In a recent issue of Catholic Digest, a reader wrote an in-depth review of the magazine. I agreed with a lot of her opinions. Some of the authors she enjoyed the most I, too, gravitate towards; however, she also admonished the fact that a Catholic publication wastes its precious space on sections like “The Homefront,” which shares recipes and lifestyle tips, as well as the column I contribute to – “Body & Soul.” Instead of having these types of articles, she wanted more content that would directly enrich her faith life.
Now, of course, it wasn’t great to hear a reader say she wished something that I write would go away, but her objection to including anything more worldly and secular in a faith-based publication frustrated me as well. I am not picking on this person and like I said, I agreed with some of her points. For example, she argued that the information included in these columns probably could be found in a lot of mainstream, consumer magazines and that there are so few publications that encourage people of faith that Catholic Digest should stick to the spiritual stuff. Sure, the primary focus of the magazine should be on the Catholic part. I get that. I really do.
But the Catholic part transcends the overtly Catholic articles. Our faith has to be a part of everything. Being a person of faith doesn’t just mean reading the Bible, showing up at church, or connecting with like-minded people. It’s about being salt of the earth. It’s about effusing kindness and connecting with others – strangers, atheists, Facebook friends, neighbors, and beyond.
We’re going to have a hard time connecting with anyone other than those who are just like us if we don’t know what’s out there, if we’re unable to talk about pop culture, or current trends and news headlines.
And perhaps this particular reader doesn’t feel like generic health articles really matter one iota to Christians, though I am connecting imaginary dots here; her argument was more that she can find those type of articles elsewhere, but I’ll go ahead and make a point that is near and dear to me anyway. Our bodies do matter! Christ suffered in the flesh. He became Man. He had a body. So do we. Our souls don’t work out our salvation on their own; we stumble toward heaven in our bodies. We can’t overlook that Christ suffered in the flesh. God became man – the Word Incarnate. Part of being human means having flesh, and we should care for the body God has given us in a loving, respectful way.
Consider these words from the Catechism:
“Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.” (CCC 364)
And if our bodies matter, then it makes sense that including a column that just might help someone make better food choices, decipher an unusual symptom, get more sleep, find time to exercise, etc. is important and matters very much to our lives as not only people but Christian people.
Likewise, most of us are of the world; we don’t wear habits or clerical collars that separate us from others. We never know how God might use us to reach someone else. He works in mysterious ways. He may speak to some people through Scripture. Others may find him during a time of sickness or through the kindness of others. But many people discover God in unexpected places or at least glimpses of Love (God is love, remember?) – in a pretty girl, for instance. I once read about a young man – and for the life of me I can’t remember the source – who reluctantly went to Mass, but then he started to get excited about going, not because of Christ but because of an attractive girl singing in the choir. It wasn’t the liturgy or the tabernacle but a pretty, young girl who drew this man in; God, the Author of Beauty, spoke to him through an attractive member of the opposite sex. At first, the man didn’t notice her faith – or Christ. He was paying attention to more worldly things initially, but eventually he was drawn to something deeper.
If I went around only reading spiritual tomes, wearing mu-mus, and kept my children from associating with any child who didn’t have parents who parented the exact same way I did, I might be playing it safer, but our faith needs to be daring. Sometimes it’s when we come out of our comfort zone that we change the most or perhaps reach the most people.
Being a Christian isn’t an adjective. It doesn’t simply describe the books I read, the clothes I wear, or the friends I make. It’s a verb. It’s what I (try) to do as I live my life out in the world, not in some cloistered-off convent. My vocation takes me to the grocery store, to barre classes filled with college students, to the school carpool lane, to soccer fields, basketball games, on group runs with people who have different faiths or no faith at all, onto Instagram and Twitter, and here, there, and everywhere.
I am not afraid to show the chaos in my life, and I am not afraid to wear cute shoes or share my new love for Stitch Fix either, lest someone thinks I’m a vain, materialistic person. I’m not afraid to reveal the fact that my kids love Jesus, but they also like some secular things, too. I hope that my little family can be a positive witness for Christians and the Catholic faith because we are real. We know the words to “Let It Go.” My two oldest daughters now do know who Taylor Swift is, and they think she’s pretty. But they know who Mother Teresa and Our Blessed Mother are, too, and they think they are lovely. We make people laugh. We can talk about things that all people – whether they believe in God or not – can talk about.
And maybe just maybe, it will be something that’s not really tied to our faith that surreptitiously invites someone into our life and they discover something he or she likes and wants. And I don’t just mean the Malbec in my pantry or the new suede yellow heels that give me a bounce in my step on a gray day, or the countless books my family reads. Maybe, with God’s grace, they will discover something else, something deeper, a glimpse of mercy, love, and faith.
You may be the only gospel someone reads all day, but if all of us are walking around carrying and quoting St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, a lot of people might sadly not even stop to consider what we have to say or how we (try to) live. Be not afraid. Be authentic you. Go out into the world, and know that it’s not all big and scary. Our fallen human nature means we can botch anything up and contaminate anything. But also remember this: Christ and his redeeming cross means we can find goodness in a lot of more secular things; we can baptize practices from other cultures.
Don’t live in a Catholic bubble. Yes, be centered on Christ, but go ahead and burst that bubble, trust in God, and get out there and live a full life.