Some Perks of Being a Bad Catholic

Some Perks of Being a Bad Catholic August 13, 2019

I recently reread one of my favorite novels, The Violent Bear It Away. It was Flannery O’Connor’s second and last novel—she died of lupus only four years later. I love the book intensely. Its sweet, terrible assurance that God will not let anyone escape his purpose and will use anything and everything to draw us back to his love is extremely comforting, without being sentimental in the slightest; the book includes rape and infanticide, this is no rose-window-colored-glasses optimism.

I’m comforted by it because (even though I generally feel like this is the sort of thing that could only be true if you didn’t know it) I feel, half-seriously, as though my vocation is to be a bad Catholic instead of a good one. All Catholics are bad Catholics, of course, but many Catholics clearly don’t have their heart in it. It takes a willful, egotistic, irresposible voluptuary to act like a bad Catholic with conviction.

And I worry about good Catholics, truly. Progressives as much as trads. Traditionalism is louder and angrier and more blindly dogmatic because it is more brittle, and it’s transparently the case with a lot of trads that they can feel the dirt between their toes just like I can, which gives me hope. They’ll hurt a hell of a lot of people while they’re thrashing about, but, if they can ever accept the grace to stop thrashing and accept that they’re kind of dirty, they just might be able to make good, messy lives.

Progressives tend to be more innocently idealistic, and that always worries me. I think that part of the lesson, the pattern, of the Crucifixion is that each one of us—whether in this life or, maybe, in Purgatory—has to pass through a moment when everything is lost; and that can really screw with an innocent person’s head. I’ve known a handful of once devoutly orthodox people who’ve wandered away from Catholic doctrine, or even from the faith as such: and (in my limited and probably slanted experience) it’s most always been innocent people, whose horror of the Church’s corruption was apparently more than they could bear.

Which, for the record, is one of the chief things the word scandal means. Discomfiting the sensibilities of the pious is not scandal; it was a favorite pastime of our Lord. Making the Catholic Church look bad is not scandal, at any rate not when it means exposing ways in which she is bad. Driving people away from God is scandal. The supposed greater good you were serving by shaming someone for wearing shorts to Mass or discreetly notating a priest’s molestation as ‘boundary issues’ doesn’t matter.

I come back and back to this idea of being a bad Catholic as being, somehow, my purpose. Not sure what to make of that. Maybe it’s a sigil of the fact that, Protestant criticisms to the contrary, we’re not a works-righteousness religion—not any more than they are, anyway. I think all good people are tempted to believe in works-righteousness in their hearts; it’s the price they pay for being better than me.

Images via Pixabay

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  • Naters

    Does firing married gay couples from Catholic schools when the same is not applied to straight divorced and remarried couples also count as scandal?

  • Ame

    Good Country People sums up everything wrong in the world today. Revelation sums up everything wrong with me.

  • RPlavo .

    I never hear anything about the good times unmarried seniors have at their senior living villages. “Wink. Wink”

  • I am suspicious of the focus on our sinfulness. If we’re busy tearing ourselves down for real or imaginary faults, we went see the faults in the church. And I feel like that’s the point: look at the log in your own eye, says a bishop, maybe I abused a child but you had a lustful thought, and doesn’t that mean you don’t have the right to throw stones?

    So if I were to say: well, I actually think I am a pretty good person, I haven’t done that, I think I have the right to criticize…. Catholics would say this was proof that I was prideful. You can’t win, you see. It’s not humanly possible to be perfect enough to criticize the church.

  • The answer to that is to fire the straight divorced couples. I am convinced the correct answer to gay marriage, in fact, to all of the abwrosexual nonsense that goes on today, is to oppose straight divorce and straight contraception.

    If we sent a clear countercultural sign that anything outside of married procreative sex is rape, then maybe contraceptive sex would be less prevalent.

  • I do, and find it to be a dangerous and foolish pasttime. The human body was not designed to live that long.

  • Naters

    But I think what I’m trying to say is that Catholics schools don’t fire heterosexual divorced couples, and that’s the scandal.

  • And what I say is we should. Years ago, when my mother was working in the Archdiocese of Portland schools we did.

    It is irrational to allow somebody to be in a moral position of authority who refuses to be moral.