Blog Template Theology of the Body: Why I’m a Catholic, Final Bit

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why I’m a Catholic, Final Bit

I am a Catholic because I need to be Catholic.

Sometimes, when people tell me that they cannot understand why anyone would want to be part of a such an antiquated, structured, hierarchical institution like the Catholic Church, I feel as though I’ve been asked to justify the reasons why a person would need a home or a family. Certainly the silly case can be made (as our culture often insists) that people don’t need homes or families, that individual autonomy and exploration is more valuable and important than anything else, that self-sufficient self-discovery is adequate for human flourishing. But it’s all a lie.

I know that the myth of flourishing in self-sufficiency is a lie first hand, because like a lot of my generation, I am a young woman who has lived alone in the modern American city. But more than that, I grew up on a ranch in Texas, and I know (as a lot more of our developing world knows) of coming home late at night through the country. It’s a simple thing. Under the vast Texas skies, which darken quickly, the drive from the little town on the edge of nowhere takes you through a lonely front gate, away from the main road and then down dark, deep roads that take up the better parts of hours. There are no lights around, no means of communication with anyone, no links to safety and companionship. The shadows hang over the road, and they are sinister, and you are all alone and very fragile in the night. But then you finally round a bend in the road, and you see the glimmer of your own home, the solid island of warmth and safety, where there is a fire burning, and dinner being made, and games being played, and a father praying for the peace and safety of the children that he will tuck into their beds when the time comes. There is no feeling quite like that sight of your home down the road.

I feel that way about the Catholic Church. People often say that to become Catholic after trying something else feels just like “coming home,” (I remember reading about a respected friend who said that "it just feels wonderful") and I really think there is no better way to describe it. While the world is full of other sorts of way stations and mission outposts and even comfortable inns, where one can find a warming fire and a nourishing table, these are only places on the way. That’s the way I felt this time last year, just before I was received into the Church. I had loved the temporary ecclesial lodgings I had enjoyed, but up ahead, I could see the permanent place where I was supposed to live, and it felt a little bit like heading towards home; only this Church, with its papal father and interceding mother, and army of spiritual fathers, brothers, and sisters was also the sort that was not just for me and my interests. It was this home that could be a home for the homeless and fatherless, wherein all people of every shape, size, and culture could grow and be nourished, and which, in its integral unity, could show the rest of the world how to live.

Blessed Duns Scotus once wrote that our habits should be postulated not only so that power might act rightly, but so that we might act promptly, and with delight. This is a good summary of my experience of becoming a Catholic. I know that here I am being formed, however slowly, by an absolutely trustworthy authority that has its subsistence in Jesus. There are no longer any hesitations having to do with the need to carefully pick and choose from a myriad of theological interpretations, or of aligning myself with a trustworthy authority; rather, there is a new ability to live spontaneously and to share well-defined truth readily.

And lastly, there is the delight and joy for which we were made. I am happy in this Church; I love being a Catholic.

I remember asking a Catholic campus ministry worker a few years ago whether I, MM, would make sense as a Catholic. I explained to her in some detail the apparent problems; I loved the aspects of Reformed theologies that trace their origin to Nominalist Catholics, as I still do. I was a bit of a charismatic. I was certainly an evangelical. I wanted a safe and universal church into which I could lead others in good conscience. I wanted to protect the poor as well as the unborn in and through a community that was unified enough to take on the perishing nations of the world and all their illnesses. I wanted to study the Christian faith seriously, and to live fully in the same community that had originally embraced the Scriptures. I wanted to worship beautifully, whether I was in Congo or Dallas, in the world's first missionary community that could still address my personal constant state of culture shock from always traveling too much. Could I remain myself and still be a Catholic, I wondered? I remember the response that I got: the true Church is broad; she encompasses every culture, and she alone can embrace every person.

-And it’s true. The human person is a vast estate, and the Catholic Church is the only situation in the world that’s big enough to hold her in such a way so that she can really grow, without hesitation, without unneeded anxieties and enclosure, and without compromise.

I suppose if I were asked to summarize my description of my conversion, I would use the words of two Protestants who I love. The first is Charles Wesley, who glibly expresses the latent heart of Scholastic theology in this way: "what shall I render to my God, for all His mercy’s store? I’ll gladly take the gifts He gives, and humbly ask for more.”

And then there is the second powerful idea, stated by Karl Barth: "the essential mandate to which the call of God to the Christian can be reduced is this: ‘receive yourself and your world as a new creation.’"

...It's with ideas such as these that I might best try to describe my conversion. There is much more to be said, because I have much more growing and learning to do. I am unbelievably imperfect, and my breath is taken away almost daily by the patience and gentleness that is extended to this little, impetuous convert by her family and friends. And in the end, I hope that in the mercy of our Christ, my confession will end up in the place where I began- just with the scandalously simple understanding that the God who prepares a Church for His Son has seen fit to call to me.

Maybe the best way to put my still-forming conversion is with these words, which I want on my tombstone:

We shall keep our vision still;
One moment was enough,
We know we are not made of mortal stuff.
And we can bear all trials that come after,
The hate of men and the fool's loud bestial laughter
And nature's rule and cruelties unclean-

For we have seen the Glory...we have seen.

Thank you all for bearing with me in these bits of my conversion story.