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9-CATHOLIC

How to be a proud, public Catholic

BRANDON MCGINLEY writes on trying to overcome his shyness about openly practising his Faith — By BRANDON MCGINLEY

I’ve never felt comfortable talking about Jesus. Writing, now that’s a different matter entirely. I can wax poetic about Christ and His Church for thousands of words from the silent security of my laptop. But speaking the name of Jesus out loud to other people, or even talking candidly about my Faith at all, has never come naturally to me.

This hang-up is certainly in part cultural. Every well-mannered person knows that politics and religion are taboo topics for polite conversation (GK Chesterton, with his characteristic wry humour, said politics and religion are actually the only things he talks about: “There is nothing else to discuss”). And, at least in this country, speaking with an easy sincerity about Jesus and Faith and prayer is considered decidedly downscale. Praying grace in a trendy brunch spot is like pulling up to a symphony hall in a rusty pick-up truck.

But most of my discomfort is related to my own habits and personality. My first impulse in a social situation is to usually choose whatever words or actions will put everyone else at ease—and public displays of religiosity, it’s sad to say, rarely do so.

More than anything, though, I just internalised at some point that I’m not the type of person who talks about Jesus. When I do so, it feels forced and awkward and even insincere, as if I’m a fraud or a con man.

For my high school friend who went to Christian summer camps and after school Bible studies—and who gave me a copy of CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity that was the first spark that initiated my return to the Sacraments several years later—talking about Jesus was fine. It seemed natural and easy, like chatting about sports or the weather. But me? It’s just not ‘who I am.’

This, however, raises a potentially uncomfortable question: who am I? Am I a faithful Catholic who puts on a mask of indifferentism in order to keep myself and others comfortable in our secular culture? Or, much worse, am I actually the person I present to others, the indifferentist, who makes a nice show of going to Mass and praying from time to time but who, when it comes down to it, doesn’t really believe the Gospel is the saving Good News for all mankind? These identities have to be integrated at some point, one way or the other.

I’ve been getting a lot more comfortable, praise God (that’s the kind of interjection I feel a lot better typing than speaking), in being more than a private Catholic. A big step was getting comfortable saying grace before meals in public.

A few years back I was eating in a downtown lunch joint by myself, and I decided as part of acclimating myself to public prayer that I’d cross myself and say grace.

A moment later my phone rang—a friend from out of town. It turned out he was staying in the hotel across the street and had seen me cross myself, and he thanked me for doing so. It was a beautifully providential moment that helped me see that, yes, I could be the ‘type of person’ who talked to and about Jesus—with sincerity—in the wide world.

The example of children can be especially inspiring. Several Catholic families recently gathered at a friend’s house for an afternoon barbecue, and as evening approached it was decided that we should pray the Rosary. The eldest boy of the host family went around announcing to everyone that it would soon be time to pray.

Some neighbour children had also come over to play. No one knew what Faith background these children might have had, if any, but the boy summoned them all the same: “It’s time to pray the Rosary!” It was like he was announcing that dinner was served, or that the game was about to start. Of course these children would want to pray the Rosary. Who wouldn’t want to spend some time with the Blessed Mother?

For this boy, there was no ‘secular culture’ to navigate, no embarrassment to fear, no ‘religion and politics’ to avoid. For him, the world simply is Catholic.

And you know, he’s right. Jesus is real. The Eucharist is true. The Holy Spirit is everywhere. Angels course among us. The saints guide us. Salvation is through the Church, and is for everyone.

The world is Catholic. Let’s muster the prayerful confidence to act like it.

 

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