Thursday, June 04, 2015

Why I came back to the Catholic Church

Elizabeth Scalia is asking bloggers to tell why they're Catholic.

Long story short—Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

That explanation is rarely sufficient for nonbelievers, and I don't blame them. I was a nonbeliever for 23 years and a cradle Catholic. I received wholly inadequate catechetical instruction from age 8 on, but my early formation was close enough to the end of VII that some of that traditional doctrine got into my head and lay dormant. My parents were very active in the charismatic movement, which was high on emotion but not particularly useful for formation. And so I took the whole thing less and less seriously. By junior high school, my moral formation was pretty much undermined (having no solid foundation and some experiences that left me in a dubious state). I chose not to be confirmed, and I drifted little by little into agnosticism. My course work at a regional Catholic university pretty much sealed the deal. (While historical-critical method might be useful for scholars, it's not something you spring on poorly formed Catholic freshmen.)

When I started my way back, I had spent a a good deal of time in progressive academic circles and thought of myself as being educated and rational. I knew I needed to have some kind of spiritual community but wasn't sure which. I started attending Mass with my then wife and next-door neighbors. I wouldn't recite the Credo or receive communion because I knew that I didn't accept Christ as Son of God, although I hadn't really analyzed arguments for His Divinity. I'm not sure why I didn't receive communion at the time, but I suspect something remained of my early formation. I knew it wouldn't be right.

I piddled around with a Unitarian Universalist congregation for a while, but that never seemed to work. Half of them were agnostic, and others were more pantheistic or panentheistic with a tendency toward New Age cafeteria-style spirituality. And I found more than a few of them to be rather mean spirited (although there were certainly also some very kind people there). (My own dalliance with New Age nonsense can be found here in the post following my ordination.)

My neighbor (the one who went to Mass with us) actually helped me to open myself again to the possibility of the Catholic faith. He loaned me some short apologetic books he had, and I started to digging more deeply. I scheduled a meeting with the pastor of the local parish to discuss my re-entry. What I recall is his openness to my questions (and I came loaded for bear), his lack of sanctimoniousness, and his sense of humor. I told him, "I can't just turn my brain off at the door and accept these teachings."

He said, "Good, because the Church teaches that we should have faith, but not blind faith." He explained that we are supposed to engage reason and faith in our search for truth. Now, I have to admit that while my father had introduced me to some of St. Thomas's arguments for the existence of God, my mother tended to eschew rationality in regards faith. Since she had had more influence on my faith formation, I assumed that the Church was also anti-reason. To hear that the Church actually encouraged us to grapple with Truth was stunning. I decided to give it another try.

And what I found was a system of belief that began in reason and then applied it to revealed truth to construct a system that was rational, consistent, and beautiful. And I came to believe that Truth is not something but somebody. I saw reverberations in Greek thought. I saw the same notions in Buddhist and Hindu spirituality. But here was a historical figure who claimed to be the Son of God... to be the thought (conception) of God, and who altered human history by His incarnation.

My search was not for faith that felt good but for faith in the Truth. If I came to learn that the Church did not have the fullness of the Truth, I would be gone immediately, but I don't believe that will ever happen. 
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