I’m all in.
As a revert to the Faith whose utterly broken heart and crumbling life were restored, renewed, and completely transformed–through the healing love of Jesus Christ, the mysterious and life-bestowing sacramental life of the Catholic Church, the tender maternal intercession of Our Lady, and newfound friendships with inspiring saints–the Faith means everything to me.
That’s why I was thrilled to get my copy of catechist and retreat leader Pat Gohn’s new book, “All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters,” and what sparkles in its pages does not disappoint.
I asked Pat a few questions, so you could meet the author yourself, before you rush out to buy copies for your own nourishment and for everyone in your life–especially those you love who are separated from the Church. –Lisa Mladinich
Interview with Pat Gohn about her new book, All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters which becomes available today, March 3!
Why did you write this book and whom did you write it for?
It’s a book I wrote for all Catholics. But I especially had those in mind who have felt discouragement or disappointment in the Church. I live in the Archdiocese of Boston, where many have left the Church, or have a kind of weakened or wobbly association with it, in the years after the church sex abuse scandals. I don’t deny such pains and heartaches exist. I have felt them deeply. In this book I offer where I can put my trust, and how I can be a confident Catholic, despite the negativity and the grievous sins, if you will, of the Church. And how going deeper with Christ and the Church keeps me there.
What are some typical barriers to understanding the beauty and power of Catholicism?
We do not have a proper understanding that we are the beloved of God. I spend much of the opening portion of the book trying to connect readers with what it means to know The Beloved (who is Jesus) and what it means to be beloved.
The rest of the book contains chapters that show where I place my trust, thanks to the Beloved… because each of these things we discover in the Church flow from his love.
The book discusses the miracle of the Incarnation and how it relates to Church. It also touches on the Fatherhood of God and the beauty of our baptism. It also discusses the motherhood of the Church and the meaning behind St Cyprian’s famous quote: “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother” (CCC, 181).
There’s also a lot of food for thought on some of the teachings of the Church, such as loving our enemies, which seems impossible, and the implications of our social teaching on the dignity of the human person. Yet, these are confidence boosters that shine light on just why belonging to the Church matters.
While I’d rather talk about confidence builders than barriers… there are three things that come to mind, which we need to work on… and I think this book helps people think about some of these things.
The first is our own lack of faith, the second is sin, and the third is learning to understand Jesus’ opinion of the Church, in the face of all the naysayers. But as I mentioned, coming to a place of belovedness goes a long way to help open the door of one’s heart to the Church. Through this understanding, our faith comes alive!
Why is that true? When we have faith, it becomes a light for us to see things in a new way – with the mind and heart of the Holy Spirit. Faith is new eyes to see. So that’s why the new evangelization is so key to our work as catechists… we need to reintroduce the faith and re-ignite the passion we have for Christ and the Church before we can share it with others.
Where faith is lacking, so is trust in Christ, and also trust in the Church. I try to share my own stories of faith and struggle in this book and try to lead the reader to understand that Jesus Christ is faithful, reliable, and lovable. We can take him at his word. What he says and does has credibility. For when we come to love what Jesus loves, we will come to love the Church and her teachings.
The second barrier is sin. Sin dulls our minds and lulls us into thinking that nothing can be done for us. When exactly the opposite is true! Sin deforms… but grace transforms!
Grace gives us confidence to change! Graces let us begin again! That’s the motto of the saints – they know they are loved sinners, and they don’t quit! They stayed opened to grace! Because grace helps them to live more in tune with Christ and the Church. What’s more, the lives of saints show us that we need to stay connected to the Church. Saints didn’t leave the Church even when there was trouble in the Church. Instead, many of them helped to bring about reform and renewal.
Finally, I’d like my default position to be the same as the one Jesus has. Jesus loves the Church. His opinion matters most to me. Other people’s negative opinions are no match for the love Jesus has for us, his Church. More about this in the book!
What are some cultural/societal messages that can derail the faith of young Catholics?
The primary negative message that derails young people is not having parents who are active, faith-filled Catholics.
The long-term study at Notre Dame on Youth and Religion says that young people need parents who are believers, as well as other faith-filled adults in their life, for their faith to stick. Read the findings here. That’s not a subject in my book, but I throw it in at no charge, as it’s something we catechists need to be aware of. More than ever, we must evangelize and catechize families.
I’m hoping some parents will be reading my book, so they better understand the Church and the beauty of her teaching–so they can pass that on to their children. I’m a firm believer that parents will naturally share the good things in life with their children. If parents discover their own belovedness as children of God, and begin to live it, their homes and families will be transformed.
What are some steps that disillusioned Catholics can take to reengage and reexamine their connection to the Church?
Nothing really helps until we begin to strengthen our connection with Jesus. I give tips on how to pray in the book. And I encourage readers to ask for the grace to make a new start.
Each chapter in my book offers three challenges for readers to better appropriate the content: Pray. Learn. Engage.
Under “Pray” you’ll find ways to pray over the subject matter, using Scripture and other suggestions. Under “Learn” you’ll find more reading material from magisterial documents and related texts to help the reader go deeper with the content. It might be reading something from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Compendium of Social Teaching, or the lives of the saints or similar. Under “Engage” you’ll find activities and exercises to help readers make an act of faith, or an exercise to experience some aspect of Church life or Christian service.
What are some insights that helped you find God in suffering?
That Jesus suffered for me, and is with me in mine. If you don’t mind, I’d like to share an excerpt from ALL IN to talk about how I had long ignored the price of Jesus’ blood that was shed for me on the Cross. It also taught me about the power of grace. But it was something that did not make much sense to me as a young person, because I did not truly experience suffering until I was older.
Sin deforms. Grace transforms.
How can we be so confident in this potent power of grace?
Where does this grace come from?
From the blood Jesus shed for us on the cross.
Jesus died for our sins.
Jesus died to release us from the chokehold of sin—the blockade to receiving all the gifts he wants to lavish on us.
On the cross, Jesus smashed to bits every sin, fault, failing, and vice that arrests us, taunts us, or defeats us. We no longer have to suffer being chained by invisible shackles. His sacrifice releases the graces we need to be freed from sin and death and shame.
There is power in his blood.
Again, the beloved disciple captures this truth: “the blood of Jesus . . . cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). By the merits of Jesus’ cross, we are redeemed.
A large part of my early years with Jesus was spent reveling in the Divine Friend. I was remiss in not fully appreciating how important Jesus’ death was for me personally. Of course Jesus wanted to give me his love, and I wanted to give him mine in return. But I didn’t want the cross. It was too hard, too terrible.
When I went on a retreat as a teenager and got to know Jesus, I was all about his friendship and love. It filled a void in me that only Jesus could. The benefits of my healed heart, coupled with the friendship of Jesus, and the friends I had in the local church made me feel rich indeed. Yet I had not fully considered the depths to which Jesus descended to bring me that love.
I needed maturing . . . I took Jesus’ love for granted and did not realize that by ignoring the role of his suffering and death for me, I behaved like Easter Sunday happened without the pains of Good Friday. I might as well have been Peter denying Jesus to his face, not realizing the necessity of his cross for my redemption.
For years, I missed the full impact and truth of what Jesus had done for me. It also affected my reception of Holy Communion. I saw it as holy food that Jesus gave me as sustenance—and it is that and more. It is also a sacrifice provided by his suffering and dying for me.
Suffering in my own life changed all of that. I didn’t know real suffering until I got older . . . physical suffering, emotional suffering, and spiritual suffering. The list of my own pains was long; the lists of sorrows that family and friends suffered were even longer.
For me there was a traumatic birth and a tough initiation into motherhood, a move out-of-state that affected me deeply, and several friends lost to cancer. There was the demise of a strong church community that fell apart over the sex abuse scandals. There was the break-up of good friends’ marriages. Who could have predicted the traumas of 9/11, and the wars that followed? So much pain and loss.
One little phrase from the Church’s Evening Prayer begs Jesus that we believers might “see in your passion our suffering.” By uniting my suffering to Christ’s passion I would survive. By the merits and graces of his cross I would thrive.
By grace I have been saved.
Once again, the Incarnation plays an indispensable role in our salvation.
The Incarnation unites the God of heaven to humanity, to earthly people of dust.
We are made of dust, the Bible says (see Gn 3:19). Yet the Father God loves the very dust we are.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust. (Ps 103:13–14)
The Father sends the Son, and Jesus sanctifies our dust and makes it holy. The dust we are, thanks to God’s compassion for us, is made for more. I think of Pigpen, the character from the Peanuts comic strips. Pigpen could not avoid dust and dirt, yet he also made peace with being dusty. Sometimes we’ve grown a bit too accustomed to the mess we are. We become complacent, settled in our own dust.
Pope Benedict taught that we are made for more.
“Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. . . . This requires hard work . . . but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined.”[i]
We are made for transformation.
Enter Jesus, the dust-loving God-man whose power redeems us, and quite literally, dusts us off and breathes new life—the destiny of eternal life—into our dust.
This is God’s plan of sheer goodness! This is not merited, nor earned by us. This truth and goodness I’ve come to know, at last, is that my glorious Lord lowered himself to enter my dusty, musty, rusty, crusty existence so that he might raise me up. What dignity I have found in this love, this mercy, this grace.
[End of excerpt]
What has been a source of wisdom for you, in times of questioning?
There’s a little phrase that Jesus uses after he teaches about marriage… that “what God has joined, we must not separate.” (See Mark 10:8-9.)
I believe in those words not only when it comes to marriage, but to the many other things that God has joined together as well. For example, God has joined himself to the Church in a supernatural marriage… he is bridegroom, and we the Church are the Bride. What God has joined, we must not separate.
God has also joined himself to the sacraments, and to the living Word of Scripture. We must not separate him from these things. Not that we truly could, but when we do so in our minds, we treat these things as empty and no longer appreciate their power. Sometimes we separate ourselves from the Church… the Church of our baptism, where God joined us to the family of God. Again, in doing so, we’re taking matters into our own hands… we’re separating what God has joined together. We’re disrupting the relationships that God has designed and ordained for us. And we miss so much when we do.
I believe that Jesus’ strong, unbreakable connection to us in the Church is something we need to vividly see. And when we do see it, I think we might think twice about separating ourselves from the Church.
NOTE: To receive a free, printable .pdf of this interview, please email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org and put “All IN” in the subject line.
[i] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 33.