“Why am I Catholic?” This is a question people should ask themselves. Some people that claim to be Catholic seem to have a particularly negative view of Catholic teachings. Outspoken publications like National Catholic Reporter (along with people who comment on their articles) often allude that the Church is stuck in the past and chauvinistic. Many of these people want the Church to somehow change natural law in order to accommodate their own self-serving behavior or feel-good ideas. To these people, I submit the following question: why are you Catholic then? There are plenty of Protestant denominations that would likely bend to your own will (and if not, you can just start your own!).
The Church is the last institution on the planet where the truth is exalted. The reason why the Church doesn’t change its stance on artificial contraception, abortion, and marriage, is the same reason it doesn’t change its stance on murder, infidelity, and stealing…natural law (morals) doesn’t change. If the Church was to abandon its defense of the immaterial moral law of the universe, there would be no institution left to guide humanity. Who would want to be Catholic if the faith simply changed its position on issues to match popular opinion? What would the point of the Church be then? When I read articles like Feeling devastated by this pope in which the author (Margery Eagan) is beside herself that the pope would uphold Church’s ban on artificial contraception, I can’t wrap my head around why she’d even want to be Catholic. Here is an excerpt:
The news that Pope Francis has strongly defended the Church’s ban on artificial birth control left me, in a word, devastated.
I had hoped for so much more from this man.
In the United States, his words will have little practical impact. Most Catholic women have used birth control for decades. There are no more families with 12 and 14 kids in the Sunday morning pews. But his words do reveal a heartbreakingly backward perspective: that the highest calling of married women is sacrificing all to rear children, as many as come along, no matter those women’s talents or skills or dreams.
She is devastated that the pope is Catholic? She “hoped for more”? Did she hope our pope would give into the devastating theory of relativism? And who cares if most Catholic women use birth control. If a million people make a foolish comment does that comment cease to be foolish? This is basically the logic of the author. People like her want natural law to bend to what’s popular and easy. If it were up to these people, there’d be no virtues left to strive for. When there is nothing to strive for mentally, physically, or spiritually, one cannot progress their mind, body, or soul! I’d bet most Catholics are also guilty of gossip, using the Lord’s name in vain, and other sinful habits, but it doesn’t make any of these actions the right thing to do! We should strive to avoid gossip just as we should strive to avoid stealing and using artificial birth control–it will make our soul stronger and will help keep us more closely aligned with God.
Morals are not relative to an era or individual although different people may find different moral laws harder to follow while other laws easier to follow. One man might have trouble with fidelity while it’s very easy to abstain from stealing. Another man might find it very easy love one woman and not use artificial contraception but has lived a life of thievery. The Catholic Church makes sure we know what the laws are and that we hold ourselves accountable when we fall short–not in a judgmental way but in a most merciful way. Now let’s rewind to the couples in the pews but still use birth control. I say “couples” rather than “women” because husbands have a responsibility to lead their family in holiness, even if it just means speaking up. Do most of these couples even know the Church’s position on this issue? Do they understand the reasoning behind it? I wouldn’t be surprised if many didn’t; after all, many priests are terrified to talk about the issue–a topic that could be a post all by itself. The overall question is should we resort to the logic of a poorly behaved child by claiming our actions are indeed acceptable because everyone around us is doing it? Do I really need to bring up the ‘jumping-off-a-bridge’ analogy?
Now allow me to address the next point the author brings up in the section I quoted. “Most Catholic women have used birth control for decades. There are no more families with 12 and 14 kids in the Sunday morning pews.” She’s right, there are not as many big families filling the pews as there once were. Why is this? Well, there’s not as many big families in general because of the ‘birth control’ mentality that has swept the Western Hemisphere (and subsidized and sanctioned by many of our politicians)–where a woman is on birth control by ‘default’ and only goes off of it when she decides it’s the right time to bring life into this world for her (or the couple’s) own pleasure. Not only is it harming the Church, it’s harming many countries with their dwindling birth rates–only a beginning to a big snowball of a problem. And there are fewer families filling the pews because of the path people like this author have embraced in general; a path that recoils at the idea of a Church refusing to budge to each individual’s will. The Church is not a democracy where we vote on what rules we like and what rules we don’t like. The Church is the body Jesus on Earth. Jesus is the king. Only God can set the moral law and when we try our hardest to rationalize against following it, we don’t break the law, we break ourselves against the law because they do not budge. But our king is perfectly merciful. When we break ourselves on His laws, we are not punished or condemned but rather immediately forgiven upon asking. It’s hope beyond anything you could find on Earth.
Perhaps these relativists should think about it this way: How can someone move forward spiritually if there are no objective morals? If morals changed depending on various factors in society, our spiritual lives would be stagnant. Think of trying to climb a ladder but the steps constantly fall out from under your feet. You could never get any traction to move up. You’d be stuck in one place. To move forward, you need solid ground to stand on–you can’t run a marathon on quicksand! The last thing we need are forces within the Church to echo the nonsense we are bombarded with in secular culture. We must combat this problem with our words and the witness we provide.
So I come back to the question, “Why am I Catholic?”. I’m Catholic for so many reasons. In fact, the reasons seem to grow every day. Catholicism provides a ‘blueprint’ for life. In a world being fogged up by moral decay, blurring the lines between what’s virtuous or sinful, Catholicism stands as the lighthouse guiding the faithful home to heaven. This blueprint doesn’t just direct your family to an eternity of joy in heaven, it’s what makes the journey on Earth joyful too. I like to quote Scott Hahn describing the difference between how Catholics and Protestants think about salvation. “Salvation isn’t futuristic, it’s EUCHARISTIC!”. Our salvation is something that is constantly taking place right here. We can find heaven on Earth if we know where to look and how to use of the powerful tools at our disposal thanks to the Church.
I’m Catholic because I love celebrating life. We celebrate the things that make life beautiful: people, love, art, knowledge, discussion, and family. In fact, we are all one huge family. Aside from our immediate family, we are part of a family in our parish, the Church worldwide, and the Saints that have gone before us. We have the best understanding of the triune God: fatherhood, sonship, and the Holy Spirit. Everything from God down to our own marriages is a family and the Church is inclusive and loving like any good mother is to her children.
I’m Catholic because it makes me a stronger man. The faith forces me to strive beyond myself even when it’s hard or seems like there’s nothing in it for me. Not only do my family and friends benefit from me being better, so does society.
I’m Catholic because it’s cool. I am [almost sinfully] proud of Catholicism–It’s unique, it’s rich, it’s deep, it’s radical, it’s challenging, it’s recognizable. We have all the sacraments, the traditions, all the angels and saints, cool things (that Hollywood loves to use) like the Rosary, incense, confessionals, beautiful churches, and more.
I’m Catholic because it’s the one universal church that Jesus himself founded. It makes sense in a scriptural, historic, spiritual, and practical context.
I’m Catholic not because I can change the Church, I’m Catholic because the Church can change me.
We must remember that today’s moral quagmire is simply a flash in the pan when it comes to our history. The Holy Spirit has faced much stronger headwinds before. We all need to simply remember what Jesus said to Peter when he handed him the keys to the kingdom: “…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18).
Update: Margery Eagan wrote an equally misguided article after her first piece gained so much attention online. You can read it here: What I’ve Learned About the Pope — and You