struggling to recognize ‘God Sightings’ in your life, I encourage you to try and immerse yourself more deeply in the life of our parish. Don’t try to be Catholic alone; join with other members of your community to help yourself grow in the life of the Faith. If you are blessed to have regular ‘God Sightings’ that you do recognize, please share them with members of your community of faith, just as the disciples from the Gospel did.  Share your experiences with your community, so that you may help it grow and bloom with God’s love. Maybe you can be a ‘God Sighting’ to others.

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