Truthfully, I still miss many things about Mormon life. But I also find that every passing year supplies me with new reasons to love being Catholic. Whether you like philosophy, or mystical prayer, or corporal works of mercy, or sacred art and music, or heroic stories of saints and martyrs, or just a quick devotional to get your morning going, Catholicism has something for you. In fact, there’s no need to choose, because as a Catholic you can enjoy them all in high style. For every spiritual need, there is some helpful resource. Our Catholic heritage holds far more treasures than could possibly be explored in a single lifetime. And if, like me, you don’t start your Catholic life on an emotional high, that just means you can skip the “coming back to earth” step, and move directly to the lifelong process of exploring the faith.
This leads me back to St. Francis’ Day. Although this didn’t at all occur to me at the time, he really was the perfect patron for a gloomy neophyte. Over the years, I think he’s blessed me with a small share of one of his own greatest gifts: joy in the faith, and in life more generally.
Francis’s life was, by many people’s standards, not terribly pleasant. He was estranged from his family from a young age, and embraced both poverty and asceticism with an enthusiasm that in our time would probably have him classified as mentally ill. Nevertheless, everything about him radiated happiness and love. He understood that life is an amazing gift, and that the world is surging with joy and beauty literally at every moment. Our own sin and world-weariness can make it difficult to appreciate this, but faith has the power to free us from those bonds.
It’s nice to reflect on this on St. Francis’ day, with my house full of Catholic families. All around me adults are mingling and laughing, holding bowls of apple crisp or glasses of Chianti. Kids (zillions of them!) are running through the remains of the garden with caramel apples in their hands. I didn’t foresee any of this on the day of my conversion, but now I feel richly blessed to be part of something so totally out of sync with the barren, broken, joyless secular world. Even when one’s attitude leaves something to be desired, it turns out that a choice in favor of life, love, and faith almost always leads to joy.
Rachel Lu teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas and writes for Crisis Magazine and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @rclu.