|Christ Gives the Keys of the Kingdom to Peter |
Painted by Pietro Perugino in 1481 and 1482
Let's be frank here. Why would any Catholic remain a Catholic if he/she didn't actually believe that the Catholic Church is the one, true Church? I mean, seriously, why? I wasn't always Catholic you know. I am a convert. I know (first-hand experience) what it is like to be multiple different kinds of Christian. I know what it's like to be a Lutheran. I know what it's like to be a Baptist. I know what it's like to be an Evangelical. I know what it's like to be an Anglican too. I know what it's like to be all of these things, and you know what? In comparison to Catholicism -- it's easier!
That's right, in my own personal experience, it's much easier to be a Lutheran, Baptist, Evangelical and Anglican than it is to be a Catholic. In fact, it's vastly easier. There is less structure, less discipline and less rules in all of these Christian faiths. Why on earth would anyone want to follow Catholic rules on birth control when just about every other Christian denomination says it's perfectly okay and there is nothing wrong with it? Why on earth would anyone want to follow Catholic rules on mass attendance when just about every other Christian denomination says it's perfectly okay to skip a Sunday and go fishing once in a while? Or go to church on Wednesday instead of Sunday, or pick whatever day you like! Why on earth would anyone want to go to a confessional when just about every other Christian denomination says you can just privately confess your sins to God and keep it a secret? Why, oh why, would any Christian choose to remain Catholic when there are so many simpler and easier Christian denominations out there to choose from? I mean, seriously, if you want all the smells and bells of Catholicism, and still want to call yourself "catholic," but never have to follow all these strict rules, there is a very easy option out there. It's called Anglicanism, and in North America, it is virtually indistinguishable from Catholicism in outward appearance. There is an Episcopal (Anglican) parish in just about every city and town, especially in the United States. Don't believe me? Have a look and see for yourself. I just bet there's one near you.
My point here is that as a Christian in the United States, you can literally have it all. You can pick whatever form of Christianity you like, with any level of discipline and practice you like. You can even be 99% "catholic" by becoming a member of The Episcopal Church. Heck! If the Episcopalians are too liberal for you, you can even pick a slightly more conservative brand in the Anglican Church of North America. The United States of America has got it all! You don't need to be Roman Catholic, and follow all those rules and regulations, when you don't have to. Some of these churches, like the Anglican (Episcopalians), consider themselves "catholic" too, minus the "Roman" part.
So why would any Christian want to be a Roman Catholic, if he/she doesn't actually believe what the Catholic Church teaches? That's the mystery for me. What is it? Is it because of some kind of wacky cultural attachment? I'm thinking of mafia types as an example. Here you have a bunch of ruthless thugs who clearly don't believe or practice anything of the Catholic faith, but remain members of the Catholic Church anyway, mainly for cultural reasons. Everyone knows they don't believe or practice the faith, but they like to put on a religious show (so to speak) for the benefit of their family and neighbours, and to hide their clearly unCatholic and unChristian life of crime. I suppose another type might be your politicians and media persons, who again remain Catholic for much of the same reasons as the mobsters. They like to fool themselves, and their neighbours, into believing they're devoutly religious people, when in fact everyone knows they're not. I suppose I understand this reason, though I think its highly unnecessary and a little silly, especially in the United States where nobody really cares what type of religious show you put on.
What really confuses me is regular, ordinary, everyday Catholics. I'm talking about regular, working-class Christians, who are technically members of the Catholic Church, but clearly don't believe what the Catholic Church teaches. Why remain members? Is it for the same wacky cultural reasons as the mafia, politicians and media? I'm not so sure. These regular working-class people don't have to worry about putting on a public show of religion to maintain a certain image. They're just regular people, and like I said, this is America. Nobody here cares what religion you are. Seriously folks, this is a Secular society. Nobody freaking cares! So why remain Catholic if you don't believe it?
I suppose for some people it might be a social aspect. Maybe they've made friends in the Catholic Church, and they're afraid to leave them behind. I suppose I could really see this being the case with women. The female side of our species is highly social in nature. I can understand why they wouldn't want to leave the Catholic Church over friends. But let's seriously think this through, shall we? If you lose your Catholic friends by leaving the Catholic Church, were they ever really your friends to begin with? Wouldn't real friends be your friends no matter what? Let me tell you, when I left Evangelicalism I found out who my friends really were. I came to find out I had a lot less than I thought. But you know what? When I joined the Catholic Church I made a whole lot of new friends. So if friends are the only thing keeping you in the Catholic Church, then I would challenge you to reconsider. Who are your real friends? Wouldn't those be the people who remain your friends no matter what church you go to?
Perhaps it's the word "Catholic" that people are attached to. Maybe, like the mafia, politicians and media persons, they just like calling themselves "Catholic" and can't imagine thinking of themselves as anything else. I'm mentally picturing the "devoutly Catholic" mobster who dutifully puts 10% of his blood money into the collection plate at mass every Sunday, then kneels for communion on the tongue (oh so reverently) so everyone can see. I'm thinking of an "ardently Catholic" politician who proudly declares her Catholic faith on television, as she follows by defending her pro-abortion political record. I'm thinking of the "altar boy Catholic" news anchorman who continuously reminds his audience what a pious family he comes from, as he presents himself as an "expert" on the Church, all the while misrepresenting and maligning it. Perhaps its a similar motivation here, that the word "Catholic" has just come to mean nothing more than a cultural identity. It's sort of like being Italian, Mexican, French or Irish. It's just a cultural identifier. Still, I have to ask, why? This is America. Nobody cares here. People care no more for your religious preference than they do for your ancestral homeland. So once again, I must ask, who are you trying to fool? Everybody knows you don't believe what the Catholic Church teaches. Everybody knows you don't follow these teachings. So why carry on the charade?
So now we are entering a time in America when it will soon be very unpopular to be a believing and practising Catholic. We've already seen how the Secular Left, the Neo-Marxists, and now even high-ranking officials in the Democratic Party, have decided that the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic -- meaning one who doesn't believe or practise what the Church actually teaches. We have seen how those on the political Left find authentic and historic Catholic teaching "offensive" and demand that all Catholics abandon it. We have official resolutions from the City of San Francisco actually claiming this publicly. We have senators in the United States Senate actually saying this on television. We have media news people and pundits snidely insinuating this in their broadcasts and in print. We have political action groups loudly screaming it in the streets. How long will it be (one year, two, three?) before it will be in vogue to actually declare it openly? "Yes, I'm Catholic, but I don't actually believe all that stuff." To which I must openly ask, why then say you're Catholic at all? Why put yourself through having to make endless disclaimers about your life, faith and beliefs? Why?
Then of course there are the Catholic bishops, many of whom have already caved into the popular culture at large. One of them, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego, who most recently declared in an article that any Catholic, who really and truly believes the faith, is a "cancer" in the Church. Don't believe me? Here's the article. Read it for yourself. Basically, if you're a Catholic, who believes what the Church teaches about homosexuality, and insists that Church officials (priests and bishops) should back what the Church teaches, then according to Bishop McElroy, you're a "cancer" in the Church. Of course everyone knows what the appropriate medical treatment is for cancer. You cut it out! So I must ask of Bishop McElroy, when do you plan to excommunicate every faithful and orthodox Catholic in your diocese, who actually believes what the Church teaches about homosexuality? Or are you just a paper tiger spouting off a lot of hot air? Yes, I'm calling your bluff, and I'm waiting to see. What will you do Excellency? Are your words empty? Are you afraid to back them with action?
You see with bishops like this, who needs the Leftists, Marxists and Democrats? With "friends" like this, who needs enemies? Clearly, not even some bishops believe what the Catholic Church teaches, so again I must ask, why be Catholic? Seriously, if I didn't believe what the Church teaches about marriage and sexuality, why would I believe what the Church teaches about leaving the Church? If homosexuality is not a sin, then neither is the so-called sin of "schism" or "apostasy." If I believed, as many Catholics do, that it's okay to be in an active homosexual relationship, and that divorce and remarriage is just fine even without an annulment, that contraception is always okay, and that in some circumstances abortion is too, then there is no reason for me to believe that there is something wrong with leaving the Catholic Church. I mean, what difference does it make, right? So long as I'm going to church somewhere, what difference does it make if it's Catholic, Anglican/Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, etc.? Come on folks! Just follow the logic here. If the Catholic Church is wrong about something as big as human sexuality, then it's probably wrong about Church membership too!
So why would any Catholic, who doesn't believe what the Church actually teaches, even remain Catholic? It's a mystery to me, and to be quite honest, I think it's stupid. It's one thing to disagree with the Church over prudential matters like immigration, gun control and national defence. It's one thing to disagree with the Church even on things like contraception, such as whether its always a mortal sin. But when you disagree with the Church over such clear-cut issues as abortion, euthanasia, divorce, adultery, same-sex "marriage," homosexuality, etc., what you're really saying is the Catholic Church has no real moral authority at all. It's all just one great big show of pomp and circumstance. So why be Catholic? Why carry on the charade? Why not be honest with yourself, and the world, and admit you're not really Catholic at all? I can see why some unfaithful clergy don't do this. They have a pension to look after. But if you're not drawing salary and benefits from the Catholic Church, why on earth would you stay? It doesn't make any sense. I'm sorry, but seriously, it's stupid. You have nothing really to gain, everything to lose, and you're living a lie.
So why would any self-respecting American remain a member of the Catholic Church?
I'll tell you why. The one and only reason why ANYBODY should remain a member of the Catholic Church is if one actually believes what the Catholic Church teaches. If one actually believes what the Church has to say about issues related to God, Christ, the gospel, the sacraments, human life, marriage, family, sexuality, money, morality, ethics and even Church membership, then I suppose one has a good reason to stay in the Church and remain Catholic. If Jesus Christ really did give the "Keys to the Kingdom" to St. Peter (Matthew 16:18-19) and he in turn passed them down to his successors the popes, then I suppose we probably ought to listen to the Catholic Church has to say about things. If the Catholic Church actually has the moral authority to tell us who God is, and what he wants, then I suppose it has the moral authority to tell us how we should behave in both our private and public lives. And if the Catholic Church actually has the moral authority to tell us how to behave in our private and public lives, then I guess it also has the moral authority to tell us what Church we should belong to.
It really is that simple folks. Either the Catholic Church has the moral authority to tell us how to live our lives, or it doesn't. You see, when I was a searching Anglican, I came to the logical conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church can be only one of two things. You see, because of the things it claims about itself, it could only be either (A) exactly what it says it is, the sole "pillar and foundation of truth" in the world as it says in 1 Timothy 3:15, or (B) it is the most diabolical religion ever created by Western man, precisely because it claims to be the sole "pillar and foundation of truth" in the world.
If the Catholic Church is what it says it is, then we had better believe what it teaches and live our lives accordingly, but if it is not, then the whole thing is a joke, and worse yet -- evil -- so we really should get out!
You see, there is not a single Protestant denomination that claims to be the only true Church. There is not a single Protestant denomination that claims to have been founded by Jesus Christ himself. There is not a single Protestant denomination that claims to be the sole "pillar and foundation of truth" in the world. Do you know what some American Protestants call a church that makes such claims about itself? -- a cult! That's right, they call it a cult. And I suppose they would be right, if the claims were not true. Nearly all Protestant denominations acknowledge that there are other churches nearly as good as themselves, and most Protestants (especially those in America) really don't believe it matters what church you belong to.
So the questions I want to leave you with are as follows...
- Is there really a "one, true Church" established by Jesus Christ?
- If so, which one is it?
- If not, why are you a member of a Church that claims to be it?
Let's be honest with ourselves here. Let's not kid ourselves any longer. If you're a member of the Catholic Church, and you don't believe the Catholic Church is the one, true Church established by Jesus Christ, then you're a hypocrite. If you're a member of the Catholic Church, and you don't believe the Catholic Church has the authority to tell you how to live you life on matters of marriage and sexuality, then you're a hypocrite. Why do you continue to support a Church that preaches things you don't believe in? It's hypocrisy, and quite frankly, it's rather stupid.
If, however, you really do believe the Catholic Church is the one, true Church established by Jesus Christ, and you still don't believe what the Church teaches on marriage and sexuality, you're still a hypocrite. Because you see, you claim to believe one thing out of one side of your mouth, then you say you don't out of the other side. It's a contradiction. It's hypocrisy. Of course we Catholics can argue over prudential matters that are not settled doctrine in the Catholic Church. With an informed conscience, we are allowed to think for ourselves! But when it comes to matters of established doctrine, like on marriage and basic human sexuality, then we had better be in agreement with the apostolic teaching of the Church, or else we are hypocrites.
Let's stop playing games here. This is America. Nobody is going to burn you at the stake for leaving the Catholic Church. You either stay because you want to be Catholic, or you go because you're just being honest with yourselves and you not really Catholic at heart anyway. Let's cut out the hypocrisy and charade.
Now, to my fellow Catholics who are struggling with some Church teaching, let me say you're not alone. I too have struggled with some Church teaching. I still struggle with some Church teaching now and then. That's what it means to be human of course. We're not all perfect, and we all struggle from time to time. I sin, ask forgiveness and I do penance, just like everyone else. There are some doctrinal and disciplinary areas I think the Church needs to spend more time working out. There are some disciplinary practices (not doctrinal but disciplinary) that I think the Church is just plain wrong about, and needs to change. But in all things, I accept the moral authority of the Catholic Church as having been given by Jesus Christ himself, to the apostles and their successors the bishops and priests. If you find yourself struggling, that's okay. We all struggle. What we must not do however, is decide that we know better than the Church, and start believing (and acting upon) ideas that are directly opposed to Catholic doctrine. It's one thing to sin, admit you're wrong, and repent. That's Catholic. It's another thing to sin, insist you're right, and tell the Church it needs to change its doctrine to accommodate your sin. That's not Catholic at all. That's heresy.
In the days ahead, as we have already seen, we're going to see faithful Catholic put on the proverbial "hot seat" for their beliefs and practices. They're going to be persecuted just for believing that the Catholic Church is the "one, true Church of Jesus Christ." Naturally, if a Catholic didn't believe that, he wouldn't really be Catholic now would he? Still, we know where the Left stands on this. We know they are willing to tolerate religion, only insofar as religion is kept as a personal hobby, and the religious person doesn't really believe what the religion teaches. Then the Left is fine with us. After all, to them the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic, meaning one who doesn't really believe the faith.
In the days ahead, as we have already seen, an increasing number of Catholic clergy (priests and bishops) will betray the faithful, and proverbially "throw them under the bus," in order to score points with their friends on the political Left. We've seen this happen already to staunchly faithful Catholic apostolates like Church Militant, The Wanderer and The Remnant Catholic newspapers. We've seen sweet little Mother Angelica assailed by Leftist bishops in the Church. Even some Vatican advisers, close to the Pope, have come out squarely against historic Catholic teaching and anyone who dares to defend it.
Truly, if you don't actually believe the Catholic Church is the one, true Church, and that what she has always taught is truth, then there really is no reason to remain Catholic. In America, there is no incentive given by the state, the media, nor society at large. Even support within the Church, by her own leadership, is rather slim these days.
No, the only reason to remain Catholic these days is if you truly believe it. If you don't believe it, and you remain in the Church anyway, then the only person you're really fooling is yourself, and honestly, you're making yourself look rather silly.
I know it may look like I'm trying to get people to leave the Church here. Actually I'm not. My motivation in writing this is to chide my fellow Catholics, to make them actually behave like Catholics, and stand up for the faith they say they believe in. That's why I'm writing this. I really don't want to see anybody leave the Catholic Church. What I really want is Catholics to start acting like Catholics again.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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