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Why I’m a Visible Catholic in the United Kingdom

Why I'm a Visible Catholic in the United Kingdom

Hi, I’m Antonia, and I’m a Catholic.

That’s not quite how I introduce myself, but it’s not far off. I try to work the fact that I am Catholic into an early part of my conversation with people. It’s an important part of my faith – not just to be Catholic, but to show that I am.

It’s not just to evangelise, either. Catholics in the UK have spent hundreds of years striving for acceptance. Until the Catholic Relief Act in 1829 many rights and choices were restricted to us, and even today Catholics are barred from the line of succession to the British throne. Over the centuries, hundreds of Catholics have been martyred in my home city. It shouldn’t be a luxury to be able to declare myself a Catholic without risk of persecution, loss of job, or exile, but it is, and I intend to make full use of it.

Despite the advances made in accepting Catholicism in this country, I still get negative reactions from ‘coming out’ as a Catholic. These vary from the incredulous (‘seriously? But you don’t actually… believe it, do you?’) to snarky (‘oh, one of those nutters’) to the downright hostile (‘right, so you’re one of those paedophiles’) – yes, I really have had each of those responses. I’m not great at finding a good response to these (for those of you wonderful confident women who can stand up to opposition, please let me know your secrets!) but I  figure that for every negative response I get, I’m normalising Catholicism for one more person, and making it easier for the next Catholic they meet. Plus it’s got to be something off purgatory, right?

Our church, a large, traditional church in the centre of London, has an annual Corpus Christi procession which turns heads and stops traffic when it leaves the building and takes its first steps onto the street. It’s not long – not enough to be bothersome or interfere with people’s everyday lives – but enough to be noticeable, a simple but bold statement: look at us, we’re here, and we’re Catholic. And we’re not going anywhere.

There were stares. There were photos. There were strong words (‘is this some sort of cult?’). There were unpleasant actions (to the woman who barged through the centre of my Scout group, scattering young children left right and centre, to take a photo of the Blessed Sacrament before barging back out again, I have no words). But there were also questions, and (I hope) some answers. I hope we piqued some people’s curiosity, perhaps enough to come through the doors or ask their Catholic friends some new, more respectful questions.

It’s tempting to deny our faith, or at least hide it, when we know we’re going to be faced with opposition or hostility. No-one understands these temptations than St. Peter, who denied Christ three times. Just let that sink in for a moment – our Church, the foundation of our faith, has as its foundation stone a man who denied Christ three times in his hour of need. If coming out openly in your school, workplace, friendship group or family as Catholic is tough, St. Peter understands. Because despite everything Jesus still trusted him enough entrust the keys of Heaven to him.

Nothing quite beats the thrill of admitting that you’re Catholic to have a grin and a delighted ‘cool – me too!’. Just you try it.


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The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

Friends, unless you’re living in a cave, you have heard, and more than likely seen on the news, about the upheaval in our country these last few weeks, particularly a week ago with the murders of five Dallas police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest. The senseless violence, the anger, the contempt, the fear, the uncertainty, the belittling of others, the calls for deaths of the “opposition”, and the misrepresentation of those on both sides are driving wedges between many in our communities and throughout our nation. They divide us and control us. They grip our lives and harden our hearts.

There are calls for reform, calls for overhauls, calls for heads to roll and jobs to be eliminated, calls for civil disobedience, calls for arrests, and calls for stricter enforcement of laws. And there are many who call for peace.

But how can we find peace in such a divided world? How can we repair what seems to be so broken? Where do we start? Is it even possible?

To find peace, we must get to the heart of the matter at hand.

When we stop seeing people for who they truly are- children of God- we lose sight of their inherent worth and dignity. We begin to see them only based on their color, their financial status, where they live, what job they hold, if they hold a job, their nationality, their immigration status, their sexual preferences, their tattoos and piercings, their education level, their politics, their disabilities, their faith or lack thereof, their gender, or any other number of characteristics. We judge their worth on criteria that we have made up in our own minds based on our upbringing, our biases, our prejudices, and our personal experiences. Instead of seeing people through God’s eyes we see them through the dirty lenses of the societal glasses we have affixed in front of our eyes. These lenses cloud our vision and keep us from seeing a person for who they truly are.

The Heart of the Matter

We must begin seeing people for their true worth. We must begin seeing the beauty and the importance of our diversity. We are all different; thankfully so! We each bring something to our society that no other person can bring. Our differences are our strengths! However, as we are celebrating our differences, we must also begin to see how and why we are the same.

We are each made in God’s likeness. (Gen 1:27) He didn’t just make some of us in His image; He made all of us in His image. We are each fearfully and wonderfully made. (Ps 139:14) This means that He loves us each so much that He carefully thought out and molded together every single aspect of our being. We are so special to God that He created our bodies, our minds, and our souls in such a way that we are able to reflect His love back to others. Talk about wonderfully made!

While we are different for many, many reasons, we are more alike than we are different. We only have to look to Scripture to know this is true!

If we wish to change our society and the moral wrongs that are griping our nation, we first must change our own hearts. We have to honestly look at our own lives to see where hidden prejudices or judgments might be. This means everyone must do this because every person harbors some sort of preconceived notion or prejudice whether they’d like to admit it or not. We each must actively seek to eliminate these thoughts or actions from our lives. We must see others through God’s eyes instead of our own. We have to open our hearts and allow God to transform us in a way that only He can.

It is easy to say that our society can be “fixed” through protests, debates, enacting laws, reading books or blog posts, or through affirmative action and other programs designed to help “level the field”. But the truth of the matter is that unless we begin by changing our own hearts and seeing all people through God’s eyes, no program, no debate, no protest, and no vigil will ever help.

Until we are willing to admit that every person has worth, we will continue to see violence and inequality. We will see division and unrest. We will each feel it is dangerous to simply be who we are. This isn’t confined to black men and women nor is it confined to police officers and their families. Instead it includes all people.

Our hearts must be the first to change.

The Heart of the MatterMahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  If we wish to see an end to racism, violence, retaliation, and hate, we must begin by changing ourselves. However, we can’t change on our own. We need God to help us transform our hearts.

Before you look at everyone else and judge their sins, look first at your own life. How are you perpetuating hate? How are you instigating discord? How are you contributing to the problem instead of helping?

It’s easy to take sides at times like these. It’s easy to see how “wrong” others are and how “right” we are. But we aren’t called to be pitted against one another. We are called to be on God’s side… a side that espouses love of neighbor; that sees the beauty in every person despite the sinful nature that we each have; that calls us to forgive those who trespass against us; that clings to hope and never forgets Christ’s sacrifice and the redemption it brings for each and every one of us.

I choose to belong on God’s side. I choose to look long and hard at my life and work to change my own heart first. I choose to love those who look at me as if I am the enemy. I choose to forgive those who harm me and I beg for the forgiveness of those whom I’ve harmed. I choose to love.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Help me to change my heart so that I can see each and every person through your eyes. Let me be a beacon of your light and your love. Guide me, inspire me, and change me O Lord.