by Katie Rich
Walking through the muddy barracks of Auschwitz, seeing the vile latrines and the ruins of the gas chambers used to murder a million innocent people, the existence of evil was tangible, its fossils decaying right before my eyes. The ashes from the ground seemed to whisper, why are you a Catholic?
Every day, our phones and televisions and computer screens awaken our minds to the wretched reality of the world. A massive typhoon kills thousands in a country that has a hard enough time standing on its own two feet. Another shooting has happened in another shopping mall or elementary school, while cheeks are still damp with tears from the last horrific outburst. Planes crash, ships sink, people die. Chaos spits angrily in our faces, why are you a Catholic?
Across the country, case after case surfaces of priests abusing children, our little sons and daughters and sisters and brothers. Lawyers are hired, fingers are pointed, but it seems as if the vicious cycle will only repeat itself as more and more information is uncovered. The very men who should be our leaders become our downfall, and the world can only look at us with sad, uncomprehending eyes and ask, why are you a Catholic?
And if we have any kind of empathetic heart, shouldn’t it cause us to pause and ask ourselves the same thing? Shouldn’t we be disgusted with our Church, with ourselves, and with our God, for allowing such brutality and vulgarity to exist?
No, we shouldn’t let the despicable acts of mere men cloud the beauty of the immortal Church. No, we can’t let evil reign king over our hearts, kicking aside all that is good, true, and beautiful. Faith is no walk in the park. It’s an uphill battle. It’s gritty. Sometimes, it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth as you look around and wonder how you could possibly be on the right path when everything seems so wrong. But we have to believe. We have to remember with every fiber of our being that our God is good, that He loves us, undeservingly, more than we could ever understand. He’s fighting for us and for our world. In the end, all He wants is for us to come home to Him.
I’m not going to pretend I can solve the problem of evil (I may have conquered Budapest, but I still have a long way to go in the philosophical department). There are others, wiser and more educated than I, who would be excellent people to turn to with such difficult questions. But what I can tell you is to never be ashamed you are a Catholic. Never be embarrassed or shuffle your feet or lie when someone asks where you were that Tuesday night you went to Mass. Don’t let someone bully you into silence because the world is a disgusting place sometimes. Hold your head high. Pray for the weak and the strong alike. When you don’t think you can do it alone, for goodness sake, remember that you don’t have to! Catholic is not just our title, it is our family. Look to the saints, past and present. Every day we learn about another unbelievably wonderful thing Pope Francis has done. He dresses in disguise to feed the homeless by night. He calls strangers when they are having a tough time. He reveals aspects of his past that only help us to know that he is really one of us (he recently told parishioners at a church here in Rome that he used to be a bouncer at a club).
As my time in Rome rapidly draws to an end, I can only look back over the last few months with a smile on my face. I came expecting to see the sights, eat the food, and take some pictures. I’m leaving with shining new friendships, a refreshing dose of awareness, and a sense of conviction I never thought I’d have. There is glory to be found in the world, if we can see past the grime. And of course, the best way to do that is to follow in our fearless Pope Francis’ footsteps, roll up our sleeves, and start scrubbing that grime away ourselves.