On being Catholic

What is it that I want to say about being Catholic? Walker Percy’s remark — and I got this from a student of mine who is here tonight — is striking. When asked by hostile voices why he became a Catholic, Percy responded, “What else is there?” Catholicism is generally interested in this “what else is there,” as we learn from Plato and Aristotle and Aquinas, and Augustine, too. We do not really understand the full truth of something unless we can explain the arguments against it, which is really Thomas Dillon’s comment about the existence of Thomas Aquinas College. Is science, technology, or some other system a real threat to the validity of Catholicism? Most often, when examined, we can distinguish the truth and falsity of some position which is thought to undermine Catholicism. This effort to understand reasons for its rejection is why Catholicism has always been and must be an intellectual revelation. It recognizes that we do need teachers of wisdom on the human side. Faith is addressed to reason, to a reason that must itself do all it can to be reasonable and to know what is true.

In a book of mine called Rational Pleasures, I recall what Benedict XVI held, namely that the modern world is little more than a gigantic effort to accomplish the transcendental ends of Catholicism, not by grace and faith, but by our own efforts in this world. That’s the thesis of Spe Salvi, which I think is a great encyclical. Marxism maintained that the world is disordered because believers wasted their time with belief and acting in their life, and so therefore they impoverish the world. In practice the opposite really happens. Those who are most concerned with the next life are also usually those who are most likely to be concerned with this life. Catholicism, along with Plato, maintains that what we do, or do not do, in this life is to be judged precisely because of the importance of each actual individual. — from a lecture given at Thomas Aquinas College (October 31, 2014)