I had dinner last night with a cradle Catholic who holds a long-standing grudge against the Church. Years ago, she said, she heard a priest lecture his flock on dressing properly for Mass. “But the altar servers were wearing sneakers and jeans under their cassocks!” she exclaimed. “What a hypocrite!” While it was hard to follow her logic, I gather that she no longer attends Mass and that this is one of her reasons.
No doubt, every Catholic who has turned away from the Church has a “good reason” for doing so. I’ve heard many. They range from trivial (the dress code?) to tragic (the abuse scandal). But every reason, no matter how convincing its logic, no matter how convinced the reasoner, is only that, a reason. A reason is something we use to justify divisions between us humans. “I have left the church because . . . ” means “I (one human being) have decided not to associate with the Church (more human beings) and I am justified in doing so.” A reason makes us right.
There are a couple of problems with such reasoning. It leaves out God and it leaves out love.
Given the existence of God (which most of the formerly Catholic reasoners will grant) and given the historicity of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection (which a large subset will grant, as well), there is only one reasonable set of responses: awe, gratititude, praise, and the effort to model ourselves on the commandments Christ left us. From this point forward, there is only one reasonable thing to do: find the most authentic and viable way to Jesus Christ. This way logically can be traced only to the place and time of origin: His death and resurrection and his delegation of authority to the Apostles who followed him. This in turn leads to the Holy Catholic Church, not as an oligarchy of admittedly fallible human beings but as a mystical body established by Christ himself and the only possible earthly link to Our Savior.
This search, if we are sincere about it, if our love is true, will lead us through the history of the early Church and its Fathers, and the likes of St. Augustine who, after four centuries of martyrdom and clarification, stood at the end of the Roman era and declared the unique and eternal value of this institution. We must then overlook, with humility, with gratitude, and even sometimes with humor, centuries upon centuries of human fallibility and human renewal through the grace of the Holy Spirit and the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas, until we come down to the Church as it exists in our time—headed by one of the most holy, inspiring, and just plain brilliant popes in history.
If our love for God and His Son is still intact after this trial by fire, and if we have the open-mindedness to listen to what our pope, my pope, Benedict XVI, has to say about all this, we can stand on our two feet, look anyone in the eye, and say, Yes, I embrace and wholeheartedly support the Catholic Church because . . . .
As Thomas More had it, in that heart-breaking scene in “A Man for All Seasons,” wherein Paul Scofield explains to Susannah York why he will not take the oath and thereby save himself, “In the end, it is not about reason. In the end, it is about love.”
And so for every reasonable person who has chosen to turn away, there are others who choose to remain, looking the same facts in the face and saying, “It is not about reason, it is about love.”
I am one of those who chooses to remain. This is another “reason” why I am Catholic.
(Again, my thanks to my fellow parishionier Adam Desrosiers, a fine artist, for his photograph of our church. I will be proud to be present at 5 p.m. today, when the first child of Adam and his wife, Jenn, is baptized at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Beverly, Massachusetts.)