Living authentically


It seems to be a new catch phrase, “live authentically.” Yet, as a Catholic, sometimes that is harder than it appears. For me, this time of year is especially difficult. It has nothing to do with Christmas. Next week we mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion. It is not news to anyone who knows me well that I am a practicing Catholic and I do not hide my faith. I have encouraged Confirmation students to wear their faith like a coat. Not like a Sunday coat or Wednesday night coat (because you have to go to religion class), but every day. This is hard advice to dispense when I, myself, find myself not necessarily wearing my coat when talk around office, on the street, in the store, or wherever there are conversations and debates that split society and, in cases, split Catholics themselves.

I often go back to another question. “If you were on trial for being a Catholic, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I got started thinking about this after a homily on Sunday where a visiting priest told us to remember that someday, in heaven, we will see someone and we will remember that we could have done more. I think this applies to individuals, as well as our faith. There is always more we can do to defend our faith, our beliefs – even those hard ones – where we are challenged. In my case, it is not doubt in what I believe, but lack of confidence in the face of belittlement, shaming, and implications about a lack of intelligence, as though Catholicism, especially certain teachings, are ignorant or misogynistic. Though I do not understand how believing, fundamentally, that life begins at conception qualifies for those labels.

We all have a faith unique to us and our process of discernment is a continuous process. Our ‘action plan’ for our faith evolves, as opportunities come up and changes force us in a different path. But is that path always moving in the direction of God? We can’t jump on and off the Catholic bandwagon depending on the issue. We can’t be on God’s team only when it is winning. This isn’t football and the Minnesota Vikings. (Speaking of which, imagine if we showed that same level of enthusiasm supporting our Catholic “team.” Wow!)

Our faith defines us. Are we authentic or are we putting on a show? Are we the same person in church as we are in school? You don’t need to be an evangelist at every opportunity, or a saint, to be a faithful Catholic. You can be you. That is enough for God. At the same time, are we speaking up to defend what we believe?

Matthew 5:14-15 says “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Regretfully I admit to covering my faith with a bowl to avoid those difficult conversations. Yet, even if you do not have faith bold enough to stand on the top of a hill with your light, it can be shared. I have done so more quietly, in my own way. I know that is not enough. It is not truly authentic. We have dark corners to light. We have truth to share.

Rather than hiding it, I think we need to remember that our faith may have an impact on another. It is a deeply personal thing, but if you own it and really wear it, it will touch the people around you and it will make a difference in your families, to your friends, to complete strangers. God gave us a voice, to sing (though my case not very well) and to speak. To declare our belief that January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court got it wrong…very wrong.

This new year I am going to try harder to wear my coat, not just Sundays. I am going to try to be found guilty of being a Catholic at every opportunity. I am going to focus on that prayer we say often, but perhaps do not consider closely enough. Where we consider and ask for help “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”

To my friends who are bold, who are walking proud in the March for Life, thank you for using your light. You have my admiration. I want to be as guilty as you of being Catholic.

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

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