The Death of Catholicism

I am going to die. Perhaps today.

This is a reality that I cannot escape. As a matter of fact, at this point in my life, I have no desire to. But there was a time when that was not the case. There was a time when this idea would keep me up at night. There was a time when I was scared to death of death.

I began reexamining my faith in God and the Catholic Church about seven years ago. I had always been intrigued by religion in general, and I was raised by good and intelligent parents who helped me understand the teachings of Catholicism, but it was a long time before I was able to take ownership of my own faith life. As I went through college, I had honest and challenging conversations with friends and family members that helped me realize that the questions of my heart needed answers, and that those answers could be found in the teachings and life of the Church. I began reading the works of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, and they opened my eyes to the logic and unity of Christianity, to the true beauties of the faith, to the fact that we are called to certainty, rather than some vague belief in a Santa-Claus-God. I wish everyone I know could read Mere Christianity and hear Lewis’ layman’s explanations of truth and faith. Every time I read any part of that book, I set it down thinking, “How could anyone not believe?” One of the reasons that I wanted to start this blog is to share those ideas and arguments with others, or, more accurately, to blatantly steal them and pawn them off as my own so that the six people who read this can praise me as a genius.

But most of all, what those works did was recall to my mind and heart all those dark nights when I would find myself unable to sleep because the ideas of death and eternity were startlingly real. I began to contemplate the fact that I would die, and I did not like that one bit. One way or the other, I needed to figure out if the faith my parents had given me would truly provide the path to eternal life as it so boldly claimed. I needed to know what would happen when I died. I was haunted by the knowledge that this life would end, and I was fascinated by the possibility that there could be another after it, one without the fear and the pain and the longings of this life. I was faced with the risk of my choices, confronted by the idea that my decisions could have eternal weight, startled by the concept that if there was a Heaven, it might not be guaranteed. So I dove deeper into the Church’s answers.

And what I found was not some set of vague moral guidelines, not some quaint myth meant to scare me into good behavior, not some collection of stories that were nice but not really true. What I found was a love story. What I found was A Person. What I found was a God stunningly close, a Creator who lived in the very air about me and who wanted nothing more than for me to go on breathing Him in forever. It was, and is, so beautiful.

But for all the logic and romance and adventure that I found in the Catholic faith, there was one inescapably uncomfortable part of what Christ preached: He continually said that to follow Him meant death. And so for all my searching, for all my thought and prayer and study, I was back to where I started. Even the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ whom I had fallen in love with and to whom I had turned in order to assuage my tremulous heart that so feared death, was telling me I must die. And as a matter of fact, she was telling me to be happy about it.

As with all teachings of the Church, after much difficult thought and study and conversation and prayer, I came to assent to, rather, revel in, Her teachings on death.

The death of Catholicism is both final and ongoing. In the final sense, Catholicism says that after our bodies stop functioning, there is the possibility of eternal life if we choose it. But in the ongoing sense, the Church was telling me that truly experiencing this life meant I had to die to myself daily. It meant that I had to stop feeding the flames of my lust, that I had to stop giving my body whatever food and drink it demanded at any given moment, that I had to spend my time doing things that were decidedly inconvenient for me. It meant that I had to let go of everything that I liked. It meant that I had to let all my desires and pleasures and plans die.

That sucks.

But what kept me from running from this death was the promise of what came next. Death did not really become less scary to me after learning what the Church had to say; actually, it became even scarier since it became more immediate. But what I found was that rising up in my chest was a feeling, a knowledge, stronger than my fear. Somewhere inside of me, in the deep places where the fear lived, was a wellspring of hope. As I read the Catholic story, as I learned about the Easter Sunday that followed Good Friday, as I learned that those same desires that must die would be given back to me, raised to life in more beauty and splendor than ever before, I found that my fear mattered a lot less. I must die, yes; but this I would die for.

I found that Christ does not take away death: He simply shows us that it is not the end. I found that Christ doesn’t stop our suffering from happening: He just gives it meaning. I found that Christ would not make fear impossible: but He would be the light of hope to cast out its darkness, if only we let Him.

So this is the “Death of Catholicism”. This is my feeble record of all the little deaths that have enriched my life, all of the small pains of sacrifice that have borne the pleasures of my days, all of the crucifixions of my many vices that have led to the resurrection of my few virtues. The whole story of humanity is the story of the quest for eternal life. The whole story of Catholicism is how that life was found through One Death. My whole story is about the little deaths that give me assurance of the life to come. If you read this, I ask you: Die with me. Die for Him. Die, and find life waiting beyond the fear.

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12 Responses to The Death of Catholicism

  1. Bob Lud says:

    Rapp,

    Rock on. Thanks.

    I have written, and erased, two long comments.

    I will be posting soon, often, and well.

    Thanks for pulling back the veil.

    Word,

    Bob

    • catholicapologies says:

      Luddy,

      I just figured out how to respond to comments. I wanted to note that you have not posted soon, often, or well. Also, I stole your pulling back the veil line for my last post.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I think you are soooo on target. Nice work!
    Consider this from, “Imitation of Christ”

    JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus — love that is flee from all self-interest and self-love! Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing?

    Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant lands. If a man give all his wealth, it is nothing; if he do great penance, it is little; if he gain all knowledge, he is still far afield; if he have great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks a great deal, and especially, the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private affections. Then, when he has done all that he knows ought to be done, let him consider it as nothing, let him make little of what may be considered great; let him in all honesty call himself an unprofitable servant. For truth itself has said: “When you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: ‘we are unprofitable servants.'” Luke 17:10. Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say: “I am alone and poor.”18 No one, however, is more wealthy than such a man; no one is
    more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all things and think of himself as the least of all.

    • catholicapologies says:

      I just figured out how to respond to comments, so please forgive the delay. I really appreciated this passage…I tried to read this book in college, but only made it about halfway through before giving it up for no other reason than it was way too challenging (spiritually) for me at that time. Perhaps I will pick it up again soon. Thanks for reading and I look forward to future comments.

  3. Dave says:

    A little special sauce courtesy of Narnia:

    “I see,” she said at last, thoughtfully. “I see now. This garden is like the stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.”

    “Of course, Daughter of Eve,” said the Faun. “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”

    Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.

    Further up and further in, Shuggy. In our homily on Good Friday our priest talked about a monk at conception who was murdered. After he died someone found this note he had written “If we get close to Christ, he gets us all bloody.” When we are His whether, it is glory or suffering its all the same because it is Christ’s. Thanks for the opportunity to read your reflections.

  4. Bridget says:

    “I had to die to myself daily”. -this line really spoke to me. truely relinquishing myself to God is, unfortunately, a battle i have not yet won. its truely remarkable how we can KNOW God is our path to true happiness, yet choose over and over things that further us from Him.

    I`m so happy and grateful you decided to share this with us. Regardless of differences in beliefs and lifestyles, it is truely inspiring to read of your geniune passion and fervent ACTIVE role in your faith. i hope to someday have the same.

    with love and admiration,
    bub

    • catholicapologies says:

      Just figured out how to respond to comments, so forgive the delay. The battle is never won for more than a day or more than a moment. Each day is its own battle. All we can do is run the race, fight the fight, and trust that our reward is waiting for us. Thanks for your comments, and send me more when you get time. L for Love.

  5. sdamico says:

    http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/surfing.htm
    the last part…somthing there is in us that longs to die b/c only then comes resurrection.

    • catholicapologies says:

      Boom. I want to go surf now. That was incredible…you will have to hook me up with some more Kreeft.

  6. Emily says:

    Shane! This is a good read and I can relate to the fear of death part. Had that fear myself strongly. So glad it has gotten less strong by drawing near to God. This post and people’s responses have inspired me to pull Mere Christianity off the shelf so I can read it more often.
    ‘People need to be reminded more often then they need to be instructed.’ -social morality chapter. I look forward to being reminded of good, hard things when reading your blog.

    • catholicapologies says:

      Emily, thanks for the comments…I just figured out tonight how to respond to these, so forgive the delay. Rock the Mere Christianity as often as possible…love the quote, because it goes to the heart of doing something like this blog: I am saying nothing new. It’s all been said before, and better. But perhaps we can all join the refrain.

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