The answer to why I am a Catholic is simple and would not be worthy of a post. I will not play ignorant to the realities of nurture, socialization, and culture – I am Catholic because my parents are Catholic.
The answer to why I am still a Catholic, however, is much more complex. I know my parents would still love me if I left the church. In my open and accepting community, I cannot think of any real social or financial repercussions if I was to go. So that’s not why I stay. I stay because the Church is where I call home.
The other day someone asked me how as a Catholic I can disagree with the Catholic Church on some topics. I will broaden that to a larger question – why do I stay if I disagree?
Catholics are called to believe in the dogmas and doctrines of the Church. Ask two Catholics what this means, and you will get three answers. In short, we believe in the truths of the Church and recognize that various practices of the Church may come and go; they may evolve over time. But I believe in the Nicene Creed – the first, the simplest articulation of our faith. I renew my baptismal promises without blinking an eye. Because I believe – I believe in a God, in a just and merciful God. And I believe in the Church.
On a logical level, I am Catholic because I believe in the “other”, becaue I look at the spiritual lives of people across time, across the world and believe it is something in our very soul, our very DNA that calls us to look for a life outside of ourselves. I believe in monotheism because a pantheon does not make much sense to me, as I believe in first mover theory. I believe that Judiasm suceeded while Zoroastrianism (the world’s first monotheistic religion) has largely died out, and I believe that Christ is the fulfillment of the Jewish law. And I believe that the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox, I will split no hairs here) is the Church founded by Christ, founded by Peter, grown by Paul.
That is the Church I believe in.
I struggle with her. Some of her teachings, her decrees make me physically ill. I cried a bit when I heard that women would not be allowed on the altar during the Extraordinary Form (old school Latin style) mass. I cried because I care, not because I no longer do. But the Church does not call us to blind faithfulness to her, she calls us to Christ. James Martin, SJ, writes of people who are now saints who once were excommunicated. He writes,
The church’s long history of ”faithful dissent” offers both hope and perspective to Catholics in our time. It echoes the call of the Second Vatican Council, which, in 1964, declared that expressing opinions ”on matters concerning the good of the church” is sometimes an obligation for the faithful.
Each week at mass we pray for the leaders of the Church. We pray because we recognize the need for God, the need for God to prevent the likely failure and disappointment of our human selves. We are human. The Church is led by humans. She is the body of Christ, but a very human body.
We can see and justify changes in the Church in the past, but it is naive to assume those are limited to the past and we have already reached a state of perfection. Were those who fought for the addition of the filioque to the creed heretics? What about Catholics who practiced the rhythm method before it was approved? Was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, a paleontologist who took part in the discovery of the Peking Man, a sinner because his books were censured by the Catholic Church, even though they would later come to accept evolution? What about those who believed the mass should be in the Vernacular while it was still in Latin?
And so I ask, is it a sin to believe that the Church might one day change it’s position on birth control since it has allowed it to evolve in the past? Is it blasphemous to believe priests should be allowed to be married, as they used to be?
Perhaps it is, and if so, I appreciate you allowing me the chance to struggle through anyway. But if a sin, a mortal sin, requires grevious matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will, I wonder if I really am fully consenting my will to blaspheme if I truly believe that I am attempting to follow the teachings of Christ.
On the other side of the proverbial aisle, there are those who feel as if I should leave as I profess to be a feminist, a liberal who believes in the rights of women and the righs of gays and lesbians. How can I lend my participation to an institution which discriminates so? I do not believe that abandonment is a solution. I believe in staying and calling for change. I believe in a Church which teaches love, equality, justice, and mercy, and believe that it will continue in its efforts to enact those ideals. I hope that my staying is not viewed as a statement of hate, judgment of condemnation of another group. That is not my desire; that is not my goal.
Some days I wish I had been born in to an Episcopalian family and I could have my church with female, gay, married priests and without all the controversy. Other days I am grateful I was born Catholic and do not have to make a decision about all of these complicated teachings before I decided if I want to convert or not. But it does not matter. It is not about me, it is about God and where I find him.
I am Catholic not because it is I believe in the perfection of each interpretation of its teaching, but because it is where I find God. I am Catholic because of the history, because of the richness, because of the mercy, because of the community. I am Catholic because I am willing to accept that I may be wrong, and no one has kicked me out yet. I am willing to follow the teachings of those who have spent much more time and energy reflecting on the complex issues than I have. I am also willing to accept that I am less mired in tradition, less pressured to conform, than many of these theologians, and believe I am no less a part of the Church than they. I am no less a daughter of God. But I do not want to strike out on my own, form a religion solely around what I happen to believe that day. I am willing to follow. But I am not willing to follow blindly. I will call out what path I think is best, I will pray that are following God, and I will hope that no matter the path we take, we will end up with him. And that he will forgive us our missteps along the way.