An Open Letter to my Catholic Friends…

Dear Friends,

I’m going to be honest. Humor eludes me today. At the grocery store this morning, I overheard half of a conversation that bothered me.

“I know Ann, I gotta go because I am at the grocery now, but I don’t know what she’s thinking letting her daughter go to that school next year with all those backward, elitist Catholics. Plus, Catholic school is SO expensive!”

I said nothing, but it felt like a very personal blow. To be fair, I arrived at the grocery store in a posture that was poised for anger and I felt defensive. Therefore, the longer I thought about it, the more annoyed I became with this stranger who obviously doesn’t know anything about us or our church. To call me BUGGED would have been an inadequate characterization.

I appreciate your consideration about my perspective on this, but first, I’d like to remind you about who we are as Catholics, because this gal and her comments sent me exactly to the center of my political frustrations too. Good people, I PROMISE this is NOT a political post. I’m just acknowledging my head is right in the middle of the muck coming across my Twitter feed and TV and I am trying to be real. One of the news stations this morning re-ran part of an interview from a couple years back. It was a prominent figure making a staggering claim that the Catholic Church is responsible for 50% of social services in the United States. The media, predictably, pounced on that with mountains of statistical “fact checking” about how Catholic Charities, while one of the largest charities in the country, falls far short of that mark.

This is true. Catholic Charities serves ONLY about 10 million individuals annually, BUT these millions are served regardless of their own religious, social or economic backgrounds. Some of it’s more well-known partner organizations include Habitat for Humanity as well as Catholic Charities Disaster Relief. In short, they work hard to reduce poverty and provide emergency relief throughout the US and well beyond. It’s hardly an insignificant contribution (and definitely not rooted in elitism).

I wanted to yell at the screen, “Someone, anyone? Defend us!!”

To understand the social services impact of the Catholic Church, though, I thought, one needs to understand that our country is home to a vast network of Catholic hospitals and health systems, and that the University system in our country was largely a Catholic invention. Also, within the 195 dioceses, there are approximately 18,000 Catholic parishes in the USA. I “Googled” it.

Let me say it another way.  The parish nearest my home is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Carmel, Indiana. This parish built and operates the 13,000 sq. ft. Matthew 25 Center, which includes a large food pantry, the Trinity Free Clinic, and serves THOUSANDS annually. They meet the needs of marginalized people from all walks of life EVERY SINGLE DAY. Their network of volunteers from doctors and dentists to retirees, as well as housewives and their children is astounding.

The parish school my son attends at St. Louis de Montfort in nearby Fishers also houses a food pantry. The parish gives 10% of collections, or about $250,000 (I’m guessing) annually to meet the needs of the community by supporting financially and with manpower many local charities doing good work that aren’t necessarily affiliated with the Catholic Church. One recent collection, for instance, went to a local shelter that provides emergency housing for women who have escaped domestic abuse. The parish regularly houses families on their campus who are struggling with homelessness as part of their partnership with the Interfaith Hospitality Network (among a zillion other worthy endeavors).

These two parishes whose compassionate contributions I have sorely underreported here are QUITE representative of the incredible work the other 17,998 or so parishes are making. My husband is the CPA, not me. I just know this amounts to a boat load of people helping a boat load of other people.

Guess what? I KNOW YOU good Catholic people with your sleeves rolled up all over your community, and I know you don’t really give a rip how much “credit” you get for who you help. The vast majority of you simply want to be the hands and face of Christ to those around you. You inspire me. You make me want to be more and do more! You all are trying to do small things with great love, as St. Mother Teresa advised. Some of you are old fussbudgets, others are sales people, teachers, pediatricians, high school kids….so many hands are in the mix.

Where are you going with this, Shelly??

Here’s where I am going.

“Hey, Carmel! Hey Fishers! Hey America! WE LOVE YOU!”

When you are down on your luck, come find us. We are literally EVERYWHERE. We’ve got nuns that will help care for your Uncle Henry who’s down on his luck and priests who will help his daughter find a counselor and a great gal named Jayne who will get her a bag of groceries and some new undies.

We’ve got Universities who help underprivileged young people get a college education who couldn’t otherwise afford one—and a student body filled with so much heart they are building houses for people on the weekends and tutoring students in your local public school for free.

We’ve got hospitals. We’ve got grade school kids making PB&J’s who will pass one to you to take along for the road after you leave the food pantry. We’ve got HS kids taking their day off after finals to come rake your leaves. We have thousands of those little old “church ladies” and countless Catholic prayer groups who will pray for you– and if you need help with food for your brother’s funeral–we’ve got your back.

Stop in and see us.

When you call us names or tell us we’re backwards, we’re human. It makes us sad. When you think it’s okay to disrespect our beliefs, and especially where it relates to ending the lives of the most vulnerable, it makes our hearts weep. Broken hearted people don’t always think straight or articulate well. For those times where we have failed, we ask your forgiveness. We will work on our behavior. It doesn’t change the fact that we are right here and we want to help—no matter who you are or where you live.

Catholic friends, when did disagreeing become something that must express itself venomously? WE, as a group, need to do a better job understanding that people weren’t exactly a big fan of Jesus either (and we are CLEARLY NOT HIM) and rest in the Lord. That’s all. The anger and defensive posture are unbecoming.

As my 12-year-old son says, “We’re a good family.” Like all good families, we are full of flaws. But don’t be led astray. Our church is born of Christ Himself, and it’s okay to be proud to be Catholic.

With God’s help, we’ll keep trying to respect one another and do better. We must.

If I have the chance to talk sometime directly to the heart of folks like the woman I overhead at the grocery today? I would say this. “I’m worried about some of you guys. Some of you don’t see how BELOVED YOU ARE. Hey you! Yes, you! God loves you. He’s better at loving than any human being could ever be, and He sees everything amazing about you.”

My faithful friends, my Jesus girls, my peeps…. If you know that, really KNOW THAT, in your heart, then you are blessed beyond words. I’m asking you to please join me in prayer for our country? It’s full of angry people who do and say evil things which means they don’t know God loves them, y’all. It breaks my heart. I’ve been there. It’s a really crappy place to live. Let’s ask God to use us to be His face and His hands to show them what love looks like.

“There is no place for selfishness—and no place for fear! Do not be afraid then when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.” (St. Pope John Paul II)