Because I’m Terrified

Why am I not Catholic? Because I still have theological issues to work out. I refuse to enter into Catholicism unless I can accept what it fully teaches…On a more personal level, I am terrified, and thus in a stalemate…Yet, what am I to do? I cannot lie to any Church if I were to join half-heatedly, nor can I lie to myself and convert without full acceptance of doctrine, practice, etc.

I am of like mind and spirit with G.K Chesterton – no surprises there – when he demanded that our religion be a little less theory and a little more love affair. Our Church should be joined as a woman is married, with the insane idea of total, complete commitment. So Tim! I commend you on your desire to convert only with a whole heart, and with full acceptance of doctrine; it displays a maturity and intentionality often lacking in our culture’s “let’s-find-a-church-we-like!” mentality.

But when dating a girl, no amount of time dating her will ever tell you everything it is to be married to her. It’s an obvious statement to make: Only your marriage will tell you what your marriage will be like. Indecision will simply tire the relationship. So what to do? You can’t know if your marriage will be sound, and yet the only way to find out is to get married! You don’t know if you agree with her rules about _____, but you won’t be able to test them unless you are married and following those rules! You’re stuck!

Here’s what I do believe – though I may very well be wrong – God tells us. What’s important is the answer to the following two questions: Do I love her? And can I trust her?  For if the answer is yes! then worries – how she’ll respond to criticism, what kind of mother she’ll be, what kind of wife she’ll be – all these can be answered by stepping back and saying, “I love her. I trust her. I trust what mother she will become, the wife she will be to me, I trust the rules she makes as for the best.”

So it is with the Church, the most beautiful bride any of us will betroth. You cannot know whether you will fully believe in the claims of Holy Communion unless you are Catholic and receiving Holy Communion. You cannot know whether confession will be life-saving or just awkward and weird until you are Catholic and receive your first Reconciliation. You cannot truly understand the doctrines of priestly celibacy until you are under the care of a priest. So what to do?

You asks yourself the same two questions: Do I love Her? Do I trust Her? This really amounts to reading the words of Christ:

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

And then going here. Now, this is the answer – for me personally – to whether I trust Her. I believe that God founded a Church on Peter, I believe he gave that Church the power to speak the Truth, and I believe that that line of apostolic succession – though shaky, tested, and often just plain reckless – remains unbroken. So I trust that what she teaches is true. Sometimes this is tough: I was shocked when I learnt of a demand my Church made – that you were not to receive the Holy Eucharist in a state of mortal sin. In truth, I disagreed with Her. But the words of scripture remained, Peter was still the rock, and I trusted that – though I couldn’t understand why – the Church was correct in Her teaching, because Jesus Christ said She would be. And now, a little older, a little wiser, I not only agree with Her, but I absolutely love that particularly difficult teaching of the Church. This trust takes courage!

What am I saying? There are thousands of doctrines, hundreds of thousands of teachings and practices, a few good ol’ dogmas and more theology than the world has paper to put down, and it’s all probably poorly recorded (though the important stuff is in the Catechism). A man would die in the attempt to examine each one until none were left. Luckily, a man’s answer to all of those, and to everything to come, relies on his answer to that one question. Do you trust Her? Is Peter the rock? Then everything else, everything else is being immersed in that one crazy decision to trust. As to whether you love, that’s something only you can answer, but may I tell you Tim – without sounding too much like a salesman – that the Bride of Christ is all the more gorgeous, all the greater from within then without.

An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out
The Blessings of Secularism
No, Christianity's Not Eurocentric (But You Kind Of Are)
Fury and Catholicity
  • beez

    Marc,You make a really important point. When I first returned to the faith, after I started reading all of that stuff (Catechism, etc.) and realized that I was, for the most part, Catholic, I still had issues. There were still some doctrines with which I had difficulty.So, I practiced and prayed. I didn't violate those teachings, although I struggled with them. And, I added one simple request to my prayer every Mass. "Lord, please help me to understand what I don't accept and accept what I don't understand."One day, I stopped praying because I believed that the Church teaches all truth and, when I still have problems, I side with the Church and pray for God's loving guidance.

  • Elizabeth of Hungary

    Yup. I have a mental "pile" of things – doctrines, practices, etc… – that I don't "get." Every time I come across one of those, I put it "over there, in that pile." And then I pray, "Ok God, if that is good and right and true and you want me to believe it, change my heart." And then – and this is crucial – I leave it alone. I stop reading books about it, and listening to podcasts, and obsessing about it. I quit trying to prove it right – or wrong. I just let God do His work on me, and then in a few weeks, or a few months, who knows, the next time I come across it, I see how I'm doing. Usually, I find that, while I still might not be 100% sold on it, I've gotten a little more comfortable with it. It's a process. Also, if there's something you're struggling with, ask a couple different people to explain it. I have a friend who is "hyperCatholic," and sometimes she explains things in a way that is, while probably right, not necessarily presented in the most uh…helpful, or evangelical, fashion. If I ask the same question of someone who knows how to explain things in "Protestant-speak," I find that I can "get there," sometimes, where perhaps I couldn't with someone else.

  • Clamburger

    I tried to follow the logic of the writer whom you quoted. Ideally, we could find churches that match our beliefs exactly. What I’ve found, though, in trying to live that out, is a very long time of church searching. The great thing about Catholicism -or at least, the Catholicism that I’ve been Catechized about- is that it’s okay to have differences in beliefs as long as you believe in the core tenets of Christianity. The idea that one cannot/should not remain with a church just because of disagreements in gray/arguable areas of doctrine is the very thing that caused Luther to leave the RCC, and which was perpetuated by the Protestant Reformation. You wrote, “A man would die in the attempt to examine each [doctrine] until none were left.” That, I believe, is why we must play on our AGREEMENTS, not our disagreements. And agree to disagree on those points that we cannot fully come together on. And not break off from Catholicism and start our own church because of it. Sometimes I wonder –and not the least because of this blog post– whether simply remaining faithful to any church, Protestant or Catholic, for long enough will conform the individual’s beliefs to the church’s. I like Elizabeth’s term “Protestant-speak.” Maybe there should be a Protestant’s Guide to Catholicism, or Catholicism for Protestants.

  • herenvardo

    Good stuff, Marc. Joining a church is a bit like saying Yes to God, and we can't know what it's like until we do it.Just a thought on the marriage analogy, from someone married 10yrs+: don't expect your wife to set all the rules in the house! It's not fair that she should both set them up and implement them – setting the course is your job as the husband. Let herself sort out the details. Which just happens to be the way Christ governs the church! Win!

  • Tim

    First things first!Thank you, Marc, for your words of encouragement and of edification. I really appreciate them. I promise I'll chew on your words of wisdom, and hopefully I'll reach the nougat center!And as for that list of Popes- since you're BadCatholic, I double-dog dare you to make a rap out of all them Popes. Kinda of like the rap from Pokemon! ;)Beez-I understand what you are saying completely! A little practical advice is always good for the soul- especially for those like me, whom like to think far too much :DI like that little prayer there. I might just use it :)Clamburger-Heh… sometimes I forget to remember that what is clear to *ME* isn't always clear to *OTHERS*. I'll work on it!:)Let me try again! Basically, I agree with a lot of Catholic teaching, but I still have major disagreements. Thus, I don't know exactly what to do. It is like I am in the middle of a game of tug-of-war, and I'm afraid I'm going to be torn asunder. A bad case of indecision, more or less. It isn't so much that I'm trying to find a church that matches *MY* beliefs. Rather, I am trying to discern that which is Truth, and conform my beliefs to Truth.

  • beez

    Tim,I totally understand where you are coming from on that one. May I suggest "The Handbook of Catholic Apologetics" by Dr. Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald Taceli, SJ.Aside from the fact that they are BOTH brilliant men (and were both professors of mine here in seminary), the book is easy to read and very concise. (I admit, some of the "proofs" of God's existence limp)If, however, you are convinced that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God, then go to the Church Fathers, those from the earliest sub-Apostolic and Post-Apostolic period. As you read them, you'll discover what I did… Those who knew Christ and those who were disciples of the Apostles understood the Church as the Catholic Church currently understands herself.The testimony of those who lived when Jesus lived (or when the Apostles did) is pretty convincing because, like the Apostles themselves, they really had nothing to gain in this world by being Christian.

  • The Ranter

    I was paid to believe. Strange and sad but true.I was volunteering with the youth group, and the youth minister left. I was offered the job. I figured, heck, if I'm gonna get paid, I need to teach what the Church teaches, right? That's the honest and respectful thing to do (and I am nothing if not a conscientious worker!). Well, the more I read, the more I prayed, the more I began to understand and truly believe in my heart that what the Church teaches is true and right. It only took 4 years!

  • Tim

    The Ranter- God has a tendency to use interesting situations to bring about His will, no? :)

  • KathleenLundquist

    I recommend the following book: Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words. It's an examination of the teaching of four early Fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyon), written by a guy who's a great storyteller. Reading this book is like watching a cool old movie of these great men, only a generation removed from the Apostles. :-) If you want to know about the Church Christ founded, this will float your boat.(BTW, the author is a convert from Protestantism and speaks fluent 'evangelical', so that was a help to me.)

  • The Ranter

    Tim, too true. In Domino.

  • Amanda

    I’m forever finding new sources of inspiration from this blog. Thank you.