On remaining Catholic

20 05 2021

This post from OnePeterFive is making the rounds, and assuming it’s genuine, I have a number of thoughts about it. I would contrast this poor seminarian’s experience with my own, in the sense that I went to a traditionalist seminary precisely to get away from the problems he writes about. As a fellow seminary drop-out, I could smugly say that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, however, I would rather just jot down a few thoughts as someone who is “between confessions”, whatever that means (there are days I am confused about it myself).

To the big question, “Why remain Catholic?”, the only acceptable answer in my opinion involves putting blinders on and doing what you think is right regardless of whatever else happens to be going on. To be blunt, most Catholics by definition don’t care about the “state of the Church”. They are the NPCs (non-player characters) in the Catholic video game: they have no opinion. A friend who grew up during the Second Vatican Council said that, in his situation, the changes of the 1960’s made no immediate difference. The people who sat in the pews before the Council were sitting in the same pews after: a silent if aging majority. Those crazy enough to get involved with wider church politics were probably the same before the Council as they were afterwards. I take my own situation and think that, if one is to remain a Catholic with relative peace of mind, one has to have a small “faith community” that is supportive of one’s spiritual advancement and that is basically on the same page. Without this, all bets are off. All ecclesiology is ultimately local. I realize that “fringe communities” (both traditional and progressive) often butt heads with the local Ordinary over this and that. One has to then ask the question: How much of an “official” stamp of approval am I comfortable with? And from there, one has to negotiate official channels as needed. The point is: if you are not committed to a specific community but rather to some “abstract” theological / political position, you are just not going to have a good time of it.

The other factor I think about is whether one has a deep relationship with Jesus. That sounds super-Protestant, but in the end, this is where I get off the bus, so to speak. If you really believe in the Nicene Creed, that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son and Word of God, then you have a major decision to make, namely, which of the many, many paths that claim to be authentic is the real “Way of Jesus” is the real one? And that involves assessing historical and theological consistency, and a number of other factors. To me, however, I am and to a certain extent always was more concerned with finding a consistent, solid, and, honestly, aesthetically pleasing path to understand the ultimate reality behind it all. There were times in my life when traditionalist Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy seemed to be the answer, but not anymore. I just want to walk into a place and find beautiful things and a consistent message that is taught. I don’t really like the mundane modern world very much, I find it suffocating at times.

When I walk into a traditionalist Catholic church or an Orthodox church, I get the feeling I am walking into another reality, and honestly, I would rather live there, though I know now I can’t. On the other hand, especially with Catholicism, I know that if I walk into any random Catholic church in the world, I simply will not experience that. I will just experience “this world” in a slightly sacralized context. The 20th century Catholic reformers were okay with this; to a certain extent, that was their intention. I understand the reasoning behind it, I just don’t agree with it. I concluded a long time ago that I would never be comfortable in a “normal” Catholic church. My understanding of reality and the Supreme Truth diverges way too much from the lived practice of their faith. I emphasize “lived”, because, honestly, who cares what’s on the books? It’s what the people do on any given Sunday, or how they live their faith, and what their actual churches look like. Again, I understand the “why” behind it all, I just want no part in it.

[As for Orthodoxy, I have been over this, but for me at least, it reminds me of the problems of Catholicism, just on a smaller scale. Catholicism has so soured me on the “Way of Jesus” that trying to follow it in another very different context just doesn’t really cut it for me anymore. Honestly, if I have to become spiritually Russian or Greek to have a relationship with God, I might as well double down and become spiritually Bengali.]

If I were to assess the seminarian’s situation, this may not be particularly fair, but I would say that he needs to cut all of the politics out of his life and find a small faith community where he can exercise his faith in peace. He needs to cut out the “big picture” from his life for now. That is, if wants to stay in the Church or in Christianity at all. A lot of people just burn out and become non-believers. As a believer in the transmigration of souls, I think that’s even necessary in some cases, as devotion spans lifetimes, not just years. For me, what is paramount to faith is whether one can live it adequately or not. There will always be politics, personal crises, lukewarm believers, and (even in ISKCON, gasp!), heretics. The best way to proceed is to keep doing what you feel is right and not engage. Honestly, I don’t think this approach is particularly sustainable in Catholicism (the whole “universal” aspect of the religion indicates a claim that spans space and time). And one has to really ask oneself whether the “juice is worth the squeeze,” and that is where the relationship with Jesus comes in. The question is: Am I a Christian or not, and what does that even mean in our context? Or am I just in the Church because I was born into it, because I like pretty things, or its traditions spoke to me on one level, but it turns out that, for most of the Church, those traditions ultimately didn’t mean the same thing to them as they did to me? My attachment to the accoutrements of the Church meant more to me personally than a relationship to the God-Man Jesus, so honestly, it was not hard to leave and look elsewhere.

For those who still love Jesus and still consider Him their spiritual lord and master, I would say you have to bite the bullet and find which path is the most authentic in your situation. And then you have to follow it, regardless of the obstacles and difficulties. However, I would invite other disgruntled Catholics and Christians to ask themselves: Was Jesus ever the center of my life in the first place, or did I just like the smells n’ bells, the community, the consistent theology, the history, etc. etc.? Did I just like marginal things and didn’t really care about the “minor” detail of the essentials? If you fall into this category, I would invite you to look elsewhere for the next stage of your spiritual journey, regardless of how weird and unfamiliar things seem at first. But never be bitter towards the Church or Jesus as the Lord’s true devotee. They should always hold a special place in your heart, even if you moved on from them.



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