By Haley Arndt
There was a point in time when I decided I was no longer going to be Catholic. And ironically, it happened when I was at the first approved Marian apparition site in the United States (trust me, I am SO not looking forward to having that awkward convo with Mama Mary in heaven).
It was the summer before my freshman year of college. My family, being the super Catholic family that we are, took a detour on our camping trip to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help—the first approved site in the United States where the Virgin Mary is reported to have appeared. (Side note: How cool is it that the first place Mary appeared in our country was in Green Bay?!! Bless up for Wisconsin, y’all.) I was sitting in a pew of the chapel, and I was frustrated with God. Specifically, I was frustrated by how “Catholic” the Church was. I was frustrated by all the “rules” of the Catholic Church that I had to abide by which my Protestant friends did not have. I was frustrated by all the weird Latin. I was frustrated with having to go to a priest for confession rather than turning to God Himself. I was frustrated that I had to eat fish on Fridays during Lent. I was frustrated by the huge emphasis Catholics place on Mary. And most of all, I was frustrated that my friends would ask me questions about my faith that I couldn’t explain because I had no clue myself.
So there I was, sitting before the very place Mary appeared to Adele Brise over 150 years ago, and I was tapping out of the Catholic Church. I didn’t want to feel obligated or tied down by the ways of the Catholic Faith. All I wanted was to simply love Jesus while not worrying about whether I ate my donut an hour before Mass or if I went to church on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. I didn’t need the Catholic Church to love Jesus.
But surprise, surprise! God won over my heart and tenderly led me back to the beauty of Catholicism. And THANK GOODNESS He did.
Long story short, after being a mentally checked-out Catholic for my first year of college, Jesus Himself—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—dropped a bomb of truth on me in the basement of a slightly janky chapel in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. Need more clarification? Okay…
During my winter break, I signed up for a non-denominational Christian conference. It was pretty neat. We jammed to some great praise and worship music, listened to speakers preach about the need for evangelization, and we even had the chance to walk the neighborhoods of Minneapolis to engage strangers in conversation about Jesus. However, despite all the hype and excitement of the conference something was just… missing. It wasn’t until my saint-in-the-making Catholic friend who came with me to the conference asked if I wanted to slip away with her to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God at a Catholic church nearby. Although her request involved two things I was trying to free myself from—veneration of Mary and holy days of obligation—something in my heart stirred and prompted me to go with her. And it was there in the dark, extremely small, random Catholic church in Minneapolis that my eyes were opened to what I had been missing not only during the conference, but for the past year of my life—the actual, physical presence of our Most Holy Lord.
You see, as I previously convinced myself that I didn’t need the Catholic Church to love Jesus, I was rejecting the greatest gift Jesus had given the earthly world: Himself in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist within the Church. And as the priest raised up the consecrated Body of Christ in the air, truth hit me. I didn’t want to just love the Jesus up in heaven. I wanted to love the real, physical Jesus that offers Himself to us in the Catholic Church. Jesus met me where I was at and asked me to come back to His Church which He founded.
Brothers and sisters, I’m not going to lie to you and say that the Catholic Faith is easy to understand. Because it’s not. It can be complicated, confusing, and sometimes plain frustrating with its dogmas and doctrines. But I am thoroughly convinced that the Catholic Church is where it is AT. It is the place that you want to be, friends. Why? Because aside from a plethora of other reasons, like an army of saints to intercede on our behalf and authority that dates all the way back to the apostle Peter, we have the legit presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And no Protestant denomination can claim that. As Catholics, we fully believe that Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist in which God, working through the priest, transforms the gifts of bread and wine into the Real Presence of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. And bonus points for Catholicism: we not only get to worship the physical Jesus, but we become intimately one with the physical Jesus through Holy Communion. You can’t get much closer to Jesus than that, yo!
Once the glorious gift of Christ in the Eucharist clicked for me, Catholicism became a game-changer. I encourage y’all to spend some time with the Real Presence of Jesus, whether it is at Mass, in adoration, or simply in front of the tabernacle at your church. Take that time and reflect on the realness of Jesus in the consecrated host. Do you truly appreciate and revere the remarkable gift of the Mass, or is it just another item that needs to be checked off on your weekly checklist? After receiving the Eucharist, do your actions and thoughts imitate the virtues of the Holy One currently residing in you? Take these questions to heart and reflect on them.
Trust me, learning to appreciate and to develop true, deep love for Jesus in the Eucharistic Sacrament is life-altering. Try it out. Because that, ladies and gents, is what convicted me and brought my heart back to the love story that is the Catholic Faith.