My Faith/Teen Faith Why I am Still Catholic by Teresa Nguyen I sat there numb. It was a Sunday and I don’t know if I was at Mass out of routine or obligation, but surely it was not because I wanted to be there. With the news of priestly abuse scandals coming to the surface, the church abruptly no longer felt like home. When I looked at a church or a priest, I no longer saw symbols of the good and heavenly, but instead, I could only see deceit, perversion, and greed. All throughout the Mass the horrific stories of abuse replayed in my head, week after week, which turned into months. I had nightmares about it. I cried about it. I was furious, I was disgusted, but most of all I felt robbed. The reality is that underneath my anger was love. I felt like the church was taken from me, and I was grieving. I loved being Catholic. I fundamentally believed in it. I was fully in it. I was not hating the church from the outside. I was on the inside as a hurting family member. With the tension between my love for the Church and my growing hatred for the church, I felt like I was hanging on a thread. I couldn’t ignore the hard questions anymore. Can I trust the church? Can this be fixed? Can I support something so flawed? What if I did leave? What would my life look like if I left? But that last question terrified me. I guess I could survive without my faith, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to leave the kind of community that offered authenticity, and sacrificial love. I didn’t want to throw away the depth of tradition, mystery, and theology that the Church offered. I didn’t want to lose the incomparable liberation I had in reconciliation. But what really kept me holding on was that I couldn’t imagine a life without my relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. There was a real love, a real friendship, a real romance with a Person that I could see and touch that I couldn’t divorce. It would also be unfair to invalidate my past experiences of Christ through the Church. My story didn’t become less true because of the failings of the church. It was real. I had to recognize that. I’ve also seen my life without the Lord and the church, and it is not good. My soul becomes desperate. I start endlessly seeking fulfillment anywhere and everywhere, only to always ask at the end of the day, “Is this really it?” The truth is I spent months reading and thinking about the church and its scandals, but I avoided talking to God about it. Maybe I was scared of admitting to myself that I was struggling because it was easier to keep up mindless routines and facades, but more-so, I didn’t even know if God was there anymore. I sat on the marble floor of a chapel and with a tired voice, “I’m having a hard time loving the Church,” I exhaled. With a brief silence between us, I felt the Father respond to me, “Well, I don’t have a hard time loving the Church because Teresa you are the church.” I forgot about the Father’s love for me through all of this. When I looked at the Church I saw a robotic, patriarchal, scandalous institution but God reminded me that when He sees the Church, He sees me, who He as no problem loving. And for the first time in a while, I saw Him too. This conversation didn’t solve everything, but from that point, I could see the Father’s face in the midst of the fire. I could see the church living and breathing. I could see my place in it. It was my church and I needed to do my part in cultivating a church that reflects the treasure it holds. I don’t want to pretend like I’ve arrived or I’m done struggling. Nowadays it looks a lot less like comfortably staying home, and more like choosing to come home every day. Some days my heart gets giddy at the thought of being able to go to daily Mass, other days all I can do is accept the grace offered to me and grudgingly say “yes.” The reality is that this isn’t my first time getting hurt by the church and it won’t be my last. If it’s not a sexual abuse scandal, it’s racism, it’s youth group gossip, it’s polarization, it’s sexism, it’s condemnation, it’s homophobia, it’s rejection, etc. When I’m hurt, the temptation is to run away or stay and pretend it didn’t happen. But the kind of pain created from church members won’t be healed with invalidation. It’s healed through total honesty and struggle. It’s healed through vulnerability with the Father and church members offering repentance and the love it was always meant to give. I was afraid of being honest with the Lord because I thought He would tell me to get over it because that’s what being Holy looks like. But instead, He’s shown me that He’s more concerned with simply walking with me and less concerned with how efficiently I am walking. He not only allows me to be in pain but is actually in pain with me. But of course, He’s in pain with me. Jesus is the one who carries the weight of our sin. On the Cross, Jesus knew that His church was going to commit the most unthinkable, diabolical acts to each other, yet He stayed. He chose and chooses love, redemption, and transformation. And that’s my call and response too. I love the church because God loves the church. For that reason, I’m angry, but it is also for that reason, I stay.