By Carla Mckenzie

I came to faith and came to the Catholic Church in rather rapid succession and with some of the headiness of falling in love.  It might sound strange, a 20-something year old woman falling in love with what appears to many a failing, outdated institution. Trust me, I was surprised too. This is a story of what happened, a story of my journey into Catholicism.

After coming to faith in a general sense I began to explore Catholicism more and more, I realised I had never before experienced something that so engaged both my head and my heart. That called to the fact that I was a whole person: flesh and blood and mind and spirit.

I read voraciously and was drawn in by the Church’s intellectual tradition. Works written by believers who in the very first centuries AD, from the Middle East to Northern Africa to Rome, were grappling with the same questions as I was. I read the written texts of the Gospels, profound in their simplicity and accessibility and became fascinated with all the thought and writing that followed over the years, inspired by encounters with the person of Christ.

Along this journey, I continued (and still continue) to stumble upon treasures, drawing me further and further in to the Church and her beauty. These small precious gems; perhaps a tradition of prayer, the life of a particularly eccentric saint, the beauty of Byzantine Christian art, the chants from a monastery of Senegalese monks. Seeking, I went – and these treasures were unwrapped and presented to me and I shone with pleasure at each one. Quiet and beautiful. Small but weighty.

I fell in love with the depths of the Church’s spiritual traditions. A tradition spanning from the very time of Christ and the early Christians themselves, treasured in the Catholic Church until this day. From the spirituality of the first hermits and monks: the Desert Fathers and Mothers who were third and fourth century Christians who went to the deserts of Egypt, Palestine and Syria to live in poverty and simplicity, love for their fellow humans and prayer, all in imitation of Christ. I was fascinated with the saints and mystics. People like St Ignatius, a Spanish soldier turned monk and founder of the Jesuit order, whose distinctive spirituality and writings on prayer are as relevant today as they were in the 1500s.

The mystery of Love: both personal and communal

You see, throughout all of this, the essential truth that I have experienced is that Christianity really is all about Love.

St John the evangelist, often considered one of Christ’s closest disciples, is attributed with writing the simple yet astonishing words: “God is Love.”

And the astounding truth I discovered when I took the time to look is that everything in the Church is ordered around this mystery: Love. Not mystery in the colloquial sense of something we cannot understand, but rather something we will never fully understand. A mystery that continues to be revealed and understood, in multiple layers in multiple places throughout time. This mystery that is experienced meaningfully by the individual and by the collective.

These two truths are essential to the experience of God, as understood within Christianity: one, that faith entails an ever-unfolding experience of the Divine person that we will never fully understand and two, that we cannot do this on our own. Christian spirituality is profoundly personal and deeply communal. This is something I have found to be celebrated within Catholicism.

The body of Christ sometimes looks like a cluttered old house…

Perhaps it may all look strange and unintelligible at times: the troupes of saints and statues, relics and processions, churches and robes, gestures and incense, sitting and kneeling and standing…

But I’ve come to see it like something of a cluttered, yet beloved, old family home. Generations span backwards, and across the world, their heirlooms and precious mementoes pile up. Yet each is a vital part of understanding, celebrating and safeguarding the family history. Each memento, when properly understood, providing a clearer understanding of those that have lived there, why they chose to and their experience thereof.

There have been many divisions in the church, trying to do something new, trying to ‘simplify the faith’, or go back to its basics but I believe that we cannot do this without losing some of the heart of our faith. We lose some of what connects us to Christians across space and time. As followers of Christ, a spring-clean may at times be necessary, but if we clear out the house too much, or worse still, we move out altogether, I think we lose part of the story. We lose part of what connects us to Christ; from the very time he walked this earth as a historical person in the Middle East up until today and our personal and communal experience of him as risen and living.

So, as a Christian, it is in this family house of the Catholic Church that I have chosen to make my home. Not simply because I like old-fashioned church services and men in dresses, but rather because through all the beauty of the Church and her traditions I recognise that each treasured memento in this rickety old home is in some way a depiction of Christ.

And every door in this home ultimately opens on to Christ; always offering a multitude of entrance points for us, in all our diversity as human beings, to experience another layer of the manifold mysteries of the person of Christ, who is God, who is Love.


Profile CarlaAbout the Author

Carla Mckenzie

I am an adult convert to Catholicism, which happened much to my own surprise and that of those around me. I live in a vibrant Catholic student community and am studying medicine, which occupies much of my time and thoughts. The rest I spend balancing my desire to read the omnipresent pile of books next to my bed and spending time with family and friends, being outdoors: hiking and surfing.  I love the Church most for its misfit mystics and eccentric saints, and for being able to follow Pope Francis on Twitter.

 

 

 


 

  • Seb

    Awesome :)

  • Chelsea Rebelo

    This is beautiful. Church traditions have been made endearing and sentimental. Before I read this, most of them were all just smells and bells to me.