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By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Tuesday, 14 May 2013

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Recent comments by Brad Miner, David Warren, Austin Ruse, and Joseph Wood on their conversions set me to thinking. Converts often write very insightful understandings of Catholicism. Converts usually come to the faith after some dramatic search that, in retrospect, seems, and probably is, providential. They give reasons, or at least, explanations, of what drew them to and keep them in the faith.

But Schall is a “born Catholic.” No, that is inaccurate. Schall is born of parents who were Catholic. Through baptism, we all “become” Catholic. We are not exactly “natural” sons of God, but “adopted” sons, as Paul teaches. The only “born” Catholic was Christ. Nietzsche’s “the last Christian died on the Cross” was, paradoxically, correct in that sense. By nature, the first Christian was the last Christian. Nietzsche wanted everyone to be Christ, not what he is, to wit, a finite person, a sinner redeemed by Christ.

Belloc, in the Path to Rome, said that it is a good thing never to have to return to the faith. That remark points to those who are Catholic, but who sin or otherwise lapse in their belief. They leave for a time but return. Still others never reject the Church. We recognize that it is a Church of sinners. Just because one is a sinner, he is not therefore an unbeliever. 

Often, it is just the opposite. Because I sin, therefore, I believe. What other alternative is there? Where else can I find even a claim for forgiveness? People, like Nietzsche, scandalized to discover within the Church practicing sinners, do not get it. The main point of Christ’s coming in the way He did was to redeem us in our sins, if we would.

Because we sin, it does not automatically follow that we cease to believe. Chesterton, a practically sinless man if there ever was one, on being asked why he became a Catholic, answered frankly: “To get rid of my sins.” And in The Everlasting Man, we read: “The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”

Still, “born Catholics” have their reasons for not bothering to leave. The main one, I think, is intellectual. Augustine, though baptized, left the faith but came back when he had it all figured out. Aquinas never left, probably because he had it figured out in his head. Both routes are graced.


   Knight, Death, and the Devil by Albrecht Dürer, 1513

The principal reason to be Catholic in the modern world is the modern world. That is, when we spell out what happens when we reject even a small element of the faith, this step begins to unravel the whole system. Once we think that no order exists in ourselves or in nature, we freely begin a logical descent. If not recognized and stopped, it will gradually overturn the human.

Born Catholics suspect these things even if they do not consciously explicate them. It does not take a genius, though it may take virtue, to see that we are busily destroying the family and with it the various human loves that develops in the human family.

We do this overturning in the name of “rights.” We begin and end with ourselves. We establish political institutions to promote our “rights,” as we define them. These civil institutions, in turn, end up by telling all of us what “rights” we can have. All this is in the name of equality and fairness. We destroy ourselves in our bodies only after we have destroyed ourselves in our minds.

The born Catholic senses that the only thing that is really and legally hated in the modern world is the Church. We might add that the only thing more dangerous is a Church that is not hated. That would mean a Church already in conformity with this world and its “rights” defining institutions.  It is not that we do not try to get along peacefully.

Something more sinister is at work among us. If we look at the life issues in broad scope, it is not as if some haphazard and blind opposition has arisen. It is rather like a well-planned plot systematically to eradicate the presence of the Church is at work in our public order, among our public officials, who too often call themselves Catholics.

            I read in Pope Francis, I think, that we are no longer allowed to be merely “born Catholics,” that is, to live a habitual life of sacrament and custom. Unless we actualize our understanding of the faith, we will not be able to withstand the various powers at work attacking it. Not much evidence exists that would assure us that eventually everyone will believe, that things will be fine. More evidence exists to remind us that we will be dragged before judges and magistrates. We do not much like to hear this. It is not difficult to see why.

 

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic and The Modern Age.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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written by Dan Deeny, May 14, 2013
Now that Pope Francis has canonized the 800 martyrs of Otranto, I hope we can begin to build schools named after these saints.
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written by Dad_of_11, May 14, 2013
Sounds like a mission you are called to initiate Dan Deeny. I would love to be your first contributor. May the Holy Spirit and 800 martyrs guide your head, your heart, and your hands.
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written by Manfred, May 14, 2013
"More evidence exists to remind us that we will be dragged before judges and magistrates." Thanks for a great article, Fr. Schall. While your point above is true, two thousand years of Catholicism teach us that if most Catholics were ever arrested, there would not be enough evidence to indict them. Recall that Bp. John Fisher was the only bishop in Henry VIII's England who refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy which acknowledged Henry as the head of the church in England.
P.S. I hope you are enjoying your retirement.
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written by Amy, May 14, 2013
Sometimes I imagine that I would welcome the dragging before the judges. In my imagination there would be journalists shoving mikes in my face, baiting me and begging for an explanation.

But I am too realistic to believe I could be such a curiosity, I would be more like the hundreds of babies Gosnell killed...unwanted, unseen, unheard.

The evolution of a self will answer this question differently over the years: "Who am I?" Today I can first say, "a pilgrim," quickly followed by, "of the Catholic faith." The part about daughter, sister, wife, mother, American .... has slowly decreased in value to me.

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written by Joseph Wood, May 14, 2013
Amy, I understand your comment exactly. One suggested addition to the words that you use to describe yourself: "witness." From Christ and the apostles forward, saints from Francis to Bl John Henry Newman have taught that being a witness is essential, but using words to do so may not be necessary. Whittaker Chambers' book "Witness," though not by a Catholic, is also worth the time.

Another great column by Fr Schall. We should all be paying attention to the "something more sinister," the plot that Fr Schall mentions, in connection with the teaching by Pope Francis on the reality of Satan.

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written by Erin Pascal, May 15, 2013
A very wonderfully written article. Thank you so much for this very good read. I really learned a lot from it and I hope to read more of your articles soon. :)
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written by james gabriel, May 16, 2013
Both of my parents were converts--one in the late 1950's, the other later in the early 60's. My mother was converted by Franciscans, my father by Augustinians. Both parents were cut off by various members of the two sides of the family for their Catholicism. My father lost professional opportunities for his outspokenness on matters of life. All their lives they searched for a spiritual home and, especially for my father, a place and a narrative that made sense of the world. The Catholic Church was that place. My wife and I feel the urgent need to play the role of those Franciscans and Augustinians decades ago. Time to step up--to speak of hope to our fellow sinners and invite them in, to invite them home.

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