How I learned to stop worrying and love the Church
March 14, 2014 § 62 Comments
Part of the “Francis Effect” has been the encouragement of heretics and the discouragement of the orthodox, and I don’t want to discount the importance of all that. But I can’t help get the impression that most people expect the wrong sorts of things from the Church. Most modern people, including modern Catholics, seem to see the Church primarily as a teacher of Christianity through verbal discourse: as a kind of intellectual or apologetical classroom for teaching Christianity (and other things besides) on a big chalkboard. Christianity is viewed as salvation science, and the purpose of the Church is to bring salvation skills and knowledge – salvation technology – to whomever approaches to sit in the classroom, buy the textbooks, and earn the degree.
So we are told that we should be Catholics because the propositions produced by the Church proposition-factory, a.k.a. the Magisterium, are true — with caveats. Protestants take a similar view, but their proposition factory is the text of the Bible (or some redacted portion of it) combined with whatever authoritative hermeneutical system they’ve implicitly adopted from outside of the text while pretending not to have adopted a particular authoritative hermeneutical system from outside of the text.
But this is to misunderstand the basic nature of the Church, in my view. It certainly doesn’t correspond to the reasons why I, personally, am and shall remain Roman Catholic. Staying with the Church because it is a doctrine-factory that produces (mostly) true doctrines seems to me to miss the point entirely, and sends a great many people down the rabbit hole. There are a number of good reasons to be Catholic (or a member of one of the other rites in communion with the Pope). The (highly conditional) reliability of the Church as a doctrinal-proposition-factory is probably even one of them, though it should not be first on the list. Our Protestant friends suffer so much under the weight of “Churchianity” in part because they only see “the Church” as a teacher, and a particular kind of teacher at that — a discursive teacher who teaches almost entirely using words in the form of lectures (sermons) and reading.
But this is not the Catholic understanding at all.
Remember, as Christians we aren’t saved (or damned) because we have adopted the right (or wrong) sets of propositions. We are saved because God has adopted us – if we choose to cooperate with His love and grace. And the ordinary means that He uses to impart His love, to gift us with His grace is – because He has chosen for it to be – the Sacraments.
And the Catholic Church (along with those other rites in full communion with the Pope of Rome) are the only place to go to receive valid, licit Sacraments. The best (and in my view only) reason to be specifically Catholic is because God loves us, we love Him in return, and as our Father and Master he has ordained how we are to respond to His love and receive it in obedience. This is on His terms, not ours. We cannot do otherwise without cutting ourselves off from His love, from His concrete gift of grace to us in the form of the Sacraments.
So while I don’t want to discount the importance of the intellectual struggles that others have, brought on by the toxic combination of modern attitudes with ultramontanism, I do wish that others could find their peace with it. And I think that peace is within easy grasp once we have our priorities right — once we stop trying to impose a modernist template onto our understanding of the Church.