Thursday, June 4, 2015

Why I Remain Catholic: The Church's Abiding Vision

A number of bloggers in the Catholic blogosphere - along a wide spectrum of the church - have been writing pieces recently explaining why they remain Catholic. This is an important exercise, for there are many within the church who wonder why they should continuing to bother being Catholic, as well as many outside the church who look askance at those of us who seek to live out our Catholic faith.

A little over two years ago I published an op-ed in my local newspaper - the Louisville Courier-Journal - explaining not only why I remain Catholic but why the Catholic vision of God and humanity continues to compel me at a deep level. You can read the entire op-ed here, but I thought I'd paste a snippet of the piece as my contribution to the question, "Why do I remain Catholic?"
The church is, for me, far more than its imperfections, glaring though they may be. I am a Catholic because the church articulates a profoundly beautiful vision of the divine and of humanity, a vision that continues to captivate me.
It is a vision that begins with a compelling vision of God. The church declares that we have, through revelation and experience, come to an understanding that God exists as Trinity. This complicated doctrine, at its heart, simply affirms that God exists as community, that God exists, most significantly, as an eternal embrace of selfless love where each person of the Trinity gives the totality of themselves to one another in a dance of love so profound, so complete, so giving, so unifying, that threeness comes to equal oneness. This is what it means to believe that "God is love"; that love - self-giving, totally gratuitous, all-consuming love - is at the very heart of God's essence. It is this idea that God is love that makes sense of why the created order ever came into existence. It is this idea that God is love that explains the gift of God's very self to us in the incarnation, when God became human. And Jesus Christ's example of selfless love, love that led him to the cross, reveals to us that God is love, that God exists as love.
This vision of God brings with it an important understanding of humanity. For not only does Jesus Christ reveal God to be love, but he reveals to us the degree to which all of humanity is loved. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore have the stamp of the divine marked within our very existences. By virtue of our humanness, therefore, we all have what the church calls an inherent dignity and surpassing worth, and the incarnation further reveals to us the infinite value of humanity in God's eyes.
The church is to exist in imitation of the love that is God, who longs for communion and intimacy with us. Transformed and sustained through the continued expressions of God's self to us in the sacraments of baptism and particularly in the Eucharist we are to recognize that we are bound to each other in love. Overwhelmed by the love of God experienced in sacrament and Word, we become united to God and to one another, and are to learn to view others with the love God has for all. In imitating the selfless love of God in the church, the church is to manifest God to all, and to do so in concrete ways.
At its core, the message of the church is one of all-consuming love. It paints a picture of a God whose essence it is to love, of a God who continually shows to us this love, and of communities of believers who, in turn, love selflessly and fully.
Yes, the church has always and continues to fall short of this ideal. But does this fact mean that I must abandon this ideal? Does the church's continued imperfection mean that I should just give up? No, for me it does not. For I cannot help but be thoroughly attracted to the beauty of what the church is called to be by Christ himself each time Christ gives of himself in the Eucharist.
Those who do not know this teaching, and have not therefore experienced the beauty of this message, cannot be expected to understand. Admittedly, the church doesn't do a very good job of articulating this message. But it is this message - that God exists as love and that his followers are to exist in communities which imitate this love - that lies at the heart of the Catholic faith. It is a message that, despite the corruption and scandal that has plagued the church throughout the centuries, still survives and is proclaimed through the lives of countless Catholics - bishops, clergy, religious, and laypeople - throughout the world.
And it is a message I, and many of my fellow Catholics, seek to manifest in our lives.

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