Last week, Susanna Spencer wrote about being a cradle Catholic and how it truly effects every aspect of one’s life. Her piece, “When Catholicism Is in Your Bones,” spoke to me, in part because I am one of those cradle Catholics who knows that you can spot a Catholic church just by looking for the Bingo sign. I’m culturally catholic, to be sure, but it’s more than that. I’m religiously Catholic. By this I mean not that I am a good Catholic, but that I am a practitioner of my religion [I hope] to the best of my ability on most days. I believe in what the Church teaches and it influences every aspect of my daily life. It’s something that is there, always on, always evident, in our home, in our family, in our way of life. We’re Catholic.
The very day that I read Spencer’s piece, I experienced what she had written. My 16 month old daughter fell off the couch. She’s taken to climbing up and on everything lately, and this time, she fell. I heard the screaming from the next room, raced in, and scooped her up from the floor. As I sat there, cradling her in my arms, shouting out orders to my other children to get me the phone, the ice, a towel, I was repeating a mantra in my mind: “Jesus, help me. Jesus, help me. Jesus, help me.” Seeing her blonde curls matted with blood started my head swimming a bit, but I just kept repeating that phrase for a good two minutes. Then, I started changing things up, and threw in equal parts “Mary, help us” and “Oh Blessed Mother, please!” My children asked if they should get the Rosary beads. One ran for the Holy Water. And it struck me: this is also what it means to have Catholicism in your bones.
Whenever we need something, we reach for our Rosary beads. Be it to avert a calamity or to request a blessing, we pray the prayers of the Church. When our children are hurt, it is just as appropriate for us to call out for heavenly aid as it is to call out for physical help. We keep Holy Water and blessed oil in our first aid kit. Both are just as necessary in times of panic and danger. And it makes sense to us, since it’s been this way our whole lives. Being Catholic is about believing that the Son of God chose to die for our sins because He loves us and in that act, that he redeemed not only us, but all creation. As a result, Catholics don’t see creation as something evil, but as something wonderful, and something connected to heaven by way of its Creator. We show our love for God partly by enjoying His creation, His gift to us. As Hilaire Belloc says, “If we are to be happy, decent and secure of our souls: drink some kind of fermented liquor with one’s food; go on the water from time to time; dance on occasions, and sing in a chorus…” (The Path to Rome). Body and soul are not enemies, but allies. When my daughter was hurt, it made sense to me to both call for help from my sister as well as from Jesus and the Blessed Mother, because as a Catholic, it is all one and the same. Our saintly family is as real as our earthly one because both, as Spencer said, are in our bones.
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