US Catholic Faith in Real Life

An enchanted faith

Catholics understand that images, scents, smells, and even gestures are holy.

By Emily Sanna | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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Catholicism hasn’t always come easily to me. As a religion major at a liberal arts college and then a woman at a divinity school where the curriculum was designed to prepare ministers for ordination, I was constantly asked to defend and explain my faith. “But aren’t you a feminist?” people would ask. Or, “Why don’t you become Episcopalian? They’re almost like Catholics—and you could get ordained!”

I tried that. I went to Episcopal churches and United Church of Christ churches and Methodist  churches. I met people who were thoughtful and articulate about what they believed. But the small, still voice in my head called me back to Catholicism. 

The Roman Catholic faith, while flawed, provides the language through which I understand God. The God I love—and who loves me—is omnipresent. I experience the divine in every single aspect of my life, from the robins that have started to announce the call of spring outside my window and the conversations I have with colleagues, to the peace of a church sanctuary and the taste of the Eucharist.

“Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures,” the popular author Father Andrew Greeley wrote. Some Protestants may dismiss this as “smells and bells”—unnecessary pageantry that gets in the way of experiencing God. 

But Catholics understand that these images, scents, smells, and even gestures are holy. Incense at Mass reminds us that our prayers rise to God. Making the sign of the cross with holy water calls to mind our baptism. The statues and icons of the saints and the Holy Family give us new ways to understand our relationship with God.

These small sacraments remind us of the grace already present in our lives. They remind us that our whole lives are holy—that all of our actions are haunted by God’s presence. We experience God not only with our minds and spirits but also with our bodies. We smell the incense, we kneel to pray, we see the crucifix, and we taste the Eucharist. All five of our senses are involved in knowing God.

Sometimes these moments happen in church. But other times creation praises the glory of God. These small gifts of God’s presence are simpler and less imposing: A talk with a friend. A sudden, breathtaking overlook during a walk in the woods. A piece of art. 

These unexpected moments remind us of God and that God is present in every single part of creation. As the psalmist says, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?”

This is why I’m Catholic—because of the hugeness of God and the beauty of the world.

Published: 
Tuesday, April 12, 2016

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