Born Catholic

You may have noticed the beautiful scene of the Vatican above and the words about an invitation. Please click on that for information about how you can attend the June reception to celebrate the fifth anniversary of The Catholic Thing. As you will also read there, we’re starting a special fund appeal that will continue over the next month until the anniversary. We’re tighter than usual this year for many reasons. So I have to ask all readers who can contribute this year to make a special gift in honor of our five years of bringing you this daily service. We have a collection of columns from those years coming out in book form: A Faith That Reasons: Five Years of the Catholic Thing. It will be on sale in early June and copies will be available at the several receptions we’ll be holding around the country. We can also offer a complimentary copy to anyone who makes a tax-deductible contribution of $100 or more. We started TCT with faith in the mission and in the people we knew we would need to find to keep it going. You, our readers, are the key element of that success. Please, help keep our little Cosa Nostra, as I sometimes think of it, flourishing and ready to take on the challenges of the Church and the world for this year and many years to come. If you cant make it to our June event but want to keep TCT alive and flourishing, click one of the donate buttons below to contribute $25, $50, or $50,000, if you are so inclined. — Robert Royal


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. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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