I’m not sure if you’ve been reading the news, but if you haven’t, let me fill you in: The Catholic Church is continuing its long-storied history of bullying and demeaning women, swindling its congregations, and keeping its head in the sand on all social and political issues that the Church was created to solve.
Death of Catholicism indeed. Let’s all stand back and watch as the pews and seminaries and convents empty and the Church implodes.
Wait, what? What was that?
Enrollment in Catholic seminaries in America is up? The most orthodox communities of sisters and nuns are experiencing revivals while the least orthodox are dying off? Hundreds, thousands, even millions of Catholics (mostly youths) continue showing up for events that promote Catholic doctrine on issues like sex, marriage, and contraception?
No. Couldn’t be. That’s not what the Huffington Post, Steven Colbert, Jon Stewart, and The Onion say.
Look, I’ve read the articles, I’ve heard the jokes, and I’ve seen the video clips, and not surprisingly the Catholic Church is getting absolutely demolished in the eyes of the mainstream media. Here’s how we are portrayed: old men who are hopelessly out of touch with the real world are trying to suppress new and better ideas about life and morality so that they don’t lose their power, and those that follow these geezers are simple-minded people who don’t know any better or, worse, mean-spirited lobbyists trying to force our illogical ideology on others to further our own agendas.
It doesn’t matter what the world says. The Church isn’t changing. She can’t. She won’t. She never has. And those who are calling for changes in how the Church works, how its hierarchy operates, or what its teachings say are wasting their breath. It’s not going to happen.
And, more importantly, it shouldn’t.
I have gotten questions sent to me regarding all of the hot-button issues that put the Church in the mainstream media today: contraception, homosexuality, female clergy and crackdowns on nuns, abortion, refusal of communion to those not in full communion with the Church, etc. So many people are demanding that the Church change Her teachings on these issues, to catch up with where human thought has progressed to, or to at least stop bothering those within the Church who disagree with Her teachings. But, again, She can’t.
The Catholic Church is not a democracy, nor should it be. It is not an organization whose main aim is to serve the poor and disadvantaged, as badly as people want to say it is. It is not a place to come and feel good about yourself, to get your spiritual fix for the week.
The Catholic Church is the Bride of Christ.
Here’s what the Church teaches: God became man, died, was resurrected, and before ascending into Heaven, told a man named Peter that He was in charge of continuing to spread His message to all nations, and that whatever he said regarding this message would be held true by God Himself. That’s what you have to believe as a Catholic. There is just no way around it. You can’t disagree with any of the above statements and still be Catholic, because agreeing with the above statements is what it means to be Catholic. That’s the definition. Just like you can’t (reasonably) say that you are a soccer player, but you don’t believe that anyone should stop you from using your hands to pass the ball, you also can’t deny the teachings of the Church and still say you are a member of that Church. It’s a contradiction in terms.
What I can tell you is that I have struggled to understand the Church’s teachings on a lot of different things. There were many doctrines I didn’t want to be true. But there is not a single one that I can in good conscience deny. Not after really understanding what they say and why they say it, not after really considering the fullness of the Church’s teachings, not after holding her doctrines up to the lens of my experience and logic. It is true. And no one that I’ve asked to show me otherwise has been able to.
We’ve been told in our society today that we should question everything, that we shouldn’t take anything at face value, that obedience is a dirty word. But it’s not. Disobedience is, more often than not, an example of pride and/or selfishness. Why do kids disobey their parents? Because they want something they’ve been told not to have or they think their parents don’t understand the situation they are in. Same for students disobeying teachers. Same for grown adults disobeying the Church. You cannot accept that Jesus Christ existed and that the Scriptures are true without accepting everything else the Church teaches. I mean that, and if anyone has any specific issues with that claim, I’d be happy to answer them. Maybe you don’t believe what the Bible says. That’s fine. That’s a whole other issue. But if you do, then you must believe in all the verses in which Christ established His Church, must believe in its authority and apostolic succession, and must believe in the 2000+ years of Catholic thought and t(T)radiation.
I’m in the middle of a book called Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church. It’s essentially a history of the Church from the Incarnation through most of John Paul II’s papacy. What strikes me while reading it is something that I’ve heard said by many good Catholics before but that I never really fully understood: none of these attacks on the Church are new. Do you think this is the first time people wanted priests to be able to marry or women to serve as clergy? It’s not. Are you under the impression that contraception is a modern problem and the Church needs to catch up with the times? No, sorry, that issue came up in the Old Testament, and again in the early life of the Church. Do you think this is the first time the Church and papacy have been accused of oppressing its people, keeping them from the truth and enlightenment of modern thought? Again, sorry.
I know bringing up the history of the Church will have people ready to throw accusations about corrupt popes and expensive indulgences and fallen priests. And they would be absolutely right: the terribly broken member’s of Christ’s Church have made plenty of errors and done plenty of damage. But the funny thing is, even in those darkest moments of scandal and corruption in the history (and present) of our Church, the doctrine never changed. The message stayed clear. The teaching was free from stain. And it will not change.
To paraphrase Chesterton, the disaster of our modern age is that we have lost the ability to obey. We no longer have the class of the scholar and the class of the peasant. And while this is good in many respects, it has destroyed thought. Now everyone is almost a scholar. Most people know just enough to destroy the gift of faith given them, but not enough to know that they are wrong. So not only do they not know (or in many cases, not have the capacity to understand) how wrong they are, they are told they don’t need to listen to those who have spent their lives studying these questions. So they don’t have the smarts to know or the humility to listen to those that do. So they just go with what they think, despite thousands of years of better, more intelligent human thought to go off of.
We’ve been told obedience is bad because it means we can be taken advantage of if we blindly follow someone. Well, Christ tells us that we are to suffer this joyfully. He and Paul tell us that if we are slaves, we should be good and joyful slaves. They don’t give a dissertation on the evils of slavery and a blueprint for how to enact social change to abolish slavery. He tells us to be fools for Him. Let others do what they will; your place is not in this world. That’s the thing: the message of Christ is way different than how most people perceive it.
So believe, even when you don’t know the answer to someone’s scathing argument on the spot. Stay strong, even when a teaching doesn’t immediately seem clear. Be courageous, even when that means seeming silly. Because it’s true. All of it. Seek the answers, come to know the Truth, but in the meantime, listen to the one to whom the Truth left His Church. We are told by society not to follow orders like sheep. But perhaps you should, as long as they are orders from the Good Shepherd.