The other night I was startled to find tears streaming down my face in the middle of a downtown Seattle coffee shop. I was there with a friend, and we found ourselves talking about Catholicism, our common faith, as we often do. As he candidly shared about the difficulties he faces in his job as a full-time minister, and the many other challenges he faces as a devout and pro-reform Catholic, even my perfect latte (a remedy for so many things) could not appease the emotions that built up internally. Amid the empathy I experienced for his struggles as a Catholic, I found myself moved to tears of gratitude–gratitude for his companionship in faith, gratitude for the small reminder that I am not alone in my commitment to the Church and my commitment to its reform, gratitude for the reassurance that I am not alone in how I make sense of my belonging to this tradition.
I have many wonderful friends in my hometown, but I can count the number of Catholic peers on one hand, and I think that’s why I was so grateful for my friend’s words the other night. I have inspiring, faithful Protestant friends here, many of whom possess an affinity for Catholic liturgy and the Catholic tradition, but still there is just something different about discussing my faith–its beauties and setbacks–with someone who holds the same personal investment that I do. I struggle to adequately articulate my faith to friends who inquire about the pope or the sacraments or liturgy because they seek cogent, intellectual answers about these things that are not merely rational in my life–they are personal, spiritual, emotional, traditional, communal, too. Those elements are difficult to articulate to many who are not Catholic, and I often find others frustrated by my inability to sufficiently justify any and all things Catholic.
Moments with like-minded Catholic friends are all the more precious because of the fact that I often feel somewhat misunderstood by my peers here. I would never wish away the inquiries of my friends about Catholicism–they challenge me in great ways even as they are difficult–but I know that I need Catholic companions too. I need people who I don’t have to explain myself to–or maybe people who understand the parts of my faith that I simply can’t explain.