“Why are you not a Catholic?”
No, she was not looking for a fight. She was not taking me on about any doctrinal concern. Hers was a rhetorical question, one expressing surprise more than anything. My friend and I had met up not long before this exchange, at our 30-year high school reunion. Now we were carrying on our “chats” while playing on-line games of backgammon. Two old friends becoming virtual best friends, playing a favorite game while discussing things that matter.
I don’t recall exactly how this conversation got started, but I’m not surprised that it did. After all, each of us was a long-time adherent to a faith tradition, and the weekly routine of church life and attendance was very important to each of us. Maybe it began with me talking about my job and answering a question like, “How can you advocate for someone who has committed such a heinous offense?”
This last question has come up more than once. I’ve probably answered this one the same way each time, referring to the social worker’s Code of Ethics, and pointing out the consistencies of that Code with some key tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, such as a respect for the life and the inherent dignity of each person, working toward the common good, and God’s preferential option for the poor.
Over time, my friend and I have bought each other resources that have been meaningful to us. For example, she sent me a beautiful leather-bound 2nd Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version, and a 24-CD set of Bible Timeline and catechism lectures by Jeff Cavins. I have sent her an audio version of Thomas a’Kempis’ “Imitation of Christ,” Dorothy Day’s “The Long Loneliness,” and father Greg Boyle’s “Tattoos on the Heart.” Each of us is now in possession of all seven volumes of Notre Dame Professor William G. Storey’s collections of Catholic prayers and liturgy (and what a beautiful set of works these are)!
At my friend’s suggestion, I began to visit Mass on occasion, whether at the church which meets a few blocks from home, or at the church which meets eight blocks from my office. “Just don’t take the Eucharist,” she said. I assured her that I would not. At my suggestion, she agreed to visit a church of a non-Catholic persuasion. She has not done that yet. She is one fierce defender of her faith.
I have shared with my friend just about everything Catholic that has touched my life. I did my graduate work at Fordham University, the Jesuit University of New York. While there, and for a decade thereafter, I attended the semi-annual lectures of the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society. The bound volume of those Dulles lectures over a twenty-year time period is a valued possession, indeed. Through my association with NACSW, I have been inspired by workshops offered by Dr. Maureen Himchak on Catholic Social Teaching and the writings of Dr. Julia Pryce, Dr. Barbara Shank, and others on the same subject. I once engaged in a lengthy, and very delightful e-mail discussion with Dr. Janice Staral on the subject of Ignatian Spirituality (and maybe I’ll visit a nearby retreat house some day).
At present, my Facebook profile includes two “Inspirational People”—Dorothy Day and Father Gregory Boyle. It also includes eight “Favorite Quotations,” seven of which are from Catholic writings (the other is from Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time).
So, why am I not a Catholic? My friend’s question remains with me, and I probably think of a different answer each time it occurs to me. I love my Catholic family and friends. I only ask that they have patience with me as I borrow from their tradition all that I find to be beautiful and inspiring as I go about my work.
David Fritz, LMSW, is a forensic social worker from Long Island, New York and an adjunct instructor of social work at Nyack College. He has been a member of NACSW since 1999.