[NOTE: This post originally appeared in June 2015.]
As a response to a Pew Report that indicates significant numbers of people are leaving the Catholic Church, Patheos requested Catholic bloggers offer some thoughts on why they remain Catholic. Here I go.
First, I want to acknowledge that one can certainly find enough folly and corruption in the Church to want to leave (or never enter). But the folly and corruption in the Church is not unique to Catholics. It’s found everywhere human beings are found. If I were to leave the Church in response to the folly and corruption within her, I would soon find I’ve taken that folly and corruption with me – because it’s in me (not because I’m Catholic, but because I’m human). No one can escape the human condition.
I stay in the Church because I’ve come to believe that within her dwells, at the same time, both all the folly and corruption of the human condition and the only complete remedy for it. Within the Church we receive a “full access pass” to an infinite mercy and love that has not only “approached” us in our wounded humanity, but come within us to heal and restore us. And it’s done so not only in some “spiritual” way. Infinite love and mercy have become incarnate, manifested in the flesh and the Catholic Church claims to be the continuation in history of that incarnate mystery.
If the Church is Christ’s Body on earth, we should expect her to be bruised, broken, and blemished, just as he was. But we should also expect her to be headed toward a resurrection “without spot, wrinkle, blemish, or any such thing” (Eph 5:27). If it is indeed true that the Church is Christ’s Body on earth – bruised, broken, and headed for glory – then I want to be part of that, I want to “graft” my bruised and broken humanity into this “Body” and hang on for the ride: a ride that promises to take me to Infinity … and beyond!
Since I was very young, I’ve felt a wild, burning, ache inside for “something” … a cry in my chest for the infinite that I didn’t put there and that won’t let me go. “Through many dangers, toils, and snares,” I’ve come to discover with St. Augustine that the “whole of life” for someone truly living the Catholic faith “is a holy longing.” That’s our life as Catholics, Augustine insists, “to be trained by longing.” And this means that despite all the widespread impressions to the contrary, Catholicism is the religion of desire. It’s the religion that redeems eros (that mad cry of the heart for infinite love and union, for infinite truth, goodness, and beauty) by directing it to the union of love that alone can satisfy: the eternal “nuptials” of God and humanity, of Christ and the Church.
The saints recognized by the Church are those who’ve had the courage to feel the infinite abyss of longing in their souls and in their bodies and to open that longing in “the groanings of prayer” to the One who alone can heal their “wound of love.” I remain Catholic because I want that healing – I need that healing – more than oxygen. I remain Catholic because I’ve come to believe that the heavenly nuptials promised to the Church, the Bride of Christ, are the definitive answer to that cry in my heart for the infinite.
Sadly, Catholicism is thought to be a “religion of law” much more so than a “religion of longing.” But the Catechism of the Catholic Church doesn’t begin with a discussion of law. It begins with desire. Of course, there are “laws” within the Church, but each and every one of them serves only to point our longing in the right direction. As G.K. Chesterton astutely observed, “And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”
When the Catholic faith is not properly framed as God’s passionate desire for union with us and our quest for the true satisfaction of eros in union with him, it eventually becomes incomprehensible and even meaningless. More than that, it can even morph into something destructive to our humanity. In the words of the late Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, “Religion is either the reasonable quest for the satisfaction of all the original desires of the heart, or it is a dangerous, divisive, harmful waste of time.” I know many people are convinced Catholicism is the latter. I’m convinced it’s the former. That’s why I’ll never leave the Catholic Church. To do so would be to betray the deepest cry of my heart.
Image by Bing Wright, Creative Commons.
For such a time as this have we been given Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. By taking us beyond the alternatives of prudish repression and damaging indulgence, the Theology of the Body opens the path to the redemption of sexuality and the real healing of our wounds. Learn more by watching my short film, The Cry of the Heart. Watch the trailer below.