Why am I Catholic? As my litany of posts attests, I am Catholic because of saints, my father and mother, my pastor, books, movies, other Catholics . . . But until I attended a baptism on Sunday, I never asked why in a different way. I never asked what I am Catholic for.
Look at it this way: My blog has explained that I am a Catholic thanks to many blessed influences in my life—from Ammie to Cesareo, from Reverend Bassage to Father Barnes, from Thomas More to Thérèse of Lisieux, from Kristin Lavransdatter to “Joan of Arcadia.” But who will say the same of me someday? Who will say, I am Catholic thanks to Webster Bull?
Isak Dinesen asked a similar question at the end of her memoir Out of Africa: “I sing a song of Africa, but does Africa sing a song of me?” Maybe it’s an old person’s question.
Julian DesRosiers is the first child of young friends of mine, Adam and Jenn DesRosiers. Fellow parishioners at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Beverly, Massachusetts, Jenn is a convert, Adam a revert; both are steady, kind, and devoted to our parish. Both are artists. Jenn is often a fellow communicant with me at daily mass. Adam has taken the pictures for our parish newsletter and many that appear on this site. I don’t hang out with them much (they’re nearly 30 years younger than I), but I love them, the way I love Ferde, the way I love Frank and Carrie. So when they invited me to Julian’s baptism, I said, of course, yes.
The ongoing shock of my conversion to Catholicism, like the ongoing astonishment of writing this blog and receiving so many readers’ comments, is realizing how inspiring one Catholic can be for others—in the case of this blog, me for you. I know how that sounds. It sounds strange to me too. Self-absorbed? Flattered by my own sense of self-importance? Yes, maybe, but— From the moment I began attending daily mass and sitting in the same pew every day, I saw by stages just how persuasive my presence could be there. By joyfully participating in the mass even when I could not receive the Eucharist, I saw that I was an example, a witness, an inspiration to other people.
This was in no way a recognition of my own power or importance. It came to me instead with a sense of grace, which humbled me. It was a gift I was being given, to use well.
But not until Julian’s baptism did I see the connection to the central question of this blog. Why—wherefore—am I Catholic? Not because of what but for what? In witnessing Julian’s baptism, I felt suddenly the responsibility of being not just a Catholic, but a good one, not just a man but a saint.
Maybe the central image in the gospel reading for Sunday helped drive this home:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
I’m afraid this gospel was aimed squarely at the priesthood during the abuse scandal of recent years. But what about me, a lay Catholic, professing the Catholic faith in front of Julian and all the other children who pass me in my daily life, including but not limited to the fourth-graders in my Wednesday afternoon CCD class? Will my behavior cause them to sin, or will it help them constantly to renew the cleansing grace of their baptism?
I am preparing for CCD class with a bit more intensity this week than last. I will stand in front of those sixteen nine-year-olds with a renewed sense of responsibility.
And to you, Julian DesRosiers, all of two weeks old, I have this to say: I will do my best to be a good example for you as you grow into the Catholic faith beside your fine parents. Your baptism was an invitation to me to renew my own faith, taking another baby step toward my destiny.