This Makes Me the Dog

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!

Several years back, I overhead these disquieting and decidedly unchristian words spoken in a local grocery store.  During the last few weeks, the memory of that morning continue to find their way to my mind and heart as I take in giant ladles full of moral relativism and anti-Catholic sentiment. 

Back then, I spoke up (albeit not in the moment) about why it’s okay to be proud to be Catholic.

At the time I heard them, I said nothing and simply turned away. It felt like a very personal blow all the same. To be fair, I arrived at the grocery store in a bit of a bad head space, not unlike the one I’m in now. Therefore, the longer I thought about it, the more annoyed I became with this stranger. To call me BUGGED would have been considerably inadequate at the time.

I watched a similar encounter between two friends just this past week (over six years later) that has me similarly riled.  One can choose silence as a response to uneducated attacks on the Lord of life, or the state of the world. Or, we can speak up.   My head is right in the middle of the muck coming across my Twitter feed and TV and I am certain many of you are right here with me.  Allow me to share what I know to be right and good about our collective Christian community by using the example of my own parish as I begin.

I’m an active member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, at which the 13,000 sq. ft. Merciful Help Center is located.  Jayne Slaton, the amazing woman who runs the operation, would literally be the last person on earth to say, “Hey, look over here!  We’re amazing!”  Truth be told, THEY ARE.  The center houses 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. 

Above: Food packages prepared by Merciful Help Center Volunteers is ready for delivery to Hamilton County families in need of assistance.

Guess what? I know you good Catholic people with your sleeves rolled up all over your own community, and I know you don’t really give a rip how much “credit” you get for who you help. Largely, 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 are literally EVERYWHERE.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are over 17,000 parishes that serve a large and diverse population just here in the United States.  The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of education and medical services in the world.  Catholic Charities, for instance, serves over 10 million individuals annually.  Some of its 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.

To understand the social services impact of the Catholic Church, though, I think, 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, and that our thousands of parishes ALL contain ministries similar to the ones I mentioned at mine.  Each contributes in its own way and within its own capacities to combat hunger, domestic abuse and poverty.  They provide resources to families struggling with elder care needs, children in foster care, to pregnant mothers, those in mental health crisis, and so much more. 

The Church runs 5,500 hospitals, 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, with 65 percent of them in underdeveloped and poverty-stricken areas. 

Now, add up the smaller scale charitable works of the Catholic parishes I mentioned, and be sure not to leave out those undertaken by individual religious orders like the Missionary Sisters of Charity, the Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, and many others I’m forgetting. 

You see, we Catholics know that Jesus was never indifferent to the sufferings of others or the dignity of life.  So, when someone yells “You Catholics don’t even support [insert social concern here], so we know you don’t really care about life”, they are just ill-informed.  I’ve heard it said this way. A dog barks if his master is being attacked.  I guess this makes me the dog.  If hunger were easy to fix, or abuse, or poverty…then they would be solved already.  Georgetown professor J. Brennan recently stated it this way on his May 3, 2022 post on social media.  It says, “I am against Russians killing Ukrainians, but I might for all sorts of reasons oppose the US government aid to Ukraine.  I don’t think my neighbor should murder his kids and yet that doesn’t mean I believe I am obligated to feed his kids.”  This particular academic admits he sides against Catholics on many issues but acknowledges that some in his camp misunderstand some of the pertinent issues at hand.  What I’m trying to say is, the argument is not only an invalid one, the premise is also completely false. 

There are more nuanced conversations and smarter arguments out there for why being authentically Catholic and proudly so gives great glory to God.  Pope Benedict XVI called us “an expert in humanity.”  I quite agree.

To those in who cry out in anger, who are suffering, or who are searching, I offer the following invitation in all sincerity.

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 needs a hand up, priests who will tend to his spiritual needs, and pastoral associates who will help his daughter find a counselor and a great gal named Jayne who will get her a bag of groceries.

We’ve got Universities who help underprivileged young people get a college education who couldn’t otherwise afford one—and college students 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.  Find out who we really are.

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 when 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 youngest son often 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 a few years back, or the one filled with venom this week? 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, 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.  It breaks my heart. I’ve been there. It’s a really crappy place to be. Let’s ask God to use us to be His face and His hands to show them what love looks like.

When you feel worn out or lack the courage to speak life and be a proud Catholic, remember these words spoken by St. (Pope) John Paul II, “Never tire of firmly speaking in defense of life from its conception and do not be deterred from the commitment to defend the dignity of every human person with courageous determination.  Christ is with you:  Be Not Afraid!” 

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