Why I Am Still Catholic
Bleatings of an old half-witted sheep
If the Roman Catholic Church were a retail chain, I would not shop there.
The old merchandise, somewhat antique but full of grace and dignity, is shut up and cannot be sold. The new merchandise, functional but utilitarian and uncomfortable, is a remnant of the 60’s, a decade whose highest cultural achievement was a pop record made by men in silly suits. The muzak is usually dreary tuneless stuff from the seventies.
Half the staff have quit and those that remain are at war with one another. Some of them wear the uniforms of rival chains. The CEO seems to delight in making statements that confuse and distress staff and customers alike.
Governments, generally, would like nothing better than to see it go out of business, and the press delights in laying all the ills of the world at its doorstep, a great deal of which it brought upon itself through corruption and gross misdeeds.
When told I still attend, some respectable middle class people say, “Oh, good for you,” though they would not think of setting foot in the place themselves. What they are congratulating me for, I have no idea. I think it is just such a shock to them that they don’t know what else to say. Or they feel it is the safest way to appease the madman. Others, however, simply don’t speak to me again.
But for all its current shabbiness and all its past and present faults, the church is not a retail chain. The reasons for becoming or remaining a member are of a different order. The church, if it is indeed what it claims to be, can put God in my mouth. No one else even claims to be able to do that. If it is true, it forgives all else. And yet, if it is true, it makes all else doubly scandalous.
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If it is not true, then it is a fraud of the worst kind. And yet, how is one to decide? Ultimately, logic alone will not suffice. Logic alone does not suffice for most things. Our lives are not long enough nor our brains big enough to settle every question by logic, even if our senses were acute enough to give us all the information that logic would require. And indeed, without belief in something, where would logic begin?
The truth of the matter is that I became a Catholic because my father converted and raised me that way. Unlike a convert, I cannot give an account of why I chose to enter, only an account of why I have not yet chosen to leave. The purpose of this newsletter is to confess my reasons for not having left yet. It is addressed to two audiences: those of my class and/or acquaintance who may be puzzled or scandalized that I remain, and those in the church who are puzzled or scandalized that I finished the previous sentence with the word “yet.”
This will not be a work of devotion or catechesis, apologetics or evangelization. I am not a theologian (though I did spend one year in the seminary in my youth). Nor am I learned in Church history, governance, or doctrine. I am an ordinary reasonably well educated man in the pew. After taking two degrees in history, I spent most of my professional career in technical communication, with some dabbling in sales support and marketing. I also wrote a couple of technical books that have had minor influence in their field. I am now trying to make some impression on the world as a novelist. On the subject of the church, its teachings, and the reasons for membership, all I am qualified to do is to state the contents of my own mind as frankly as I can. I present them not as argument but as evidence.
This being so, why do I write about it at all? First, because, as a novelist, I think of myself as a Catholic novelist, and to present myself to the world as such seems, today, to require some sort of explanation. (The constraints that I think are implied by the term “Catholic novelist” is something that will appear shortly in the journal Dappled Things.)
Among Catholics, I suspect I am not alone in finding myself teetering between stubborn affection and exasperated despair. I also have great sympathy for those who are puzzled or scandalized that anyone remains. And if I am no scholar in matters of church or faith, I know a thing or two about communication, something in which the church regularly proves itself singularly inept.
If you are expecting a voice of outraged liberalism or a voice of outraged conservatism, however, you won’t find either in me. While the liberal position tends to feel more alien to me than the conservative, in this, as in politics generally, I am of the party of Mercutio: I say, “A plague on both your houses.” These are Mercutio’s dying words, but I am not dead yet, and so, like all disgruntled sheep, I bleat. But when the wolf comes, silver tongued and full of rage and seduction, I bleat the louder.
This is my bleating.
But if I bleat towards the church, I will bleat far louder towards the world.
If I bleat towards the church, it is because I bleat far louder towards the world.
For the particularly obscure literary reference in the subtitle of this piece, see: http://web.mit.edu/cordelia/www/Poems/sonnet.html
BTW - I so enjoy your essays . . .
Thank you for this. Feel much the same at times. I've been in the Church. Then rejected it. And am back again. It's a complex orthodoxy. I still rely on the "gates of Hell" thing.