Roman Catholicism - An Apologia
Maria Castro de Vásquez
Fr. Ramón Sarmiento and other priests
Anything I will say after this is just embellishment. Roman Catholicism, being the true form of Christianity, is all about life, and I have shown you examples of this life. In the end, however, it would help me to try and synthesize all that I learned from these people, along with many who are still living and continue on this pilgrimage through this valley of tears.
First of all, I believe the Catholic Church is the true Church primarily because of what’s wrong with it. The Roman Catholic Church for me is the most human institution ever conceived. It is so human because it aims to be divine, and it fails miserably in so many ways. But those of us in it continue to push on, trying to save our souls from hell and not lose our faith in humanity at the same time. The Catholic Church is a church with a 95% failure rate. It belongs to the greedy, the ambitious, the cowards, the hypocrites, the lukewarm, and the lechers. But it is that five percent who are saints, or that five percent of the time when we actually behave decently, like Christ wants us to behave, that makes it all worth it. When it works, when it all comes together, when you can actually see the Holy Ghost working through others and through yourself…. that is what keeps us going. And often it is enough to storm Heaven and the very heart of God.
I cannot defend all of the controversial doctrines that inflate comment boxes all over the Internet. Needless to say, I believe in purgatory, in vicarious satisfaction, indulgences, and papal primacy (very “iuxta modum”) because that is what I was taught. At worst, many of these doctrines can be received and believed in a very childish and pompous manner. At best, they can be accepted in a very child-like and thankful manner. I am striving for the latter. For example, the priests who taught my grandparents in rhymes to pray for the souls in purgatory taught them the highest form of compassion imaginable: helping those (the holy souls) who are unable to help themselves. Every time someone dies, the entire family gets together to say a rosary novena. What takes place is a get-together lasting nine nights when relatives meet to pray, eat, talk, remember and cry. In the face of death, we realize that we still have each other, and that family is the highest thing a human being can be a part of since God Himself is a family. All of this because of the doctrine of purgatory that some old priest taught some illiterate peasants so many years ago. Who am I to question it, to dwell on nuances, and to show off my knowledge of the “purer doctrine” that the early Christians supposedly believed? All that I know about God has been handed down to me from these people.
If I have settled again in the Roman Catholic Church, it is because I have decisively concluded that when you don’t find your ecclesiastical Shangri-la, the best thing to do is return home. And then you find that home is not such a bad place after all. I am not optimistic about the future of the Roman Catholic Church. I really don’t think that a “good Pope” can even begin to fix all of the problems that the Church is going through. Nor do I think that the Roman Catholic Church will be saved from the crises that such bodies as the Anglican Communion are now facing. My belief in the indefectibility of the Church does not go that far because God is always eager to yank us away from our attachments to visible things. The Church does not necessarily mean the Vatican, the hierarchy, or even the Papal office as we know it now. We are too ignorant to know what it means for the gates of Hell not to prevail. Prevailing is one thing, but losing many bloody battles is another.
I remain a traditionalist only because I cannot conceive of Catholicism any other way. I know many good neo-Catholics who love Vatican II, the Novus Ordo Mass, and all of the other silly things our hierarchy has developed in the past two generations, and many are much better Christians than I am. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think that they are forming another religion, one that parodies the traditional Faith in many ways but misses the mark in many others. I said in one post that love speaks the language of details, and many precious details were jettisoned at the Second Vatican Council. I can only protest that these things were far more important than most can imagine. In the end, however, it has been my sojourn with the Anglicans that has taught me to accept all kinds of “churchmanship” within the same church.
Marie-Dominique Chenu, in his book, Man, Nature and Society in the Twelfth Century, describes how many more traditional voices decried the emergence of a new religious (small “o”) order that challenged the more traditional feudal models. Many had some rather harsh things to say about it all, coming very close to calling the revolution in religious thought the work of the Anti-Christ. Nevertheless, the Church continued on with the classical monastic feudal order living alongside the emerging orders of friars, scholasticism, and the first signs of what would be know as Devotio Moderna. Perhaps comparing this with the post- Vatican II church is like comparing apples and oranges, but like those reactionary Augustinians shaking in fear at the new Aristotelian threat, I too hope that there will be some way that God can reconcile that which seems so diametrically opposed. The main task for now, in my opinion, is to make sure that the old way does not die off.
For me, Catholicism continues to be the religion of dreamers. In spite of our weaknesses, we continue to believe that the Kingdom of God is very close to us. What the true Church of Christ has accomplished and will accomplish is absolutely mind-boggling, and can only be deemed a miracle of the order of the destruction and re-creation of the physical universe. At least in its traditional form, ours is not a Faith of mediocrity, cowardice or half-measures. What I have found most appealing about the Faith of my fathers is its conviction, warmth, and near-folly when it comes to the most important things. To be a real Catholic is to live life in the most human way possible, from going to church hung-over, to doing things that you know will scar you for life and then confessing them; from praying in front of the most kitschy statues imaginable of the Baby Jesus to having the most anti-clerical thoughts while kissing a priest's hand when greeting him. It is all a wonderful mess that only God can sort out. And we will have lots of fun while He is doing it.