If you were on a committee to interview candidates for principal of a Catholic school, what question would you ask the candidates?
I was on such a committee a few years ago. One of our first jobs was to decide which questions we would ask every candidate. My suggestion was: Why be Catholic? The other committee members agreed. Every candidate seemed surprised by the question and struggled with it, although some answered better than others.
What is your answer? Does your answer quickly come to mind? Do you have much to say or only a little? Are you glad to be asked? At least you do not have to answer in front of eight people who are interviewing you for a job you want!
All Catholics should be able to answer this question. Every Catholic should know why he or she is Catholic—and not Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, or anything else. Every Catholic should be able to tell others why he or she is Catholic.
This question is crying for an answer at a time in world history when people only have more options of lifestyles and value systems and when more people than ever are willing to experiment with what it means to be human.
I will provide the answer. I will try not to give “my” answer. I will try to give the Church’s answer which I have summarized from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as they have been interpreted by the Magisterium. And so I will try to give God’s answer. I will have failed if any part of the rest of this column inadvertently contradicts Catholic Doctrine.
There are two basic answers to the question, “Why be Catholic?”
The first: God wants every human being to be Catholic.
The second: being Catholic is the best way to be a fulfilled, fully alive human being—regardless of age, ethnicity, income, occupation, gender, sexual orientation, location, culture, citizenship, disability, marital status, or any other factor.
God Wants Every Human Being to Be Catholic
The fullness of God’s Revelation, the complete Revelation of God, is Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, fully God and fully human, Who alone is (as we Catholics say in the Gloria) the Holy One, the Lord, the Most High.
Jesus Himself founded the Catholic Church. The first followers of Christ, the first Christians—the Twelve Apostles, St. Mary Magdalene, etc.—were Catholics, although that was the end result, not the initial result, of their encounter with Jesus. By the time Jesus ascended into Heaven, the first Christians had the Eucharist and Sacred Tradition but not all of Sacred Scripture, so they were not Protestants. And they had the leadership of St. Peter, so they were not Eastern Orthodox.
Jesus founded the Catholic Church for the same reason that God created us: in order to have a relationship with Jesus, His Father, and Their Holy Spirit. Jesus calls every human being to follow Him and to be His friend. The best way to have a relationship with Jesus is through the creed, morality, worship, and prayer of the Church.
- True or False? There is one true God.
- True or False? There is one true religion.
Although it is accurate to say that there is one true God, it is better to say that there is not one true religion, which would make all other religions completely false, but that there is one truEST religion.
There is goodness, truth, and beauty in non-Catholic religions and philosophies, but the fullness of truth, goodness, and beauty is in the Catholic religion. God’s Revelation can be found in non-Catholic religion, but God most fully reveals Himself in the Catholic Church. Non-Catholics, even atheists, might find eternal salvation (if they are sincerely doing their best to discover and live THE Truth), but God’s primary way to save the human race is the Catholic Church, in which alone (to put it most accurately) subsists the fullness of the means of salvation.
We have seen that we can start with God and take a kind of “top-down” approach. Be Catholic in order to be what the one true God wants every human being to be. Be Catholic because it is the best way (not the only way) to know, love, and serve God. Be Catholic because it is the best way (not the only way) to be a follower and friend of Jesus Christ. Be Catholic because it is the best way (not the only way) to reach eternal salvation.
The Best Way to Be Fulfilled
We can also start with human experience and take a kind of “bottom-up” approach. The best way to think, the best way to be happy, and the best way to be a good person is to be Catholic.
Be Catholic in order to think the best way. As St. John Paul the Great pointed out, there are two basic ways of thinking, of knowing the reality: (1) Faith, which is the knowledge that comes from God, and (2) Reason, which is the knowledge that comes humans figuring things out. Catholic thinking is the best way of knowing the truth about reality because it is the best way of harmonizing Faith and Reason.
It might be a surprise that there is a Catholic way of thinking, not just a Catholic way of acting (e.g., Mass every Sunday, being pro-life, etc.); but there really is a Catholic way of thinking. The Catholic way of thinking is the best way of harmonizing Faith and science, Faith and history, Faith and economics, Faith and psychology, Faith and every secular way of thinking.
The Catholic way of thinking will NOT eliminate all mystery, but it is the best way to wrestle with mystery. Mystery will not be eliminated for us human beings until we meet God face-to-face.
Be Catholic in order to be happiest. Let’s be clear about happiness. As St. Augustine says, human beings are really happy when they get not what they want, but what they should want.
What we humans should want is much more than feeling good. A happy life is not a life lived on an emotional high or physical high. What we should want is a good existence—a perfect existence even, which is much, much more than emotions and pleasure.
Being Catholic—real happiness—does not so much take us away from things as much as it puts things in their proper place and gives things their proper use so that things do not become false gods or dehumanizing. Being Catholic does not take us away from wine, romance, and song as much as it puts wine, romance, and song in their proper place so that we control them and they do not control us.
The greatest human happiness is loving and being loved, which is best done the Catholic way. It is my opinion that the Devil is currently having great success, including within the Church, by spreading a false definition of love and a false definition of happiness.
Perfect existence and therefore perfect happiness will only be in the Kingdom of God so even the best of Catholics will not be perfectly happy in this life. It is because we humans will only find perfect happiness in the Kingdom of God that we all have our crosses to bear in this life, and being Catholic is the best way to carry our crosses. It is because we will only find perfect happiness in the Kingdom of God that Death really is Sister Death, as St. Francis of Assisi called it, and being Catholic is the best way to deal with mortality.
Be Catholic for the best way to be a good person. A while back there was a popular book called The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Whatever insights that book offers, the seven greatest habits of the most highly successful people were offered by the Church long before that book. The seven greatest habits of the most highly successful people are the Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude and the Supernatural Virtues of faith, hope, and love. The key to becoming a good person is growing in these virtues.
Of course, no one is perfect and without sin, but nothing helps a human being deal with sins, weaknesses, and limits more than Catholicism does.
Being Catholic fulfills the deepest human needs and hopes. Of course, non-Catholics find some degree of truth, happiness, and being good. Be Catholic because it is the best way (not the only way) to know the truth—to value Reason and yet transcend Reason. Be Catholic because it is the best way (not the only way) to be happy and because it is the best way (not the only way) to be a good person.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
In summary, Why be Catholic? God’s answer is: Because it is what He wants and because it is what our human nature most deeply wants. Yes, God made us to know, love, and serve Him. Yes, Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Our English word Catholic comes from two ancient Greek words kat’ holon, which mean “according to (kat’) the whole (holon).”
So being Catholic is having (1) the whole, complete way of knowing, loving, and serving God and (2) the whole, complete way of being truly fulfilled. Be Catholic in order to not settle for partial truth, partial goodness, partial beauty and in order to not settle for reductionisms, mistakes, falsehood, evil, idolatry,
But there is another way in which Catholicism is holistic, the ultimate way of being holistic. Pleasing God and being fulfilled are two sides of the same coin—when we rightly understand God and we rightly understand human nature and fulfillment. St. Irenaeus rightly understood both God and human nature, which is why he said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”
Be Catholic in order to put together all the pieces of God, creed, worship, prayer, morality, salvation, Faith, Reason, truth, human nature, happiness, fulfillment, being good.
We human beings are restless. Sooner or later, we need more out of life. We get bored. Life gets stale. Be Catholic because it is the best way to find transcendence. St. Augustine deserves to be quoted as often as he is: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Until we find absolute rest in the Kingdom of God, the best way to find rest is in the creed, morality, worship, and prayer of the Church. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, the greatest adventure in the world is orthodoxy. It is the best way to find transcendence from human restlessness and to participate in the greatest adventure.
Finally, one quick reason NOT to be Catholic: Do not be Catholic in order to belong to a perfect organization. Only the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of God. The Church is both a Divine and a human organization. In spite of the truth, goodness, and beauty of Catholic doctrine and life, the Church has always been and always will be comprised of sinners, like me.