In 2010, I shocked my wife.
I became Catholic.
From the time we started dating in 1996 and continuing after our wedding into the 21st century, this bull-headed Lutheran scowled and fumed and argued why we should NOT be Catholic. Even though my wife was born and raised in the Catholic Faith, I rationalized, we should become Lutheran or Episcopalian or non-denominational. We should be Christian, I reasoned, but not Catholic. My misgivings were a proud list: The exaltation of Mary and the saints, the rigid Church hierarchy, the exclusive nature of Communion, the notion of absolution through a priest, the formality of the Mass, and on and on. I was certain of the righteousness of my cause. But to paraphrase C.S. Lewis,
A young man who wishes to remain a sound [Lutheran] cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere …God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.
You see, the key to my conversion was not capitulation for the sake of comity. I didn’t become Catholic because my wife was Catholic. If anything, this made me dig in even further. But over many years, I attended Mass, discussed with my wife, talked with priests, lunched with Catholic friends, read Chesterton and Belloc, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, Thomas Merton and Evelyn Waugh. I prayed. I wondered. I considered. But in the end, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I simply began to be fair to the Catholic Church. Perhaps G.K. Chesterton said it best,
It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair.
I ceased to pull against it and the Church tugged me back. And, ultimately over years, it tugged me in. The Easter Vigil when I was received into the Church was, next to my marriage and birth of my daughters, the most profound moment of my life. (If you would like to read more on my journey to and in Catholicism, please peruse my writings here and at Aleteia, Patheos, Word on Fire and the National Catholic Register.)
So three years ago today, I found myself writing a piece for Patheos titled, “Why I am NOT leaving the Catholic Church.” It was a spontaneously written riff in response to the perennial poll and breathless commentary reporting that the Church is dying along with the standard report of high-profile Catholics abandoning their Faith.
Well, today in 2018, I am even more certain of the glory of the Catholic Church (and the fact that it has fundamentally transformed my life) than I was the day I entered it. If you are not Catholic or if you are flagging in your Faith, I would invite you to consider these seven reasons to become or remain faithfully and exuberantly Catholic.
1. The Catholic Faith is intellectually robust.
Anyone who tells you that Catholicism is a fairy tale for the weak-minded has simply not done their homework. “There is no other continuous intelligent institution,” G.K. Chesterton reminds, “that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years.” Name your most revered intellectual and I guarantee that they would struggle to go toe-to-toe with the logic of St. Thomas Aquinas, the insight of G.K. Chesterton, the philosophy of Etienne Gilson, the tart wisdom of Flannery O’Connor or the genius of Pope Benedict XVI. The works of the Church Fathers, the writings of the saints, the Catholic Catechism, papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations, works of Catholic literature, philosophy and apologetics rest unread on shelves simply waiting to unfold the genius of the Faith. The only problem is that most people who have dismissed Catholicism have never even attempted to read these and countless other bright Catholic lights. As Chesterton would surely agree, “[Catholicism] has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” 2. The Catholic Faith has a keen insight into human nature.
Catholicism knows my appetites and it senses my human cravings for power, honor, wealth and pleasure. But it also knows that satiating myself with these delicious morsels will only leave me empty. As St. Augustine famously observed, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.” The Church teaches what Christ teaches: We are dignified children of God. We are fallen. We are redeemable. It is the constant charge of the Church to remind us that we are deeply special (inviolably dignified), but that our sinfulness requires confession and earnest effort to be better. The Church speaks of anxiety and despair, hope and joy. It is familiar with the ephemeral and the permanent things. And it wants, with its millennia of wisdom and the strength of its sacraments, to lead us down the path to Heaven. As Chesterton said, “[The Catholic Church’s] experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them …The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over again forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves.” 3. The Catholic Faith is open to brokenness. The one requirement for membership in the Catholic Church is to be broken. If you are proud or if you lie, envy, lust, rage, overindulge, or squander your abilities, you belong in the Catholic Church. Your sin comes with you, but it doesn’t have to stay. Our greatest liberation is in recognizing our fallibility and dependence on Christ for absolution and strength. But it is a paradox. In obedience, we are free. In humility, we are glorified. In sorrowfully admitting our sin, we are unshackled from it. Are you surprised and outraged by the screw-ups and misfits in the Catholic Church? Well, just look at the embarrassing figure of St. Peter … and he is our leader chosen by Christ. Chesterton put it wisely, “The great strength of Christian sanctity has always been simply this – that the worst enemies of the saints could not say of the saints anything worse than [the saints] said of themselves … Suppose the village atheist had a sudden and splendid impulse to rush into the village church and denounce everybody there as miserable offenders. He might break in at the exact moment when they were saying the same thing themselves.” 4. The Catholic Church is courageous. The Catholic Church has stood up for human dignity — the poor, the outcast, the unborn, the handicapped, the diseased, the elderly (the dawn, dusk and shadows of life) — against the worst that the Devil has had to offer. Communists, National Socialists, Anarchists, Eugenicists, Relativists, Materialists, hard-hearted Capitalists have attempted to foist their own strange gods onto the altar of man. But the Church has rebutted (and in most cases, toppled) them all, from Cardinal Mundelein’s criticisms of Hitler to St. John Paul II’s defiance of Soviet Communism to Pope Benedict XVI’s rebuttal of the “dictatorship of relativism.” The Church has run counter — often by itself — to the dehumanizing fashions of the day empowered by prayer, Confession and the Eucharist. As Chesterton once wrote, “It is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” 5. The Catholic Faith is transcendent. The Catholic Church is a living, breathing organism that fosters in each member a deeply personal friendship with Christ. It is not a political program or a philosophy. It is not a history lesson or a literary lark. It is a fundamental relationship between child and Father, created and Creator that molds and guides each of us daily (even moment-to-moment) into the eternal and loving arms of God. As Hilaire Belloc would add, “The thing I have to say is this: …The Catholic Church is the exponent of Reality. It is true. Its doctrines in matters large and small are statements of what is … My conclusion – and that of all men who have ever once seen it – is the faith. Corporate, organized, a personality, teaching. A thing, not a theory. It.” The Church makes no attempt to “immanentize the eschaton” (bring heaven to earth) or to craft an ideology to achieve worldly success. The Catholic Church deals in the ineffable, indispensable intangibles of Faith, Hope and Charity. The Church’s eyes are fixed toward the end of eternal salvation. 6. The Catholic Faith embraces mystery. St. Paul once wrote, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) We are meant to encounter God and his creation — to gleefully pursue greater knowledge. But consummate knowledge is not the goal. Rather it is faithfulness and communion with God that we should crave. Science is a wonderful tool, but an empty ideology. And while God offers riddles solved by chemists, mathematicians and physicists, he also fosters wonder at mystery through the eyes of priests, poets and artists. Chesterton noted, “The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion … To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits …The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.” 7. The Catholic Faith is true. Consider that Catholicism, at its heart, rests on the centrality of Christ. If God is perfect, he must be perfectly just and perfectly merciful. If man is God’s dignified child, he is deserving of mercy but also requires correction because laws have been broken and sin must be paid for. How does a perfect God simultaneously exact justice while dispensing mercy? By dying on behalf of his children. In Christ’s Passion and crucifixion, our debt is paid and mercy is granted. All the intellectual details, all the ineffable mystery, all of the saints, all of the sacraments rest on this crucifixion and resurrection — the central act in the history of the world. On this very Truth, Catholicism and life and afterlife and meaning and purpose and dignity and salvation hinge. For if the narrative of Christ is just a nice allegory, just a gripping story, just a concocted morality yarn, then as Flannery O’Connor would say about the Eucharist, “Well, if it’s just a symbol, then to hell with it.”The Catholic Faith is true. Explore it — truly and honestly — and you will be amazed at what you find.
There are thousands of reasons to become or stay Catholic. But first, you must be fair to it.
The moment men cease to pull against [the Catholic Church] they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it.
Be fair and I guarantee, before long, you will begin to be fond of it.