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Why I Returned to Church

Reflections on Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy and my return to being Catholic

illustration of hands reaching for candle

Illustration Credit: Returning by Ellen Rooney

I’m an unlikely Catholic. When nuns forced my childhood self to contemplate the Stations of the Cross, I was mainly belligerent. Why should I feel responsible for Jesus’ brutal treatment nearly 2,000 years after the fact? When nuns tried to railroad me into confirmation—my adult decision to join the church—I refused.Boy, was I surprised when more than three decades later I felt a pull to return. It wasn’t the homophobia, pedophilia, sexism, antichoice position or bizarre stance on birth control that beckoned. Nor was it Jesus. Instead, it was the incense, candles, saints, relics, statues, stained glass and, most of all, the holy water and the Holy Spirit. Plus, Pope Francis had come into power. He’s smart, humble, stubborn, and ready to shift the church away from shaming poor, weak individuals and toward shaming large, abusive power structures.Returning was frightening and emotional. But at my neighborhood church, the cherub-faced Vietnamese priest gave me a comedic lecture about keeping God waiting so long, then shook my hand and welcomed me back. I was stunned it was so simple. No year of penance, no …

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