Stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following are stories from individuals on why they are Catholic. These stories will be updated periodically to bring current, relevant discussions on what drives people to become part of the Catholic Church.


THREE REASONS

Matt Nelson / Word on Fire / September 7, 2016

I haven’t always wanted to be a Catholic; at least not in the fullest sense. Indeed I took a break from “organized religion” for several years of my young adult life and eventually, although I was raised with the sacraments in a loving Catholic family, the demons of the college life became much too enticing. The religious life, I decided, was boring and irrelevant. I wanted to have fun; and I felt entitled to it. I had become a grown-up kindergartner.

Though I maintained a limping sense of the spiritual after leaving home, I stopped all religious participation and adopted a completely self-serving lifestyle. God was no longer my friend; nor was he my Father (at least not until I was in big trouble). But good kids trust their dad; they obey him because they understand intuitively that there is a hierarchy of intelligence and wisdom in play. They understand they’re not at the top.

Fathers (and of course mothers) tend to “know better”; they are pillars of wisdom and knowledge and it is in a child’s best interests to listen to them whether they want to or not. Nonetheless, by the time I had reached my earlier twenties and university was winding down, I had adopted a life that had no room for my Father in heaven, nor Mother Church on earth.

Though I became skeptical of many of the major claims of Christianity, I never reached atheism; at least not intellectually. I did however reach atheism in practice (as too many of today’s professed Christians have).  Practical atheism, is defined by one atheist website as “disbelief in or rejection of gods as a matter of practice if not necessarily theory.” And that was me: believing in God but not acting like it (or what some people call “hypocrisy”). Hypocrisy is inevitable for us all (thanks to our first parents) because we are sinners; and we all too often, like St. Paul, “do not do the good we want, but the evil we do not want is what we do.” The key difference is in the will. Practical atheists don’t try; they’re all lip service. Christians fight and persevere. They do what they don’t want to do whether they want to do it or not.

This whole thing about what we “ought” to do and whether it’s worth doing comes down to two things: the true and the good. If Catholicism—or any religion for that matter—is true and if it is good for us then we ought to want it; and we ought to do it. After all, we want everything else that is true and good. Nobody likes to be lied to, and nobody wants to be unhappy. We want to live in the real world; and we want to be happy while we’re at it.

This is precisely what the Catholic Church teaches. It promises to be the indestructible “pillar and bulwark of truth” as the one institution established and empowered by God himself. It also promises hope in this life, and everlasting joy in the next to those who persevere in love. Sounds like a good deal; if it’s true.

Why be Catholic? Because to be Catholic is to be in full union with the one thing that can make you most sane and most happy. A tall claim, to be sure; but it’s not an arrogant claim. It’s a truth claim. I am Catholic because I am convinced the Church is the only place I will find the fullness of truth and joy. That’s why I’m Catholic: because I believe Catholicism is true.

G.K. Chesterton believed that often the first step for a convert is the decision to be fair to the Catholic Church. That’s right—fair. All too often those who are skeptical towards Catholicism are quick to give their objections and are, perhaps, too caught up in admiration of their own objection to hear the Catholic response. In effect, the skeptic becomes like the golfer who is too busy admiring his long drive to realize it’s headed straight for the water trap—the golfer who looks away in self-contentment before he sees where his ball is about to land. The water trap gets the best of the long drive; but the golfer isn’t paying attention.

Catholicism is both logical and evidence-based; but most skeptics just haven’t been listening. Shortly after his full entrance into the Catholic Church, Chesterton wrote in his book The Catholic Church and Conversion:

“It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment a man ceases to pull against it he feels a tug towards it. The moment he ceases to shout it down he begins to listen to it with pleasure. The moment he tries to be fair to it he begins to be fond of it.”

The problem with many of the objections towards Catholicism is not that they are illogical; indeed they are often logical. But a logical argument is not always a good argument. The contention that all Canadian Prime Ministers are aliens, and thus, because Justin Trudeau is the current Canadian Prime Minister he must be an alien, is a logical argument; but it’s foolish. One who makes that argument hasn’t considered all of the evidence seriously. It’s an unfair and thus intellectually dishonest argument.

The big point I am trying to get to (in a rather roundabout way) is that there are good reasons to be Catholic. Here are three:

  1. CATHOLICISM IS REASONABLE.

There are many aspects of Catholic belief that cannot be immediately reached by deductive reasoning: that God is a Trinity, for example. But the idea of one God in three co-equal and co-eternal persons is not a logical contradiction either; it just requires fine distinctions to be made and understood—namely, the difference between person and nature.

But some religious beliefs can be reached via deductive logic. The Church from her foundation has always recognized that there are footprints of God in the natural world. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that God’s existence can be known through the observation of created things (see Rom 1:20). Science combined with reason is a powerful combination for the believer.

Various arguments that address the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” demonstrate how religious truths can indeed be reached logically (like God’s existence, for example). Since reason tells us that things do not pop into existence without a cause, and scientific investigation (as well as philosophical reasoning) makes a good case for the beginning of the universe, it can thus be concluded that the universe has an eternal, all-powerful cause unbound by space and time.

And of course there are the cosmological arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas who observed (building on the arguments of the pagan Aristotle), for example, that an infinite regress of caused causes leads to logical problems; and thus there must be an infinitely perfect being—an Uncaused Cause—behind it all to get the domino effect going in the first place (as well as to sustain it here and now). Indeed it was such arguments as these that played a huge part in moving perhaps the 20th century’s most renowned atheist, Antony Flew, to belief in a Creator.

  1. CATHOLICISM IS HISTORICAL.

C.S. Lewis in his essay “God in the Dock” remarked that many of the unbelievers he encountered had no trouble believing in prehistoric man; but there was a paradox:

“I had supposed that if my hearers disbelieved the Gospels, they would do so because the Gospels recorded miracles. But my impression is that they disbelieved them simply because they dealt with events that happened a long time ago.”

Nonetheless, that Jesus existed is confirmed by nearly every New Testament historian on the planet. Due to a plenitude of early sources, and the multiple attestations of Christian, Jewish and secular sources, New Testament historians (particularly the skeptical ones) are interested in much bigger questions such as: “What did the Church persecutor Paul (not to mention the apostles) see that convinced him Jesus had resurrected from the dead?” and “What explains the rise of early Christianity?”

Indeed the non-Christian historical sources are valuable and interesting, but that’s not where the story ends. We must also ask: what was early Christianity like?  And for that, one must go to the early Church Fathers and ecclesiastical writers of the first seven or so centuries.

What do we find in these early Christian writings? Catholicism. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, the baptism of infants, and the authority of the bishops are not disputed; they are staples of the faith. At the beginning of the first century, Ignatius of Antioch calls the Church of Christ “catholic”. We find the veneration of saintly relics in The Martyrdom Of Polycarp. Irenaeus records the succession of the first four popes of Rome. Tertullian describes how Christians make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. C.S. Lewis wrote that “a young atheist cannot be too careful of his reading”. The same would also appear true for the Protestant.

Indeed, as Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman learned and thus noted, “to be steeped in history is to cease to be Protestant.” It’s not that Protestants aren’t our brothers and sisters in Christ—they are. It’s just that they’re separated from the fullness of the Church and her wisdom and we Catholics want them to come home. Our arms are ever open and waiting.

  1. CATHOLICISM IS BIBLICAL.

We’ve talked about historical sources that support the claims and beliefs of Catholicism; but we haven’t talked about the primary source, both theologically and historically: the written Word of God.

One of the shocking things I realized when I re-entered the Catholic Church was how plainly biblical her teachings were. We believe that we are saved by grace because St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says so (Eph 2:8). But we also believe that we are saved by faith—but not “by faith alone” because that’s what the Bible says (James 2:24). We believe true faith works in love and thus we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Gal 5:6; Phil 2:12). We believe that the deposit of faith has been passed down through the Sacred Writings and also by sacred oral tradition because that’s what Paul taught (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 1 Cor 11:2). We believe that priests can forgive our sins in the presence of Christ because Jesus said to the apostles “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:21-23). But we also believe that the grace required for our salvation comes freely through the sacraments, beginning with baptism, because the New Testament says things like “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21).

We also believe in the authority of the Church as the teacher and interpreter of the faith. Jesus makes the final authority of the Church clear in Matthew 18 and, furthermore, St. Paul calls the Church ” the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). We recognize Peter and his successors as the leader and Prime Minister of the Church because, well, it is a sort of sociological necessity; even for the Church of God. Every institution on earth needs a “boss” because people disagree on things. But also, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (signifying a new mission like when God changed Abram’s name to Abraham) and then gave him “the keys” and the power to bind and loose (Matt 16:18-20; Is 22). There can be no mistaking it: Jesus gave Peter authority over the Church, and his successors (see Acts 1:20) would inherit that authority.

Finally, we believe in the Eucharist because Jesus said “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you” and “my flesh is food indeed”. Then the night before he died he showed the apostles how this was to be done by revealing his flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine. “Do this”, said Jesus. And to this day the Catholic Church continues to do this in memory of Christ making present today the once for all sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. The Eucharistic sacrifice is a re-presentation and this is the source and summit of the Christian life.

That is why a Eucharistic Church is the final resting place for every human. It is the one place where spiritual and bodily communion is possible with God in this life: and from that one great meeting with God flows all kinds of extraordinary possibilities. That is ultimately why I am Catholic. Because of the Eucharist. I believe it is found in the Communion of the Catholic Church—and only there. The Catholic Church, I believe, is where man finds everything he is looking for.


8 POINTS

R.R. Reno / First Things / June 16, 2014

We recently hosted a talk by John Beaumont, author of The Mississippi Flows into the Tiber: A Guide to Notable American Catholic Converts to the Catholic Church. It’s a wonderful compilation of convert stories that includes a few folks associated with this fine magazine. John recounted a number of them. He ended with an arresting question: Why do people convert to Catholicism? There’s no one answer, of course, but many reasons, which John winsomely summarized.

My Protestant friends sometimes accuse First Things of encouraging Catholic triumphalism. We’re not entirely innocent. How can we avoid an atmosphere of triumphalism, given the profound influence Catholicism exercises over so many who are associated with the magazine, beginning with our founding editor and including our current one, yours truly? We love the Catholic Church, and one invariably wishes to champion that which one loves. And so, in that spirit—and with the urgent reminder that there’s no reason Protestants don’t share in these reasons in their own ways— I’ll recount John’s summation, adding my own observations.

  1. Visibility:Catholicism attracts because it’s visible. That’s obvious in the case for the architecture of Catholic churches, which aside from a short period of modernist banality brashly claims space as sacred. Men and women in religious orders wear distinctive outfits. Priests consistently set themselves apart with clerical collars. Even the bulky, sometimes exasperating institutional bureaucracy of the Catholic has a reassuring solidity. This multifaceted visibility is especially powerful in our culture, which so often reduces faith to a private opinion or inward sentiment. The scriptures speak of a New Jerusalem, a city of God. Catholicism foreshadows that city with its very real and tangible buildings, uniforms, rituals, laws, and ensigns.
  2. Universality:The Church is universal, spanning the entire globe. Or more simply: Catholicism is catholic. This breadth makes the gospel more credible. The universality of the Church demonstrates that ours is a faith for all men and all seasons. It’s not a European or African or South American religion; it’s not an ancient or medieval or modern religion. The Church’s universality has a special appeal to those of us aware of the failures of postmodern Western culture. We feel the intellectual and moral decadence of our times, and we know this deforms our reason and conscience. Here the universality of the Church is a source of grace. To enter the Church is to enter a larger world. We don’t stop being postmodern Americans—instead, we become more than that. The Church’s catholicity delivers us from our parochialism, which in America often comes in the form of a false universalism.
  3. Endurance:There’s a joke about a papal representative who meets with Stalin. The Man of Steel announces his intention to destroy the Church. The cleric responds, “Good luck. We’ve been trying for two thousand years and haven’t succeeded.” The Church’s endurance, the continuity of teaching and ministry, is nothing short of miraculous—especially during times of high status, prominence, and privilege when worldly seductions are powerful. At the very times when the papacy fell captive to corrupt Renaissance popes, the Holy Spirt was stirring up a piety that gave birth to great new religious orders.
  4. Authority:In our age of exalted individualism and false views of freedom, the Church’s authority is often seen as a liability. It is in fact the opposite. When we are going headlong in the wrong direction, we need to hear a sharp word spoken with authority: Stop! When we wallow in skepticism and postmodern ennui, we need the galvanizing force of authority. As John Henry Newman recognized, the authority of the Church is a great asset: It heals the wounds of the pride of man.
  5. Beauty:The Church’s beauty has its own power as well. Her musical, artistic, or literary legacy caresses us with the truth of God in Christ. Catholicism’s neglect of those legacies in favor of an easy, banal contemporary aesthetic is one of the great evangelical failures of recent decades. The Lord walks with us along the dusty road of our humanity, it is true. But he does so to raise us up to dwell with him in the beauty of holiness.
  6. Hierarchy:Even as a non-Catholic—even attending worship services run by Jesuits!—I was struck by the dignity of the Mass. Although the Second Vatican Council emphasized the dignity of the laity, there remains a rightful hierarchy at the Mass, one that echoes in countless ways the Temple in Jerusalem and its high priests. The priest stands at the altar, representing the congregation—representing all humanity—as he brings his own voice in union with Christ in the word of institution (This is my body . . . This is my blood . . . ) This hierarchy of laity, priest, and Christ is felt at every Mass, not matter how far contemporary churches depart from the traditional relations of congregation, priest and altar. This hierarchy encourages a spiritual elevation, an ascent of the soul to God in prayer.
  7. Saints: The saints offer a great cloud of witnesses. Reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s spiritual autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” helped me see the genius of the garish, often lachrymose piety of nineteenth century bourgeois French Catholicism. As Christ taught: We must first be as children. A desiccated East Coast intellectual, that’s what I needed to learn. And there are countless saints to teach others what they need to know. For someone else with handicaps different from my own the strict logic of St. Thomas opens up new spiritual horizons.
  8. Moral witness:John’s final reason why some are drawn to the Catholic Church is her moral doctrine. Secular folks find this quite baffling, imaging that the Church’s teachings, especially on sex, must be felt as a severe burden. Well, yes, the Church’s moral doctrine is burdensome in the sense that moral truth is always hard for fallen men and women to hear and unbend their deformed lives to conform to. But the Church’s courage to speak the truth also inspires. Human beings don’t want moral mediocrity. We desire to live in accord with higher standards, certainly one’s higher than those our age offers. The Catholic Church satisfies this desire. She does not indulge our weaknesses. She does not underestimate our freedom.

As I said at the outset, I see no reason why Protestants can’t find many of these qualities in their own churches. I don’t think its triumphalist of me—or at least not perniciously so—to say as a Catholic convert I’m thankful to have found them in mine.


MOSTLY THERE

Ross Douthat / NY Times / October 2, 2104

I am a Catholic for various contingent reasons (this is as true of converts as of anyone else), but on a conscious level it’s because I am a mostly-faithful Christian who is mostly convinced that Roman Catholicism is the expression of Christianity that has kept faith most fully with the early church and the words of Jesus of Nazareth himself. A point that Cardinal George Pell, recently of Sydney and now of the Roman curia, made in a talk this week — that the search for authority in Christianity began not with pre-emptive submission to an established hierarchy, but with early Christians who “wanted to know whether the teachings of their bishops and priests were in conformity with what Christ taught” — is crucial to my own understanding of the reasons to be Catholic: I believe in papal authority, the value of the papal office, because I think that office has played a demonstrable role in maintaining the faith’s continuity, coherence and fidelity across two thousand years of human history. It’s that role and that record, complicated and checkered as it is, that makes the doctrine of papal infallibility plausible to me, rather than the doctrine that controls my reading of the record, and indeed if you asked me to write a long defense of “infallibility” as a concept I’m sure I’d end up caveat-ing it a lot more heavily than some Catholics of fiercer orthodoxy: The language that I think the historical record supports is more like impressive continuity on the most important questions.

One of those important questions is the nature of marriage. Unlike a lot of the issues that religious people fight about these days, and unlike many hot-button issues where the Catholic Church takes a controversial stance, the question of marriage and divorce is very specifically addressed in the red-letter portion of the New Testament — in the words of Jesus himself. His language is very strong: Divorce as permitted in the Mosaic law is dismissed as a concession to man’s hardness of heart, which under the new covenant is no longer permissible. Thus the line often adapted for the marriage service: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And thus the conclusion, which appears in all three synoptic gospels: Remarriage after divorce is adultery.

Now in Matthew there is a possible loophole — an exception for cases of “sexual immorality” (depending on the translation) — that is often cited by those churches that have allowed divorce. But the present Catholic understanding, that the Matthean exception either referred to premarital behavior that would make the marriage invalid or else licensed separation but not remarriage, has the strongest claim to being the view of the early church. (The hunt for significant exceptions to that view, which has occupied some Francis-era Catholics, looks mostly like a wild goose chase or an attempt to marshal exceptions to an obvious rule.) Indeed, it was precisely this emphasis on marriage’s indissolubility (and that principle’s implications for gender equality, among other issues) that made one of Christianity’s most striking cultural contrasts with the sexual culture of late antiquity. And it’s the view and emphasis that Roman Catholicism has maintained ever since, through varying eras and debates: Not always for pure or pristine or uncomplicated reasons (I am quite aware, though of course I’m also grateful to readers for pointing out, that politics entered into the debate over Henry VIII’s marriage, as indeed it has entered into many theological controversies in church history), but in a way that shows a remarkable degree of continuity, to the point of martyrdom, on a difficult and never-uncontroversial point. Whereas the churches that have separated from Rome — first the Orthodox, then the Protestants — have tended (with all ecumenical respect intended) to pass from making a narrow exception for adultery to making more general exceptions, until the teaching can seem to be almost effaced altogether.

So if you asked me, as a secular or Protestant reader might be inclined to do, “do you believe that marriage is indissoluble because the pope is infallible and he says so?”, I might answer: “Mostly the reverse: I think the papacy might well be guided on the Holy Spirit because it has taught so consistently that marriage is indissoluble, while almost every other Christian body has succumbed to the pressures and political incentives to say otherwise.” (And those incentives were powerful long before modernity.) I respect the papacy’s authority precisely because it has kept faith with one of Jesus’s harder teachings, in other words, and shown flexibility or made compromises only in a way (through an err-on-the-side-of-the-petitioner annulment process, most recently) that I think has left the teaching’s basic integrity intact. And that sustained integrity on such an important and controversial question is itself also evidence on behalf of Catholicism’s claims on other issues — reasons to at least respect the church’s teaching, even if you dissent from or don’t live up to it, in cases where the historical record is murkier, or the extrapolation from the gospels a little bit less clear.

Which brings us to the issue that prompted my column: The debate, encouraged and I think guided in a pro-change direction by Pope Francis, over whether to admit the divorced-and-remarried, people in unions that the church has traditionally considered adulterous, back to communion while they’re still in a sexual relationship with their new spouse. I’ve written at length, as have others more qualified than myself, on why this allegedly-pastoral change would, in fact, represent a substantial alteration of doctrine on a very consequential issue — either the doctrine surrounding marriage, the doctrine surrounding sin, confession and the Eucharist, or by effect and implication both. Some of the people supporting the change obviously disagree with that analysis and seem to believe that this shift would be more akin to, say, changing the requirements surrounding fasts in Lent — a strictly disciplinary or pastoral change, not a doctrinal one at all. (Though some, I tend to suspect, privately agree that it would be a bigger changer and that’s precisely why they want it — to prove that the church can shift substantially on a question of sexual ethics, and therefore that other changes are possible as well.) But my own view, that doctrine is actually at stake here, is not some convenient notion ginned up to make life difficult for a progressive pope: It’s the historic consensus of the church (which is why the rules are written as they are), reaffirmed consistently during the last two pontificates, upheld by the existing Congregration for the Doctrine of the Faith, and defended by a wide array of churchmen during the current controversy. They/we all may be wrong, but if continuity and consistency matters in the church then the burden of proof is on the advocates of the proposed change, and they haven’t met it nor in many cases even really tried.

So if the change being debated were to happen, if the pope were to approve and promulgate it, that would seem like a Big Deal, with big repercussions for how people – myself, and others – understand their relationship to the Catholic faith. Andrew Sullivan, in a post that I think perhaps falls slightly short of his usual standards of generosity, accuses me of being filled with “rage” over this possibility, and of calling for an anti-Francis schism. But that’s not what I said, or how I really feel. When I suggested that church might have to “resist” the pope on these questions, I had in mind public argument and pressure, a more significant version of the pushback at the synod, rather than a beeline to the local SSPX chapel, and if Pope Francis were to make what I consider a kind of doctrinal backflip I wouldn’t be making that beeline myself; I’d remain an ordinary practicing Catholic, remain engaged in these debates (because I would still think my side’s view is closer to the original teaching of the faith), but my understanding of papal authority would be changed in ways that would inevitably change my underlying relationship to the church. And it’s that change, working itself out across enough people and enough time, that I think would make it hard for the church to escape the fissiparous fate of Anglicans and Methodists and Presbyterians and other churches that have explicitly divided on these kind of sex-and-marriage questions, why is part of why I raised the possibility of schism: Not (God help us) as a prescription but as a prediction, based on the unhappy experience of our fellow Christians, of where churches where authority is compromised or absent on these kind of debates tend to ultimately end up.

So my dominant emotion isn’t anger right now: It’s a mix of dismay and determination, anxiety and hope, cycling back and forth depending on events. And if the change being bruited were to happen I’m quite sure that my main emotions would be rue and regret – rue that I had somewhat misjudged the church I joined eighteen years ago this spring, and regret that an institution that I believe to be divinely established notwithstanding all its human sins turned out to have a little less of the divine about it than I thought.

For more progressive or liberal Catholics, many of whom are attached to the church for somewhat different reasons, and some of whom just have a much more modest baseline of what counts as continuity and keeping faith, there’s a tendency to look at this kind of argument and dismiss it – as Cardinal Walter Kasper has – as the Catholic version of “fundamentalism.” Indeed, for this reason I can easily imagine Sullivan, or some of my other eloquent critics, regarding the remarriage-and-communion proposal as an ideal means of making their conservative co-religionists grow up, of forcing us to finally leave our fond medieval illusions behind and join the existentially-ambiguous, every-man-a-magisterium chaos of our liberal, individualistic, postmodern world.

And they’re certainly entitled to that view. But the “fundamentalism” jibe cuts both ways, and from the point of view of the conservative side of things it’s the liberal Catholics who may have an unwarranted faith in institutional continuity, in the persistence and potency of a religious body once its reasons for being have been deconstructed, or once its authorities have undercut themselves. This was a point that the then net-yet-Catholic Richard John Neuhaus made thirty years ago, in an earlier era of intra-Catholic, intra-Christian debates on these questions, and it’s worth quoting here:

When speaking with Roman Catholics of a certain persuasion, one is frequently struck by the power of what might best be called ecclesiastical fundamentalism. There is an ecclesiastical fundamentalism of fevered infallibilism, whose proponents exult in surrendering mind and conscience to church authority. But there is another ecclesiastical fundamentalism that seems to believe that — after every form of doctrine, discipline, authority, and communal identity has been abandoned — the Roman Catholic Church will endure so long as there is something to call “Catholic.”

… A priest in charge of ecumenical affairs for a large diocese explained to me … why John Paul and Cardinal Ratzinger constitute “a return to the Middle Ages.” In leisurely conversation he expatiated on what a “really renewed” church would look like. Women would be ordained, pastors would be elected, academic freedom would be absolute, and all questions would be democratically settled in church conventions with a majority of lay votes. Yes, he agreed, such a church would look pretty much like the Methodist or Presbyterian church down the street. But in what way would it be different, in what way would it still be the Roman Catholic Church? He seemed taken aback by my question. “Well, of course,” he responded, “there would still be the bishops, there would still be the pope, there would still be the sacraments and the other things that really matter.”

But why should these realities still be there after every reason for being there is gone? That they would still be there, he allowed somewhat defensively, is an article of faith. So it is that we witness at least some Roman Catholics dismantling the house piece by piece while confidently asserting that the house is indestructible. Curiously, this particular priest harshly criticized [John Paul II] because “he talks about the church as though it were an abstraction.” Yet the church this priest describes —decontextualized, dehistoricized, and deprived of all its thus and so-ness —will, he believes, forever remain the Roman Catholic Church in which he made his first Communion and his ordination vows.

… For a surprising number of Roman Catholics today it seems to be inconceivable that any grave and damaging transformations could happen to their church. Of course we have our Lord’s word that the Church will endure, since not even the gates of hell can finally prevail against it. But, strangely enough, those who call themselves conservatives seem more aware of the possibility that the gates of hell might do a great deal of damage before Christ returns in triumph. They more readily recognize that the particular form of the Church that is Roman Catholicism is a historical construct and can be historically deconstructed. In this instance, Ratzinger’s complaint about theologians who view the church “sociologically” rather than as a “mystery” is reversed. An astonishing sense of “mystery” is to be found among the ecclesiastical fundamentalists who believe that the Roman Catholic Church can abandon its identifying particularities and indulge any force of transformation and still be the Roman Catholic Church. Their church, to which they are undoubtedly devoted, floats above the mundane, indifferent to the fragilities and contingencies of historical change. Therefore anything can be done, and it does not matter, not really.

That these things do, in fact, matter is a lesson that I think our Protestant brethren have been learning, at great cost, across decades of internal division and decline. Maybe I have misjudged my own church’s continuity and integrity, and it’s time for me to grow out of those misjudgments, and for Catholicism as a whole to learn the same lessons at experience’s hard school. But I make no apology for resisting, so long as resistance remains viable, developments that would make the reasons I became a Catholic in the first place look less like reasons, and more like wistful hopes.