Explanations and defenses of the truth of the Catholic faith tend to be written by converts. Perhaps this is natural and to be expected: a convert, by definition, has changed his or her set or system of beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible and the Church (among others) from alternative views, and has had to learn the new one through extensive research, study, thoughtful consideration, prayer, and often not a little anguish. Catholic converts often tend to be not only more committed than “cradle” Catholics (those born and raised in a Catholic household), having had to make a deliberate choice to enter the Church, sometimes in the face of fierce opposition, but they are also often better informed because of this research, etc. than those raised in the bosom of the Church. The reason cradle Catholics sometimes know less than their recently adopted brethren is probably manifold, no doubt including perhaps the less-than-optimal religious education in Catholic circles for the last two generations. But it also, no doubt, comes from the fact that growing up in an environment accepting of Catholic teachings, lifelong adherents might neither have challenged their fellows nor were challenged to explain the doctrines which they and everyone they know had always believed.
Because I fit squarely into in the latter group of cradle Catholics, I was a little at a loss for words when a religiously skeptical college student asked me, point blank, why are you Catholic. I had been Catholic my whole life, and while I was teaching philosophy of religion and various classes on Catholic doctrine, I had thought about various truths of the Catholic faith, but I had never had to give a complete account as to why I believed as I did. My upbringing, in a certain way, explains my current belief (I might believe differently had I been raised differently) but many other cradle Catholics with the same or similar upbringing as I are no longer practicing Catholics. Besides, I knew that this student (and now I) sought more than mere biography, but rather an apologia, a reasoned defense, of why I believed as I did. This is what I hope to offer in the series of presentations here commencing.
I wasn’t quite born Catholic (no one is) but was baptized Catholic within a few days of being born, and was raised Catholic in a family of ten children, with a priest for an uncle. I attended twelve years of Catholic school, and would go on to want to be a priest myself, for a time, before leaving seminary and earning a doctorate in philosophy (especially of Saint Thomas Aquinas) from a Catholic university in Texas. I think what set me on a path that would ultimately culminate in trying to explain and defend the Catholic faith was being told that God is “all good and deserving of all my love.” That last phrase comes from a Catholic prayer called the Act of Contrition (an elaborate way of saying ‘I’m sorry’) which I learned as a small boy in preparation for my First Confession.
I have prayed, and continue to pray, the Act of Contrition, throughout my life, and that phrase, “all good and deserving of all my love,” has always stuck with me, and goaded me to want to be a priest (for a time) and to want to eventually earn that doctorate. That phrase pushed me to want to understand how there can be a God who is all good, especially when there is a lot in the world that is not-so-good, especially in myself and my own actions (hence my praying the Act of Contrition and going to confession). It also made me want to know why or how He is deserving of, and so owed, all my love. It didn’t seem that this phrase meant I was supposed only to love God and nothing else since I was often confessing that I had not loved my parents or siblings as I ought, among other sins.
Obviously, my thoughts, while inspired by this phrase, were not circumscribed by it. My fascination with God being all good and deserving of all my love was not my only early theologically inspired musing. I remember about this time, asking my mother whether the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were God in the way various people together were Congress. She replied that she wasn’t sure how God is a Trinity, but she was pretty sure that that was not it. From these musings and many more questions I would raise, one thing they taught me was that simply because I, or some other Catholic teacher, could not answer a question to my satisfaction, and that in some respect I knew more about the faith to the extent I found their answer inadequate, I should not dismiss the Catholic faith out of hand, and certainly not at such a young age, because the teacher seemed to me deficient. I thought there should be good answers to such questions from some who clearly would know more than me, and so, after a pretty complacent high school career and brief foray into engineering in college (where I encountered some who challenged the truth of my faith), I found that there are in fact Catholics who did and do know more about the faith than I do, and who offer pretty good and compelling answers to such questions.
Pursuing questions such as these, along with a great many other factors, led me to learn, and over the years have confirmed me in the knowledge, that the Catholic Church provides the right and proper way, the standard way (with the help of His grace) to satisfy my debt to give God what He deserves, viz. all of my love. Hopefully, with this series of presentations, I will be able to show that you, too, can know there is a God who is all good and deserving of all your love, and that being Catholic is the appropriate way for you to do that. And, moreover, that this will constitute the most tremendous experience in the history of the entire universe: to achieve complete and utter fulfillment and happiness by being united forever in the loving embrace of God. I know! Pretty awesome!
But unless you are already Catholic, and Catholic at a pretty high level of popishness, these claims may strike you as literally unbelievable. Who can say there really is a God? And how good could he really be? All good? Maybe pretty good, and deserving of some of my love, but surely not all of it. After all, there are our spouses and children, America!, and cake for us to love. (Spoiler: we love these things rightly when they are part of all the love which we deservingly give God.) And being Catholic? Seriously?
It may seem, too, that I might be overselling the thrill of being Catholic. You may know some Catholics, or be one yourself, and it is a rare soul who regularly gives the impression of being engaged in the most tremendous experience in the history of the entire universe. Mostly, we Catholics are a reserved lot, normally not dramatically distinguishable from anyone else, (mostly) trying to avoid sin, especially mortal ones (or repenting of them – see the Act of Contrition, above), or doing our best simply to live out the truths of the faith, much less succeeding at such a task nor in understanding them all. And this is true; much of the lived-experience of what I am arguing for is not the thrill-a-minute I may have given the impression it is supposed to be. This most tremendous experience is technically referred to as the Beatific Vision, the eternal loving embrace of God, and it is ultimately the promise of heaven, so for most of us, we will literally die before experiencing the fullness of it. But some saints, we Catholics believe, experience a greater share of it before they die, and just about every committed Catholic has had some inklings and flashes of what this tremendous experience is like, and the life of faith is or should be one of living more deeply the truth that God has already embraced us in His infinite love, knowing it is true whether or not we always feel like it is. The truth of the arguments I’m going to present, though, do not depend on such spiritual experiences, and while helped by them, it is often the truths we cling to in faith which allow us to remain committed even when being Catholic doesn’t feel all that tremendous.
So, I may have set for myself an impossible task: laying out a compelling case that you can find ultimate fulfillment in knowing and loving God by living your life as a committed Catholic. To some readers, I might as well promise a stronger chakra by practicing nephomancy (cloud reading): no practice so arcane and odd would seem to conduce to a benefit so opaque. So, while it might be supremely unlikely that anyone would become a committed Catholic from simply reading what I present here, I might yet be able to explain and clarify what benefit we Catholics believe we derive from the admittedly odd observances that constitute living our faith, and to present a case for why living the Catholic faith makes coherent sense and coheres with the way we know the world is.
Periodically, I will add to and update this ongoing explanation for the truth of the Catholic faith (which, essentially, is why I am Catholic, and why you should be, too).