Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Because of Our History (Guest Post)

A guest post arrives today from Renetta Burlage, an author and publisher from Iowa. Renetta's lovely book of family history, Bread on the Table, tells the story of her grandmother. Here she tells of a different, longer story: the two thousand years of Catholic history that inspire her and explain in part why she is a Catholic. 

We can all trace our ancestry back to some point in our family tree, giving us an idea of who we are today and where we originated. The Catholic Church has a history as well. From Pope Benedict XVI back to our first pope, St. Peter, our church has a history rooted in Christ Jesus. As Catholics, we have a common identity and we know where our faith comes from. Over two thousand years have passed since Jesus instructed the Apostles to "Go Forth and spread the Good News." Although I received the sacrament of Baptism as an infant, it is this longevity, this deep and unbreakable bond that draws and holds me to my faith today.

As the youngest of five children, I was raised in a Catholic family where my parents led by example instead of discussing their faith openly. My siblings and I never questioned the structure or family traditions that revolved around our faith: Sunday mass at 8:00 a.m., catechism on Saturday mornings, Holy Days of Obligation, Holy Week services, Sister School in June taught by nuns, and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Our Catholic faith was entwined in our lives and became part of our family history.

While attending college, I had the opportunity to explore other faiths through friendships of people I met. This was interesting and gave me a new perspective, allowing me to view my Catholic faith from a different angle. Although I came away from the experience realizing that we all shared the same God, my heart was not content until I came back to the roots that sustained my family, my Catholic faith.

One of the devotions I started during college was reciting the rosary. My mother, who converted to Catholicism before marrying my father, has always had a strong devotion to our Blessed Virgin Mother, and her rosary has been her lifeline. When faced with a challenge or perilous situation, my mother would quickly remind us to say three Hail Marys while trusting that Mary would intervene and watch over us.

In addition to praying for our Blessed Mother's intercession, I have found comfort and joy in praying to our beautiful Communion of Saints for their spiritual guidance. The saints are an important segment of the Church's history, and I marvel at the experiences these men and women had as holy models of Christ. Just like you and me, these people were born of human flesh and blood. Yet their lives exemplied their total surrender to God's will and their service to others in need. The Catholic Church is enriched by the saints and the examples of holiness they demonstrate. My personal favorite is St. Anthony, and I value the St. Anthony's Bread program, which provides assistance to those in need.

So much can be learned from history, especially the historical significance gained from one's own family. Tracing the roots of history can be gratifying and re-enforces our heritage with a sense of belonging to a common body. Recently, I released a family memoir, Bread on the Table: The Story of Lottie Porter and the Family She Raised. It is the story of my maternal grandmother, a widow at the age of 46, who faced the challenge of raising eight children during the hard times of the Great Depression and World War II. The experience of researching and writing this book gave me much insight into the lives of my ancestors and how they triumphed during times of adversity.

Today, I feel at home when I practice my faith in the Catholic Church, and my husband and I have incorporated teachings and traditions we have learned from our families into our new, personal family. Like the bonds that connect each member of the family, the principal reason I am Catholic is our Church's strong and sustaining history, which teaches, strengthens, and unites us as one body in Christ.