Why I Remain Catholic

Friday, May 09, 2003



It's been a hectic past couple of days of work, and I haven't posted any new threads. I received an email from a gentleman named Sam that was very kindly worded, and was asking why people who define themselves as "progressives" or who publically "dissent" from a Vatican position choose to remain in the Catholic Church.

This is a frequent question put to progressives. Recently, Gary Wills wrote a book on his own reasons called Why I am Catholic. I thought I would discuss my own reasons briefly.

First, I do not withhold assent from any teaching of the Vatican that has been solemnly defined through an exercise of extraordinary magisterium. What confuses people is that many people labeling themselves as conservatives accept as infallible some teachings declared as infallible by the exercise of ordinary magisterium. A good example of this is the teaching that women cannot be ordained to ministerial priesthood. It is not that I reject every teaching declared through an exercise of ordinary magisterium, but I like to weigh the arguments and ask questions.

As an example, I wrote to Sam that I believe that Mary is the co-redemptrix, though this has never been defined through extraordinary magisterium. I could add to the list that I accept that abortion is murder, and many other examples. However, I do not accept the teachings defined through ordinary magisterium based on authority alone. Rather, if I accept such a teaching, it is because it also makes sense in light of Scripture, it is reasonable, and there are compelling theological and historical arguments for the teaching. I also accept that anyone who disagrees with me on a particular teaching defined through ordinary magisterium has a right to their own opinion . They are not "heretics".

As an aside, when we carefully weed out doctrines defined through extraordinary magisterium from those defined through ordinary magisterium, we find that our core truths are fantastic and great news, even if they are a little hard to fully comprehend. These are truths like the revelation that the human person is of such incomparable dignity that God, himself, deigned to become one of us and to join the human condition. As a human being, this man named Jesus rose from the dead - demonstrating that any human being can potentially rise from the dead. I could go on and on about the fantastic news revealed in Jesus Christ, but the point is that it is the things that speak most to human dignity that have been defined through extraordinary magisterium. Christianity - and particularly Catholicism - is the ultimate form of humanism!

Yet, there have been dehumanizing tendencies sometimes taught through an exercise of ordinary magisterium. Some examples are slavery, the inquisitions, and the crusades. Other teachings of ordinary magisterium may not have been dehumanizing, but were proven incorrect. Examples are the Galileo affair and the Church's stance on usury. Thus, I judge the truth of the teachings of ordinary magisterium by the standard demonstrated in the teachings known through extraordinary magisterium.

Second, being Catholic is not simply being a member of club of like minded people. Being Catholic is to be grafted in the Body of Christ. This is not a matter of belief, or even of self-perception. It is an ontological reality established with certainty at the moment of baptism, and even established in some people without the outward sign of baptism - such as when Vatican II says that non-Catholics are mysteriously united to the Church and that salvific grace is available to them. Even these people outside of the Church who are being saved by God are members of the Church, though they do not know they are members. They are what Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, called anonymous Christians, and what I might even go so far as to call anonymous Catholics.

Though we can separate ourselves from God's grace through sin and deliberate resistance of grace and truth, all people being saved are in some way cooperating with grace - and this is primarily God's act. The outward signs of grace that we Catholics consider certain and even normative are participation in a sacramental life and growth in faith, hope and love. Yet, these things do not make us Catholic. God alone makes us Catholic! So long as we cooperate with God, we remain Catholic, even if we suffer with some intellectual confusion, doubts, or even errors from time to time.

Third, part of being Catholic is being knit into the fabric of relationships that make up the Body of Christ. My mother and father are Catholic. My brothers and sisters are Catholic. My wife is Catholic. I went to Catholic grade school and high school and seminary so that most of my closest life-long friends are Catholic. I work with Catholics and have Catholic clients. I am currently active in my parish where new friendships are formed with fellow Catholics. Being Catholic is not simply a matter of intellectual convictions. It is a matter of entering into a community! Furthermore, leaving the Catholic Church is more than changing intellectual convictions. It is turning your back on that community that once nurtured and supported you.

Fourth, by disagreeing with the Church - even publically - I believe that I am doing a service to the Church. Here's why. If I am wrong, I force the apologists, the conservatives, the evangelists and teachers to think through their position, research it, state it carefully, and thereby grow in their own faith as they convince me of the errors of my ways. I will grow, and so will the conservative in the process of helping me.

On the other hand, if I am right, I am acting as a sort of prophetic voice of the Holy Spirit to help the Church toward the development of doctrine and the continual renewal of the Church. I am acting like those Catholics who questioned slavery, the crusades, or the inquisitions and who later often became saints. Indeed, in the Old testament, the prophets were almost always those who were considered heretics by the Israelites at first. Even Jesus was considered a blasheming heretic by some people.

Fifth, Christ came to seek the lost, and I often sense that by giving voice to the questions and doubts of the disaffected, I am helping some soul on the verge of leaving to remain with the Church. Through my own example, I am saying, "Hey, don't give up on the whole Church over this one issue." I honestly don't think the Church teaches, nor should it teach "blind obedience" to authority. God gave us a brain, and there is nothing wrong with asking questions - even tough questions that are hard to definitively answer.

Who knows, I may even entice a non-Catholic into embracing baptism and our sacramental life if all that held the person back was intellectual doubt over one tiny piece of Church teaching. In this sense, souls are being saved even if I am in error! Isn't it wonderful how God can turn bad things to good purposes (just as the cross became the resurrection)!

Sixth, I am so thoroughly Catholic that no other religion would take me. Even the tolerant Anglicans who are very close to Catholic practice and belief would not like my far too Catholic beliefs in transubstantiation and Mary, purgatory, and so forth. Conservatives often seem to think that if you reject one piece of the Church's authoritative, though not solemnly defined doctrines, you are rejecting everything. I believe the burden of proof is on the conservative to show how these particular teachings are so intrinsically tied to the rest that this presumption is true.

Seventh, I am a layperson. I am not a priest. I am not even a doctorate in theology. In no way do I claim that my views have authority on their own. If anything I say or write causes doubt to a Catholic, it can only be because the question I raise has merit on its own, no matter who says it. I am not trying to start a new religion. Rather, I am trying to start a dsicussion within an already existing religious body.

If what I write has no merit, it will fall on its own. So conservatives need not fear the questions of a layperson, since I have no authority to lead people astray except the authority that comes form the truth itself!

One man cannot wreck the Church - which is always ultimately guided by the Holy Spirit. We can all agree that the Spirit will not allow jcecil3 to lead the Church astray, and jcecil3's ideas will only be widely accepted to the extent he speaks what the Spirit is saying in our times.

Well, there are probably other reasons I remain Catholic, but this should be enough to get people thinking...

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at jcecil3@attglobal.net


posted by Jcecil3 3:13 PM

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