My father stayed home with us when I was growing up. When he did work, he was a nurse.1 My mother worked, my last name was hyphenated–is that enough information to let you know that I wasn’t raised with a traditional understanding of gender roles?
Until I was a teenager, I honestly believed that men and women were the same–as in, I thought that women were physically as strong as men. To recap, my dad bench pressed 400 pounds. My mom clearly did not. But my ideology was stronger than my logic and I remained convinced that the only difference between men and women was a minor accident of anatomy.
So when I found myself a Catholic in high school, I had a few bones to pick with the magisterium. The biggest one, of course, was women’s ordination. If women were just as good as men (which I knew the Church taught), why on earth couldn’t they be priests? To my second-wave feminist mind, it was extreme patriarchal mysogyny.
So, like any good nerd, I began to research–rather belligerently, to be sure. I asked friends and priests; I even read the Catechism on it. Had the internet been more than a mass of awkward chat rooms at the time, I might have had a better shot at figuring it out, but I found myself at the end of my research with nothing more than I’d had at the beginning. It still sounded like this Church I had given my life over to was telling me that women weren’t good enough to be priests. How medieval could you get?
But I’d read Matthew 16:18-192 and John 6 and I knew I was stuck with the Catholic Church. And I knew that if the Catholic Church was true (which I was convinced it was), she had to be right–about everything. You see, the central claim of the Catholic Church is her claim of infallible authority. If she’s not right about everything, she can’t claim to be right about anything. I knew that if I rejected Church authority on this matter, I needed to find a new Church.
So I decided that maybe 2000 years of the world’s greatest minds might–might–actually know more than I did on something. Maybe Aquinas and Augustine and Irenaeus and Tertullian and Chrysostom and all those ecumenical councils actually knew more about God than I did. Maybe the infallible Church I claimed to believe in was infallible on everything, like she claimed, and not just on the things that made sense to me.
In the end, I realized that I trusted the Church more than I trusted myself, which was saying a lot. So I submitted to the Church. I sucked it up and accepted the teaching, not understanding it, because I accepted the Church’s claim of authority.
Six months later, I realized that I not only believed it, I understood it. In submitting to the authority of Christ and his Church, I had made an act of faith, one far greater than my conversion had been. For an arrogant intellectual like me to accept an unpalatable doctrine on faith, not reason, was almost miraculous.
I honestly believe that the Lord withheld understanding from me in order to call me to a deeper faith. Up to that point, everything I believed, I believed because it was logical. I had done the research and learned the arguments and I was completely convinced of every other truth claim the Church made. There was nothing virtuous about my faith: in my mind, it was completely the product of my reason. Catholicism seemed to be a product of my brilliant intellect, and God knew I needed more.
When I found myself up against a doctrine I didn’t understand, a doctrine I couldn’t accept, I had to learn to trust. I had to follow God not because of what he’d proven but because of who he was. I had to submit to the Church not because I had checked out her argument and given it the Meg Hunter-Kilmer seal of approval but because I accepted the Church as a truth-telling thing.3
I think that for intellectuals, this is where the rubber meets the road. Catholicism is supremely logical, but nobody ever became a Saint by reason alone–or even a real believer. You can argue and reason and explain your way almost to the Tiber,4 but it takes a leap of faith to swim across.
And this is the downfall for many of the most intelligent people. If you’ve always understood everything, if you’ve been able to give a reasoned explanation of everything you’ve ever believed, it takes a heroic submission of the intellect to step from reason into mystery. There is nothing in the faith that is illogical, but some of it is supralogical. The Trinity is not accessible to our reason, but it’s not contrary to reason, either. It’s above reason. As a smarty-pants, accepting that something that you don’t get might be true is an almost super-human feat. But that’s why we have grace.
The moment I decided (by the grace of God) to accept the Church’s authority was the moment my belief became faith. It’s that faith that’s brought me through confusion and doubt and crisis and left me stronger on the other side, and it’s because I finally decided that I was all in. I believed in the Church more than I believed in myself. She hasn’t let me down yet.
So here’s an appeal to all of you who know better than the Church: you can’t. Either you believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ, preserved from error when speaking authoritatively on matters of faith and morals, or you don’t. If you don’t believe in every single thing the Church proclaims to be revealed my God, that’s fine. Either submit anyway or find a new Church. Because if the Catholic Church is wrong, she’s really wrong–and arrogant, and possibly evil. Why would you want to be a part of that?
But if you do–if you believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ established in Mt 16:18-19, promising that the gates of hell would not prevail against it–you’ve got to accept everything the Church teaches. Real Presence and contraception and homosexuality and confession and obligatory Mass attendance–all the hard stuff along with the fun stuff.
When it comes to infallibility, you’re either all in or all out. There is no middle ground.
Stay tuned for an explanation of the all-male priesthood–an argument that was made clear to me only after I accepted it as truth. Look for it in a few days.
- Before you call him a pansy, you should know that he also bench pressed 400 and trained dobermans and rottweilers. [↩]
- And so I say to you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. [↩]
- From G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: “This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive.” [↩]
- The river that runs through Rome–get it? [↩]