To say the least, this is not a particularly felicitous moment to declare oneself a Catholic — not in my circles, in any case. I’m a professor and a department chair at McGill University. People sometimes wonder how a reasonable person like me can possibly still believe today. It is even more puzzling that I should be a Catholic. After all isn’t that the backward, authoritarian religion of hocus pocus, veneration of the Virgin Mary and all that? How can anyone follow the Catholic Church after the many scandals and all the — real and alleged — shortcomings in overseeing those abuse cases? A few years ago, my esteemed colleague and friend, Gil Troy, wrote an article spelling out “Why I am a Zionist.” I would like to explain why I am a Catholic.
In our multicultural society we are often inclined to look at religion as something merely cultural, an appendage to ethnic identity. If someone goes to church it’s because that’s the way he or she was brought up, it’s part of one’s baggage. I find that some of my acquaintances are almost shocked that I truly do believe, that I have a certainty regarding my faith.
And so why am I a Catholic? Why do I believe in Real Presence, uphold the primacy of the See of Peter, look to the Church for salvation (which is not about living happily ever after but about seeing the ultimate meaning of things), especially now when Peter’s successor, Benedict XVI, is under attack — indeed when the entire Church is under fire? Why do I admire and follow Pope Benedict while others call for his arrest? Why confess my sins to a priest when there have been so many clergy out there — and perhaps still are — who have committed unspeakable crimes against the most innocent in the Church and society?
As a premise, I should note that the very origins of the Church involved betrayal and sin. Judas delivered the innocent Christ to his crucifixion and death, and even Peter, the Rock, denied knowing Christ at the moment when his companion and master needed him most. No scandal, no matter how bad — and admittedly, they are pretty bad these days — is enough to sway me.
So what keeps me in the Church? I have no pietistic reasons for staying, and in a certain sense, no other-wordly reasons either. I am not the spiritualistic type. I am a Catholic for two main reasons: First, I believe in reason itself, and second, I desire a place where my humanity is enhanced.
The other day, Robert Fulford delivered a broadside against Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins’s ludicrous proposal to have Benedict XVI arrested. Although he dismissed the former as a mere publicity seeker, he argued that Dawkins is frustrated because he sees the writing on the wall. The world is becoming increasingly religious and this runs counter to his atheist campaign. Fulford noted that even Jürgen Habermas, the renowned sociologist and philosopher, has admitted a “blind spot” in his rationalist approach.
I remain Catholic because I acknowledge that blind spot. To be faithful to reason I have to admit that there are certain things that reason cannot answer; to paraphrase the theologian, Luigi Giussani, reason, in order to be loyal to itself, must admit Mystery. The Catholic Church affirms that the Mystery became Flesh and is still present among us in that blemished institution called the Church, with all the deplorable conduct one can find within it. As the Scottish novelist, Bruce Marshall put it in his classic 1944 novel, The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith, the Church “is all glorious within because the freight she carrie[s] heal[s] all her cracks.” Indeed it is this awareness that allows the Church to do so much good in the world. This is the reason that the vast majority of priests willingly and lovingly give their lives for Christ, for men and women and, yes, children!
That Catholicism upholds the real Presence, that it acknowledges Christ present in this sinful Church — all of this corresponds to my humanity. I don’t have to live in a never-never land, kind of hoping that there is a God. There is no need for effort and will power to believe. God-made-Flesh makes Himself evident to me constantly. I do not have to take a leap in the dark and cling to some unknown entity out there. I need only follow an attraction, pursue what drew me in the first place and what continues to attract me in the Church, certain individuals or a group of friends, or a particular person in a particular moment, that is to say a companionship where I experience a merciful gaze upon me. Is there anything simpler, more human than this?
donderdag 29 april 2010
Why I am (still) a Catholic
Ingezonden brief van de Canadese professor John Zucchi in de National Post: