I almost took the bumper sticker off of my car this week. “Proud to be Catholic,” it proclaims, in black and white boldface font, nothing ambiguous about its message. My dad has a matching one on his van, sitting parked a few miles away. Despite my husband thinking the sticker is “a bit much” and “perhaps even prideful,” we leave it on. The stupid magnet has been a conversation-starter in parking lots near and far. Sometimes people stare as they pass me on a local highway, and I imagine they are expecting to find a man dressed in a habit, but really it’s just me, sipping my coffee and formulating my next excuse for being late.
This week, “proud” was not a describing word near the top of many Catholics’ lists. Embarrassed, ashamed, straight-up pissed off, disgusted, discouraged, and fearful may have made top-ten lists following the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. But proud? That one’s nowhere to be found.
But there was Mass today, and I showed up.
This Sunday, I showed up and played the keyboard with my parish’s contemporary music ensemble. We sit in the balcony of the church, and I sit closest to the edge, making for a perfect view. It’s like sitting out at the end of a peninsula, as the rounded ceiling above me feels almost close enough to touch, the stained glass windows are even more beautiful from such a height, and the crucifix behind the altar, though farther away, is a focal point to be admired from off the ground. I am typically in a daze, playing familiar chords and absorbing the sights around me.
Today, however, what struck me the most… were the people. The sanctuary was particularly packed. With summer winding down and a new school year just around the corner, students are still with their parents before vanishing to their collegiate homes, families have returned from summer vacations sporting fresh tans, and the older folks are happy to be out and about in the warm weather.
I watched family after family file in. The family who’s loved one recently passed away, the family with the daughter in her wheelchair, the family with one child, and the family with eight. They came, one after another, finding their pews, bowing in prayer, chattering with one another. They showed up. I looked down directly below me to find a mom, wrestling her two-year-old daughter to stay in the pew while she dug for her checkbook for the weekly collection. My eyes moved to the pew next to hers, and I found an older couple, arms linked, hands intertwined. They showed up.
Not far from them, I found a mom with her arm around her daughter, and I thought about the emotions they must both be feeling as she heads off to college for the first time this week. I saw a man sitting alone, a young couple preparing for marriage, and my favorite – a mom and dad walking with their young son, each holding one of his hands as he walked, unsteady on his feet, down the center aisle.
“Why?” I asked myself. “Why are they here?” They could’ve given up long ago. Because their family member died or the diagnosis was just too much or the two-year old was just having a bad morning. They could’ve stayed home.
And then this week! We all could’ve stayed home. The truth is, I almost stayed home. As this past Wednesday was a Holy Day and a work day, I had to wake up earlier than normal to make it to Mass, in a different parish, the day after the Grand Jury report was released. Yeah, I had little interest in showing up.
And back to today: each of those individuals, those families, those children… they all showed up. In a very real way, they held doors for one another, they held hands with their beloved, they missed the homily because they were taking the kids to the bathroom again. They said the prayers, they sang the songs, they said the responses. They showed up, seeking answers, seeking truth, and seeking Jesus.
Despite them being the same people I see Sunday after Sunday, watching them today brought tears to my eyes and an electric current to my heart. Suddenly, it was difficult to see if my sheet music wanted me to play a G chord or a C, because my eyes were blurry and my head was with them. The show-er-uppers. The faithful. The body of Christ.
We can be angry. We can be humiliated, ashamed, discouraged. We should be. Some of the very men who were supposed to be showing us the way were too busy committing the most heinous of crimes, the most sinful of acts. We should demand answers, seek truth, move into action. As I sit and write my small contribution here, my husband is composing a letter to a Cardinal. We shouldn’t stop until these crimes are unheard of, a distant memory.
But what do we actually do? Many are asking the question. I am asking the question. Watching those faithful ones today, for one fraction of a second, I felt that I caught a glimmer of the answer. We show the hell up. This is not the time for Catholics to sleep in, to skip Mass, to walk in shame, to strip their cars of their bumper stickers, or to hide and remain silent. This – today – is the moment to show up. Show up wherever you are. Saint Theresa of Calcutta said that “to change the world, go home and love your family.”
Be so patient and kind with your husband that he’ll wonder what chore you’re trying to get him to do. Hold the door for the weird-looking dude behind you, introduce yourself to the new family at Mass, find what sets your heart ablaze and go do it, step out when you’re afraid, write the letter, open your mouth. Show up. Be so on fire for Jesus and His Church that others will say “wait, you’re Catholic?” Let them know who you are. And most importantly, let them know who He is.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” – St. Teresa of Avila