In light of all the controversies and scandals that rocked the Church in 2018, many Catholics attempted to answer the question “why are you still Catholic?” There is every indication that these controversies and scandals will continue and increase in 2019, so the question remains. While it is good for Catholics to answer this question, it is also good for us to consider how strong those answers are. Are they really getting at the crux of the matter?
I believe the answer is no. First, we must consider the sources. Most of us who are writing in public have a passion. We might not have the faith to move mountains, but we’re ardent enough about our faith to be bold (or foolish!) enough to speak in public about it. While things might trouble us, they often don’t trouble us enough into silence. Because of this, our answer might be different from someone who is experiencing a genuine crisis of faith.
For example, when asked why they are still Catholic, many orthodox Catholics will respond with one simple answer: The Holy Eucharist.
The Blessed Sacrament is a great answer. It provides immeasurable graces and is the very gift of God himself given to us freely. Yet what about those whose faith has been so shaken, they aren’t coming to Church? What good is this gift if it is not seen and not received?
Likewise, we hear “because I put my trust in God, not in men.” Not only is this statement kind of worthless to the person in genuine crisis, it runs the risk of arrogance if one isn’t careful. This is because nobody has a perfect faith. If we had a perfect faith, grace would no longer be necessary. Even our faith is tainted by the impact of sin in the world, and in ourselves. It will always be imperfect, there will always be a temptation to sin, and we are always going to war with that temptation. In our better days, faith wins out. Sometimes people don’t have those better days. Can we be sure we will always be in them? Trust in God, trust in him with all your heart! Yet try to look at it from the perspective of someone struggling.
Answering in Love
When I’ve gone through those struggles, I have taken comfort in three things. Obviously, this goes for me, Kevin Tierney, and only Kevin Tierney. What I suggest here might mean the world to the one who struggles, it might mean nothing. Yet first and foremost, I am a Catholic because of love. I am a Catholic because God loves me, and because I love God, and because God has given me something.
When I say God loves me, I say that I believe in a God who created the heavens, the earth, and all the conditions that cause the earth to operate the way it does. That means everything around me was created by something more powerful than those things. When I see powerful forces arrayed against the Church, I am reminded that there is a God who loves us, who is infinitely more powerful than those forces.
When Christ gave the parable of how valuable the sparrows were (to where God provided everything for them), he made clear that even the lowliest of us was more important than many sparrows. Christ was emphatically telling us “I have provided for every need for the lesser creatures of the world. You are way more important than them. What do you think I have done for you?” Christ wants us to ask that question, yes, even demand that question of him. When in times of trial and tribulation, Christ wants us to ask him what He will do, if we let Him.
But Love is Messy
When I say that I love God, I mean that love is messy. Love is messy because it is tested in conflict. Everyone can feel love in the best of situations. How about the worst? That’s why Christ is so emphatic in the parables about having a good foundation. We need a solid and rich foundation upon which that love can not only rest but be nurtured and grow. Therefore, when the storms hit, we aren’t swept away.
We should also remember that love is messy in that we stick with those who we love, even when nothing makes sense. Even when we might be angry with them. Find me someone who has not expressed outrage towards God because of this crisis, and I will show you someone who isn’t being real about their love. Find me someone who thinks all of this makes sense, and I will show you a stoic, not a Christian. Love doesn’t say we have all the answers. Love doesn’t even say we’re happy at that moment. Love says we give somebody a chance. If God is who He is, and I love God, I’m going to give him a chance. I might be surprised.
When I say God has given me something, I mean it in a different sense than “he gives us the Eucharist.” Even before He gives us the Eucharist, He gives us something greater. Through our baptism, God makes us a co-heir. The Apostles Paul tells us:
It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:17-18)
What I find interesting is that when St. Paul says we are joint heirs with Christ, he doesn’t point out a caste system. The pope is not a greater heir than I am. The learned theologian is just as much a joint heir as someone who hasn’t had a day of religious education in their life. We may serve Christ in different ways, but we share in that office of heir equally.
There is something else we have equally: the obligation to endure suffering. Unfortunately, we were warned that this was going to happen. We were warned that being a Christian would be tough. We were warned that this calling wasn’t easy. I say this not to wag the finger at the person experiencing doubt, but to remind them of the full promise. To put it bluntly: if we are suffering in our faith, then we are living out the role of heir.
While that might seem not very comforting at all, in a certain sense, it can be. Are you angry with the clergy? Are you angry with your bishop? Indeed, are you angry at the pope? Perhaps that anger is even justified! Just remember that when you were baptized, Christ was saying “This is your Church. You are a member of this Church not because of them, but because of me.” If they are deserving of that anger, remember that while they can do a lot of things, they cannot take your place in the Church. They cannot take away your role of heir, if you suffer this crisis faithfully. After giving that promise, St. Paul lists that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Nothing except your choice.
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and a curse.” So God tells the Israelites, and so he tells us today. God, through His son, sets before us a choice. That choice is not contingent upon who the pope is, if we like him, or how good of a job he is doing. God gave us that choice before we really had any understanding about all that ecclesiological stuff. If we make the choice for life, we live as a Catholic. That life has certain responsibilities towards those in authority, but our identity as Catholics is not bound up in their identity. It is bound up in God’s call, made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I understand the impulse to leave the Church. Before you do, think about why you came to the Church, or why you were a member during brighter times. Focus on that call.