Today this will be a somewhat more personal post, written more as a way to sort out my own thoughts than for the edification of any (regular) readers that I might have. That being said, I hope you’ll forgive me if it seems a bit clunky and disconnected.
These past two years – especially the last one – have seen a reduction in blog posts, not because I didn’t feel I had anything to say, but rather because I have been digesting ideas and events in my life. With all that has happened I have been put in a position where I have had to re-evaluate what it means to be a Catholic: things and people that one needed to agree with; things one needed to do; ways one needed to act; opinions one needed to hold; etc.
I believe reducing my Catholic blog reading some years ago to almost nil helped me to start down the path to some clarity. While initially I wished to be “up-to-date” with all that was happening in Rome, to keep abreast of the internal struggles, I found that this took away a lot of my inner peace. I took a step back and began to ask myself: “Do I really need to know these things? Are these bloggers in possession of all the facts? Is there anything that I can do in my state of life that can actually make a difference?” As I became more critical of the things I read, the more it seemed to me that most of the blogs were not informative, but just a form of gossip. And so, I snipped these off.
On another front, digging into history and actual parish registers and local ecclesial documents, I found a much “messier” and complex world than the nice and tidy narrative I heard from the pulpit. There were no good old days (which should have been obvious given saints and preachers of old have always been denouncing their own generation as the worst of all). To think that we live in some unprecedented time of crisis is to have historical blinders on. There really is nothing new under the sun. I began to have little patience for the facile narratives spread in certain circles. When I presented historical facts and documents to counter these narratives, I was normally met with confused silence or I was simply brushed off, especially the latter when I was dealing with clergy. No; there has never been a clean and tidy, “academic”, Catholicism.
This past year has seen an even greater polarisation of people everywhere. This polarisation has led to the most outlandish conspiracy theories. I have heard things from fellow Catholics and wondered “can you not hear how absurd and far-fetched these things you are saying sound; can you not hear your own words?” These things are then treated as dogma. “If you are a good, devout Catholic, you MUST believe this.” To this I would simply ask “Does being Catholic mean I must leave reason at the door? Does it mean I must be gullible and credulous? Because last I checked, that was not the case.” I sometimes wonder if a non-believer walked in off the street and heard certain conversations (or checked Catholic social media) would they be convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith, or would they immediately do an about face and run off? Still on the polarisation theme, I noticed people (even previously moderate people) entrenching themselves in the “us vs. them” mentality. Again, facile narratives, historical ignorance and pride have not helped this at all. I began to find ecclesial parochialism – focusing solely on Rome and forgetting that the Church is much greater than just the Latin church – or the downright disregard for non-Latin Catholics to be quite taxing.
I have tired of all kinds of monikers for Catholics – conservative, liberal, traditionalist, progressive, modernist, etc. They are useful, but only to a certain extent, and I often wonder if they actually haven’t lost their use, the way people bandy them about. We tend to categorise, to stick things into nicely classified, hermetically sealed boxes, to help make sense of the complex world we live in. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is when we forget that this is just a prop and mistake the model for reality. There is not one of us that fits into these nicely defined categories I mentioned. If there is someone, then they will be the exception that proves the rule. Conflating model and reality seems, to me at least, to then take one down some very strange rabbit holes in attempts to explain the “inconsistencies”.
These, and a few other issues, are what I have/had been grappling with. They made me realise the amount of things which I had assumed were part and parcel of Catholicism, of what it meant to be a “good Catholic” are actually not. They are not essentials. They are not dogmas. Many aren’t even doctrine. I dare say, a good portion is just ideology, in the pejorative sense.
So what then, you may ask, does it mean to me to be Catholic? I have come to the conclusion that, among other things, it means that one has to accept life in all its complexity and the uncertainty which that brings.
I am dogmatic about dogma (pardon the pun), but little more besides. In matters where there the Church allows for a diversity of opinion, I do not hold my own as the correct one.
Accepting life in its complexity has meant that my apparent foundations have washed away. The “absolute certainties” I had about certain things are gone.
Does that mean, however, that I am losing my faith? Have I stopped believing? How has this affected my living out my faith? As I mentioned above, much pruning has been in order. I have tried to refocus on the basics. I have redoubled my commitment to study the Fathers and the Scriptures. I have tried especially to keep my mouth shut, to speak only when asked to and only about those things which I have knowledge of. I have tried to “explain away” as much as possible the sins of others, reminding myself all the while that “there, but for the grace of God, go I”. I have reminded myself that many times much of the wrong in the world is due to ignorance and stupidity than rather pure malice. I have reminded myself that the world is Our Lord’s creation, and that He has left seeds of truth here and there for those who have not yet heard His Bride, so that when they do hear her they well recognise the Truth of which she speaks. I have realised that I don’t have to evangelise everyone I meet. I have my circumstances and station in life; first and foremost I am a husband and a father. That is where my main focus of evangelization lies currently – to ensure that I pass on the Faith to those closest to me. I remind myself of the need of conversion of life.
As the foundations of familiar and easy narratives wash away, you would think the edifice would come tumbling down. And yet, it has not. For as the sand is removed and the edifice totters, a rock foundation appears beneath, holding it from collapsing completely. As false certainties erode, the only true certainty makes itself known in a peculiar way. As unknowing looms large, He looms even larger. As one steps into the unknown, one clings to Him with all one’s might.
Can I make sense of all that is going on around me? Maybe not. But perhaps He does not ask me to make sense of it. He has never made my salvation dependent upon my understanding the world. Rather, he has made it childishly simple – to seek Him and to trust Him, as a child seeks its parents in the face of the strange world around it. As certainties slip away and I reach out to Him more and more, I have to ask – have the complexities of life put me on the path to a simple faith?