Although I have been Catholic since birth, I was dismissive about the benefits of being Catholic for most of my life. However, over the past few years, as I have gotten to know my faith better, the more I learned, the more I had cause to rejoice in it. I know Catholics, though sharing core beliefs, all have different reasons for remaining in the Church. In hopes of sharing my joy, I want to share some of my own reasons for why I remain in love with my faith.
The Catholic Faith is Rational
When I was in college, I took six semesters of Theology; the first two were mainly focused on the Catechism. It was through this initial year that I started to realize how rational the Catholic Faith is. One example is how people who end up damned at the end of their lives can still be in a state of grace before they die. This naturally makes sense—if a person will commit mortal sin at a point late in his life, there is no immediate reason I can think of why he could not have been in a state of grace earlier in his life. Furthermore, this particular precept is good for those with scrupulous tendencies, easily falling into thinking, “I hope that I’m in a state of grace now… but I don’t know that I will be when I die. Therefore I shouldn’t receive Communion.” Thankfully this takes care of such thoughts, so we all can “let the trouble of the day be sufficient for the day” and not worry about the state of our souls in the future. A friend pointed me to G. K. Chesterton’s story The Blue Cross. Chesterton had not yet converted, but he wrote Father Brown as saying to someone who impersonated a priest, “You attacked reason. That’s bad theology.” Obviously, Chesterton and I were in agreement even before he was Catholic. This is just one of the many ways the Catholic Faith makes sense.
We Know What We Believe…
Another thing I find appealing about Catholicism is the existence of the Magisterium. Obviously, the Magisterium is the teaching office of God’s Church, not God Himself, but He knew that imperfect human beings needed such an office. I have dabbled in the study of other religions, and many seem unclear on major doctrines. For example, I learned that in Hinduism whether the central being, Brahma, is one god, or a myriad of separate gods depends on which Hindu you ask. Thankfully, in Catholicism, all our major beliefs have been explained by the Magisterium and laid out in the Catechism. Though there are lesser matters about which we can legitimately disagree, all Catholics agree on vital matters such as the nature of God, and all this information is available to us.
…But We Can Believe First, Understand Later
Something else I retained from my first year of Theology is that, although we must believe the essential truths the Church teaches, we don’t have to also understand them. Because the Faith is beyond reason, not everything in it has an easy explanation, like the nature of the Blessed Trinity. Thus, I had a mixture of relief and joy when I learned that, for lack of a better phrasing, our understanding of the Faith can be imperfect. My professor even mentioned a point from John Henry Newman, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” In other words, we are perfectly allowed to say “I don’t get it…” as long as we finish that statement with “…but I do believe it.” This allowance makes me very happy, and I would guess I’m not the only Catholic who feels this way.
Is the Faith Amazingly Restrictive… or Amazingly Freeing?
The one seemingly unappealing point about the Church is with so many things we need to believe we could easily be ignorant of some of them, yet not even be aware of our own ignorance. Joe Catholic may not know everything the Church teaches while not realizing that there are holes in his knowledge. In my own case, I only found out the Church defined celibacy as a higher state than marriage in 2012, after having been Catholic for 19 years. Knowing this about the Church, non-Catholics might say, “You signed up for this super-restrictive belief system without even knowing everything you should believe in? Someone call a psych ward.” Conversely, for me, it is a great comfort that for the most important questions in life, I do not have to guess. In my life, I have seen other people fumbling around trying to figure out who or what they believe God is, but I never had to ask because—thanks be to God—with the teachings of the Church, I already know. Admittedly, I was very lucky—Catholicism was the greatest gift my mother ever gave me—but I also chose it. I do not have to wonder about Who God is. Rather, I adhere to what the Church says because I continually make the conscious choice to be part of Her. And, if anyone is concerned about having imperfect knowledge of Church teaching as I did, there is no need for worry. While we should make the effort to know and understand our faith, if there are things about it that we never get the chance to learn, God will not hold that against us.
Leaving Is Not Necessarily Damning
This brings me to yet another thing I love about the Church. If a person chooses to reject Her, no one will frighten him into staying. This seems obvious since adults are capable of deciding for themselves, and threats of damnation from the Church would not deter anyone. However, other religions, one example being Islam, say every apostate will automatically be damned to the deepest pit of Hell. That is not so in Catholicism. It is true that leaving the Church could very well constitute a mortal sin, which is a damning action if the sinner dies unrepentant. However, in order for an action to be a mortal sin, it must be grave matter, done with full knowledge and full consent. Thus, simply put, anyone who leaves the Church and honestly thinks himself to be doing the right thing does not commit a mortal sin, because he does not have full knowledge, and no one on earth, not even the Pope, can look at someone who left and declare him to have committed a mortal sin. This decision is between the one who left and God alone. Fulton J. Sheen said,“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Too bad more non-Catholics do not understand this teaching of the Church, or then they might hate Her a little less.
Let’s Not Forget the Saints
Many Protestants dislike the Catholic Church’s devotion to the saints and Mary. What they may not realize is the saints are not demigods; they’re us—or who we hope to become. After all, they started out as ordinary human beings, but God gave them the grace to rise to extraordinary holiness, but only with His help. Not even Mary our mother would have been perfectly sinless had God not preserved her. Learning about the saints is a way of giving glory to God because it’s learning from past examples how we can become the person who God destined us to be. Additionally, they can be friends whom we need no phone to call, which is pretty cool in my opinion. Just ask me about Joan of Arc—she and I go way back. Furthermore, the saints can pray for us and help bring us closer to God because they are part of the Communion of Saints.