By Jourdan Reynolds
Living out my Catholic faith as a young adult is both challenging and rewarding. Attending Catholic schools and living in areas with high percentages of Catholics, I more or less took my Catholic faith for granted. I never had to travel far to attend Mass, nor was I limited to one or two Mass times. I had an abundance of opportunities to learn about the faith through Bible studies, retreats and social gatherings. Furthermore, a minor basilica was close by whenever I felt the need to make a pilgrimage. Where I live now is an entirely different territory, presenting both new experiences and challenges.
I’ve always been fascinated with the history of Catholicism in the United States. While reading about the history of Iowa, I found out that peoples of all different Christian denominations sought this land for opportunity and freedom. Although the French were the first to bring Catholicism to Iowa, the Protestants surpassed the Catholics in spreading the faith across the state, leaving mainly the port cities and communities close to the Mississippi River as Catholic strongholds. Arriving in Ottumwa, I was surprised to see two Catholic churches in town (I later learned there used to be three). How amazing that such a community in rural southern Iowa had such a vibrant Catholic persona back in the day!
I soon discovered that although many young families and young adults live in the Ottumwa area, few attended the Catholic Church or practiced the Catholic faith. I became an anomaly among my peers, as I continued to practice my faith. Oftentimes, I would arrive late to social gatherings because I had been a lector for Mass or I would rise early the next day to attend Mass, while everyone else slept in.
Other times, I shared religious materials and books with my friends with hopes of sparking their interest. I became known as the “Catholic guy” or the “religious guru.” People would ask me questions about morality or the Catholic faith. In many ways, I saw myself as a missionary in a foreign land, sharing the Gospel in word and deed.
Eventually the time came when I confronted my friends about their lifestyles and whether they were willing to change for the better. I didn’t necessarily look forward to this, knowing that their choices could potentially sever our friendship. But I needed to know whether they were willing to take the next step in order to continue growing into stronger and better individuals together, as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Unfortunately, many declined my offer by silently distancing themselves from me or choosing not to speak with me. This hurt me very much, as I cared for them and for their well-being, but not to the point of surrounding myself and my family with negative influences and placing myself in moral danger.
This was not the first time that I had lost friendships because of moral and faith differences. Following my moral compass and that of Jesus has even cost me relationships with family members, which is one of my greatest hurts in life. The cost of discipleship is at times a painful one, but I stand firm in the faith that Christ will deliver me from my sorrows and that my efforts to share Christ with others has not been in vain. I see these past events as God using me as a messenger of faith, inviting his children to come closer to him. I consider these moments an honorable cross that God has called me to live out as my personal way of evangelization and being a disciple of Christ.
(Jourdan Reynolds is the secretary and bookkeeper at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa.)