I’m sure we all know people who embody the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5). Peaceful, patient, and kind–and all seemingly without effort, as these virtues naturally flow from the great love and grace which they have received from Christ.
Well, I’m not one of those people. I haven’t put nearly enough effort into my relationship with God to draw on all of those graces. So, for now at least, I remain decidedly un-saintly. I love to talk about the common good and serving others, but in reality, my house is a mess, I get mad at my husband if he eats my granola bars, and I constantly walk around with a slightly worried expression, like I can’t remember whether we’re out of milk. And that’s just the surface: there plenty of less noticeable but far graver sins lurking deeper in my soul.
For this reason, I used to equivocate about the fact that I was Catholic. I was afraid my own imperfections would turn people away from the faith. I used to lie to my roommate about where I was going as I headed off to RCIA (oh, the irony of committing venial sins in order to enter the Catholic Church). I’d stay silent when my fellow students snickered about those crazy fundamentalist pro-lifers.
Lately, though, I’ve tried to be more forthcoming about my religious commitments. And it’s not because I’ve become any nicer or less sinful or better-smelling. Rather, it’s because of an idea I read in Humanae vitae: that most people believe that Church teaching can only be lived through “heroic effort” (3).
That’s something that I myself used to believe. Back in my days as an atheist, if I thought about Catholic teaching on issues such as sexuality and marriage at all, it was only to dismiss them as impossible. Or, if I did consider them possible, they could be possible only for exceptionally self-controlled and saintly people–or perhaps for the boring, repressed, and judgmental. So why bother to learn more about Catholicism if it demanded the impossible?
But now, after a very long story, I’m on the other side, living those teachings that I once considered inhumanly difficult. And I want to let others know that, yes, you can live Church teaching. You can forego contraception and become open to life even if you’re newly married, chronically impoverished (i.e., if you’re in graduate school), and not very good with small children. You can go to confession even if you’re normally proud and don’t like to admit when you’re wrong. You can be chaste even if, like most human beings, you struggle with lust and selfishness.
As Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31). Catholic Christianity exists precisely for the imperfect. It is the imperfect who have been called to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). And I want to be an honest example to others of an imperfect person who, through growing in the grace of Jesus, is slowly learning to keep His commandments.
So I’m trying to do more–to pray in public more, to mention my faith more–precisely because I am such a sinful person, and therefore I can show others that the Church is for everybody.