'Why be Catholic?' Theologian asks

February 25, 2014

By James Buchok

Growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, where it seemed everyone was Catholic, an Irish-Italian boy was told by his father that as long as you make it to church before the reading of the Gospel, "it still counted."
And despite the family arriving late, "we would never think of not going to Mass on Sunday," said Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio, guest speaker at Winnipeg's tri-dioscean Catholic Schools, Day Feb 14 at St. Paul's High School. But, he added, he skipped Mass more than one Sunday while chasing his teenage dream of rock and roll stardom. Both his parents were musicians, his mother a singer at New York's Copacabana in the Desi Arnaz band.
D'Ambrosio, a married father of five, is now a theologian, former professor at the University of Dallas and co-founder of Dallas-based Crossroads Productions, which he describes as "an apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization." He also oversees Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives.
D'Ambrosio asked his audience of 450 teachers and administrators from Catholic schools in the Archdioceses of Winnipeg and St. Boniface and Ukrainian Archeparchy, "why be Catholic?"
In his youth, what motivated him to go to church was "I didn't want to go to hell. We went so that something bad didn't happen later and that's how we thought about it. We'd sin and we'd confess. We'd get the slate wiped clean and hoped if you did die it would be close to your last confession."
He said his thinking changed when some young adult friends were finding Jesus, so he went back to reading the bible. His friends said, "great, you're reading the bible. So when are you leaving the Catholic church?" D'Ambrosio said his "hippie" buddies were practicing "lone ranger Christian stuff. They read and prayed and baptized each other in rivers with no need for organized religion."
D'Ambrosio said for so many Catholics, "God has always been a part of your life but that's the problem. God has to be the centre of your life. You have been riding in the car with Jesus in the glove box. You have to make him the driver." He said when he decided to put Jesus in control, "life changed drastically for me."
He said there are Christian, evangelical "mega-churches" in his neighbourhood that act more like a family than a lot of Catholic churches, "but they are lacking a mother. They have a father and brothers and sisters but they have no mother. A house is not a home without a mother."
"I can't live with only part of a family," D'Ambrosio said. "We go to God with Mary through Jesus Christ. I need God but I am going to take her with me."
D'Ambrosio explained the word Catholic means "according to the whole, the church for the whole world, the whole truth, the whole inheritance of God, we get the whole family. I can't give that up. I have to be Catholic. I want the whole truth. I want all of God's grace in my life. Grace is the love of God that comes to us to transform our lives but we have to be connected to it."
He described prayer as an important verbal commitment, but asked, "is that the only way we communicate with God? When we love someone we want to touch them, we need touch and that is why God gave us body language. The sacraments are God's body language."
"I have to be Catholic because I'm greedy," D'Ambrosio said. "I want all the grace, but what good is it if we don't open the gift? I am still unwrapping gifts and the good thing is that God is always giving us more gifts."

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