Difficulties or Doubts?

How would you advise this person:

He is a mature, intelligent and well read non Catholic Christian. He understands the Catholic faith better than most Catholics. He is attracted to the Catholic faith. He is frustrated and fed up with his experiences in Protestant Christianity.

However, he still has difficulties over some doctrines and disciplines of the Church. For the sake of argument, let’s say he has trouble with HumaneVitae and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. He doesn’t actually disagree with the Church’s teaching, mind you. He understands it and doesn’t mind if Catholics believe it. He actually admires them for believing these things, but he honestly thinks Humane Vitae is right, but unworkable. He understands the logic of the Immaculate Conception, and doesn’t deny the doctrine outright, but he just can’t bring himself to say, “I believe it!” with full enthusiasm. He also has problems with some Catholic customs. He’s not attracted to the rosary, finds indulgences a bewildering church invention and can do without most of the ‘Catholic clutter.’ Beneath it all, however, he is attracted to the liturgy, the teaching authority of the Church, the history of the church, the lives of the saints and the monumental stature of JP2 and B16.

Could this person become a Catholic? Could he write off his difficulties as insignificant, go to the bottom line and say, “Shucks, I accept the authority of the Pope. I want to be a Catholic. I have my difficulties, but what the heck, if Rome has spoken, that settles it. I accept it. Let’s go for it.”

What do you think?

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  • I think we all struggle with certain doctrines, certain things. I had to address something similar in RCIA a couple weeks ago, although I think my response was very weak. What I told my group was that sometimes we have to accept some things on faith because the reality is that we cannot get our minds around the big picture all the time. I used the Trinity as an example. I think all of the group believed in the Trinity, although they could not really explain it (who can?). It is too big for our finite minds. When we take that same idea and apply it to Humane Vitae, the Immaculate Conception, etc, it’s the same thing. Humanae Vitae is a hard reality to grasp, but NOTHING Christ ordered us to do is really easy. We have to embrace these difficulties, even if we may want to disagree, even if it’s difficult, even if we have questions. Because it’s more important to move forward in faith and trust than to stay rooted in one spot through obstinance and doubt. So yes, he can become Catholic, and he’ll have to remember that living the faith is an act of the WILL. Send him to St. Frances de Sales “Devout Life” and let this great Saint guide him through these difficulties. That’s my advice…not sure if it’s worthwile or not. 🙂

  • Dwight, I don’t know the answer. I myself am contemplating the leap from Anglicanism to Catholicism. My problem is not like this person, though – I don’t have difficulties with these things, but my problem lies in not being articulate. I try and tell people why I wish to ‘go’, and they then try to pick my views to bits. Ah, anyway, back to this person… My gut reaction is that this person definitely ought to become a Catholic and he should just trust the Lord, and the Church itself. Sounds pretty simple…but realistically, I feel that most Catholics even if they don’t know the answer, trust the Church. That’s the bottom line. This person seems to be trusting the Church; it’s just he has a few niggling doubts about details.

  • Hmm. I don’t know…I’ll have to ask this soon-to-be priest I know online. Oh wait.

  • I think as long as he makes an act of faith that what the Church teaches is true and that he will work to let his intellect catch up – I would think so.There is a story I love about Dietrich von Hildebrand who was taking instruction from a priest to enter the Church. At one point he told the priest that he was ready to enter the Church except he just couldn’t buy the teaching on contraception. The priest told him that he would not bring him into the Church until he had accepted this. Dietrich immediately announced that he believed all the Church had to teach and accepted this even if he didn’t yet understand it. Later of course he became a great teacher in defense of the Church’s teaching on contraception.

  • I certainly hope this person can become Catholic–he sounds just like me five years ago as I was going through RCIA.Well, actually, he’s better off than I was. I hadn’t even heard of Humana Vitae five years ago, and it wasn’t until much more recently that I came to understand and embrace the Church’s teaching on contraception.The night of the Easter vigil when I was confirmed, after everything was over and I was back in my dorm room, a friend asked me, “So do you really believe everything the Church teaches? Even the stuff about the devil?”I said yes, I did, but I also realized in my heart that I wasn’t convinced. I knew the Chruch was right, but I didn’t yet understand or embrace everything She was right about.God has been so patient with me…

  • Mark,About your inability to articulate your desire to ‘go’ towards the Catholic Church: re-read Jeff Miller’s first paragraph. I, too, am a former Anglican now Catholic convert of 5+ years. To me, it’s quite heartening to see other Anglicans exploring the idea of coming home to Catholicism. But most modern day Anglicans, at least the ones I seem to bump into in the blogosphere and in real life, are really taking the conversion process on from a rigorous intellectual perspective, rather than a more spiritual one. When I converted, like you I could not quite articulate why I wanted to ‘go’. Oh, I could talk about my generic desire for the sacraments, my respect for tradition, the benefits of the Church’s history and leadership. But I in no way could adequately put into words what I feel and know about the Church and the faith today. Just like Jeff’s assessment, my conversion was one of acceptance of the Church’s wisdom, even though I couldn’t ardently defend or claim beliefs in this or that. To me, the Church felt comfortable. I knew it fit me and I fit it. I knew I belonged and was called to belong, but I didn’t fully understand the call. It has only been through study, reading and prayer over the last 5+ years that I have come to a more full awareness of the inner coherence of the Church’s teaching and an understanding of the long continuum that is the story of human salvation. Mark, please do not feel that you have to be prepared to respond to those who pick your views to bits. Know that the Church calls you always and that your knowledge of the call’s rightness is enough for your conversion. The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.One quick analogy: When I was 21, I obtained my private pilot’s license. When I passed my last test, the instructor informed me that I had passed, but he did so with a warning. He said, the initial license to fly was not indicative of any momentous accomplishment and did not mean that I had some special ability, and he reinforced that I now knew just enough to get myself into a bunch of trouble. The initial pilot’s license was merely a license to continue learning. To be a good pilot, one must always read, practice and continue learning. Much like flying, acceptance into the Church is not the end of the road, only fulfilled after every kernal of Church teaching has been permanently deposited into and accepted by your consciousness. some end to be accomplished. It is merely knocking on the door of the Church and having it opened for you. After confirmation, you are definitely inside the Church, but you are still standing in the back with so much of the building to explore.

  • This person would have to determine whether his felt need to belong, and be sacramentally in communion with those who profess the catholic Faith, should outweigh his urge to be all privately convinced of all the dogma and customs in their own mind and understanding. Some people seem to act as though the ultimate goal is for each person to possess his own understanding down to the last dogma and to hear themselves uttering an unreserved assent to everything their religion teaches. If they have fallen for that elusive faith in “Me,” to the point that it weighs heavier in their decision than the need to belong to the Church, then they will never become a Catholic.

  • From a “bottom line” perspective, the answer is yes: he should become a Catholic.There are two kinds of assent: real vs. religious. When I accept something because I believe it to be true, having either experienced it or worked it out intellectually, then I’ve come to real assent. Religious assent is accepting a teaching purely on the grounds that the magisterium has proclaimed it to be so. Both are valid and credible for anyone in the faith to hold (and therefore I’d advise this person to become Catholic). What one hopes is that religious assent eventually turns in to real assent.Hello from Mundelein, and congrats on your ordination!

  • K

    The person you describe was me some years ago. In my case, I decided that since I knew the Church was The Church, the one Jesus Christ personally founded 33 A.D. Matthew Chapter 16 … well, I had to go with it. Josh Miller calls this religious assent. I joined The Church and I prayed for enlightenment on my “problem topics.” It came in God’s good time and now I give what Josh calls real assent. Thanks, Josh, for that insight on assent. 🙂

  • thank you for your posts. Thanks josh for the words on real and religious assent.

  • I just found this post & thought I would comment. Very few people have the moment of conversion and get it all within that moment. Conversion is a process. My own conversion is still happening even though I officially entered the Catholic Church 19 years ago as a 9 year old child. Even the Apostles didn’t get it though they were Jesus’ closest friends. My parents converted but rejected H.V. and Mary out of who knows. That is their issue. But God placed people in my life who lived Humanae Vitae in their daily lives. Their example opened my own eyes and challenged my own fears. As for Mary? I never liked her. I believe it was the Protestant aversion to her. But now that I am a parent, I find myself attracted to her. We have started a family Rosary, even though the Rosary is my least favorite prayer. Yet I feel drawn to do it. I think when our hearts seek Truth, God will never stop surprising us with what we CAN become or what we CAN believe.

  • He already sounds Catholic to me.

  • DL,What if I said that I was the man in question? Of course, I can’t: My stumbling block IS the Immaculate Conception, but unlike your hypothetical contemplative, I do not understand the logic of the IC at all. So he and I depart from each other here. No doubt I would LIKE to believe, but I cannot, at all, get my head, or even my heart, around it even a little bit. On the other hand (and this, I know, will sound utterly contradictory), I quite like the rosary. It is indeed very attractive; I have two sets of beads and have said the rosary many times. Papal infallibility? I have no problem with it per se, in theoria. But in praxis, well, clearly I have a problem with Pius IX’s Ineffablis Deus. I don’t wish to, I just do.I have often wondered what is the minimum “quantity” of dogmas a man must accept in order to be saved. Is a man saved without believing in papal infallibility, in Mary’s chaste genes, in the “Real Presence?” What IS the minimum; what must a man do to be saved? And is that minimum sufficient for sanctification, for purification? Can a man mature in his faith knowing only the rudiments? If just one simple proposition, e.g., Christ is risen, is packed with more import than nearly any religious or historic phrase, could that proposition alone fill a lifetime of meditation, of reflection, rumination, discussion and devotion? Sometimes it feels that every one is rushing through dinner, eating as many items on the buffet table as possible. What of the man who only has one thing on his plate? What do we say to the man who simply wants to appreciate the flavor, the succulence and piquant bouquet, of one delicacy? Some of my peers who consume the entire RC catechism seem almost gluttonous in their casual haste to accept and affirm; they rush from cover to cover while the rest of us gnaw on one small doctrine, or one tough but delicious dogma. What is the first item on the menu that counts? Is there a first item?Peace and mirth,BG

  • Hello Bill, Surely the minimum is ‘Repent and be baptised’ or ‘Repent and accept Jesus into your heart’.I like your ‘gnawing on one delicious little truth.’ But it does remind me a little of the dwarves in the Last Battle who refused the banquet because they wouldn’t trust anyone. They weren’t going to be ‘taken in by nobody nohow’ and as a result had very sparse fare.May I humbly recommend my book ‘More Christianity’ which addresses this very issue? May I humble offer my other book ‘Mary-A Catholic Evangelical Debate’ which goes through all the Marian beliefs with an old friend from Bob Jones University?We discuss it all–he as an Evangelical Episcopalian and I as a Catholic.Both books are available on my website, and if you ask nicely I’ll send them at a ridiculously low price to all who are interested.Peace and mirthand peace on earth,DL

  • Anonymous

    Yes, this person can become Catholic. I also attended Bob Jones and I along with my husband and children were entered into the church 3 years ago, thanks be to God.How can he be on a search for Truth and continue to hail from a church built on man and country. The One Universal Church is exactly that…universal…the Eucharist is to the poor peasant who speaks Spanish and to the Oxford grad who speaks…well…Oxfordish…One does not have to pray the Rosary to be Catholic…although, it is now a precious prayer for my soul, three years ago it seemed foreign and awkward…and idolatrous. I was frightened of the Rosary and now the Blessed Virgin sings me to sleep every night with meditations on the Gospel through her eyes, our shining example of the first and most holy Christian.As far as doctrines difficult to understand, there is only one really needed…the authority of the Church given to her by Christ. Once we trust that He really won’t let the gates of hell prevail against her, we are home in the flock.It has meant more joy than can be expressed…it is worth the leap of faith…believe me, I know the fears lurking within you…COURAGE.

  • Two things come to mind.Maybe the person is not quite ready to actually enter the Church yet because of disagreement over some moral and religious teaching. Sometimes there is a rush to “get em thro” and in previous centuries the process was much slower. So couldnt the person become a Catechumen and watch and pray for a little longer?