I was writing a nice long post about how I really liked being Catholic, but I don’t completely agree with everything the Church teaches. Which led to the question of exactly how much can I disagree with and remain a “faithful Catholic” (on my own terms, not judging what being a “faithful Catholic” means to anyone else) and at what point should I just admit I’m a Protestant at heart and become an Episcopalian.
Calah had a fantastic quote from Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being:
I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.
To Calah, being Catholic is so much less stressful than her non-denominational Baptist-y background. Even if she does worry about constantly being “barefoot and pregnant”, she doesn’t have to worry about going to hell for getting things wrong:
I don’t have to defend the faith on all sides lest it collapse; it won’t collapse, because it is truth. Most of all, though, I no longer have to be afraid of finding truth outside my own belief system. There is truth everywhere, in all religions. God loves us so much that he reaches out to us in every way he can. I believe that Catholicism is the most fully realized, most complete path to Christ on this earth, but I also believe that truth is not confined to one set of doctrines, one branch of Protestantism, one prayer that must be prayed to achieve salvation. It cannot be, or it would be nothing more than Flannery’s electric blanket, keeping a select few warm, requiring nothing from them, and leaving all the rest out in the cold. Truth is so much larger than that. God is so much vaster than we imagine. And we are not passive vehicles in the terrible drama of redemption, dung-hills being covered by Christ just because.
The Catholic Church teaches that there can be no conflict between faith and reasoning. Faith leads to truth and reason leads to truth and truth cannot contradict truth. Any apparent conflict must be due to misunderstood faith or improper reasoning.
Honest Mistakes vs. Sins
But we are human. We misunderstand faith and reason improperly ALL. THE. TIME. We get it wrong. We strike out. We screw up.
Sin is not a mistake. Sin is a deliberate choice. A failure to love. An act of rebellion and disobedience. It is choosing Lucifer’s “Non serviam” over Mary’s “fiat.” It is an inversion of the obedience of Jesus—the insistence that “My will, not thine, be done.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”
1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.
The Catholic Church teaches that our consciences tell us whether something is right or wrong. Our duty is to follow our consciences and do the right thing. Our natures are generally good, if imperfect, not totally warped and depraved. It is not a sin to make an honest mistake.
Such mistakes, however, may arise from other failings. We have an obligation to inform and educate our consciences about what God wants, and remaining in willful ignorance is a sin. And even an honest mistake has negative consequences.
This belief in truth and in the human conscience has saved Catholics the some of the rather bizarre debates I have seen on Protestant sites. (Many Catholics are incredibly naive about how some, shall we say, “very conservative” Protestants can interpret Scripture.) The Catholic Church teaches that our salvation depends on the status of our souls, not on the status of our doctrine.
It’s also what keeps the large, dysfunctional Catholic Church family together. When a headline on an evangelical blog warns of the “The Coming Evangelical Split”, my Catholic mind can only reply “Again?”
A “Faithful Catholic”
So, I think I have my answer about what it means to me to be a “faithful Catholic”.
To be a “faithful Catholic” does not mean that one must blindly obey the Pope. Instead, it means that one must constantly seek God, who is Truth. It means recognizing that the Magisterium of the Church is a valuable teacher, from whom we can learn much about the truth, but it also means recognizing that we can learn truth from other sources.
Seeking the truth means always questioning. And there is a tremendous amount of relief in realizing that it is OK to question because the answers are all around us. God is not hiding the truth from us or making us search it out like a hidden treasure. He is broadcasting it to the world and guiding us to it through the Holy Spirit. God wants us to question because He wants to lead us to the answer.
Therefore, the answer to the question “How can I question and still be a faithful Catholic?” is “How can I not question and still be a faithful Catholic?”