Why I Am Still Catholic

by Adam Kotsko

I refused an invitation to go to revival this fine Sunday morning at College Church. This is not so much because I think that revival is an Abomination to the LORD, but because I would have much preferred to have gone to mass. If I had gone on Saturday night or lost my senses entirely and decided to go to the 7:30 AM mass, maybe I would have gone to the revival service, at the very least for social reasons. As it stands, I will get a healthy portion of revival for the next three days in chapel, so I'll probably be good as far as that goes.

I went to church alone because Kate went home, and that's fine. I saw Jon Carlson there, sat in front of one of my fellow "teachers" for the RCIA (rite of Christian initiation of adults) class (and I say "teachers" instead of teachers not to put her down but because I have trouble taking myself seriously in that role), and said hello to Father John, so it wasn't as though I was completely anonymous. Over the course of the summer I became very lonely at church, but I still didn't miss one week; I even went while we were on vacation in Petoskey. One time when I agreed to go on an overnight trip that would put me in an evangelical church on Sunday morning, I decided to go to mass Friday morning to make up for missing. This is not to say that I'm a very righteous person: I'll readily admit that I'm almost a total jerk. This is also not to say that revival or any other evangelical service is not real church. I have simply made the decision that I will always always go to mass at least once a week.

More than anything else, that decision is what makes me Catholic. There has always been variety of belief in the Catholic Church, even back in the days when it was supposedly a monolithic structure imposing correct doctrine on the whole of the West. I admire the doctrines of Thomas Aquinas from afar, having not read him personally but being aware that he is to Catholics what Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and probably at least ten other guys combined are to Protestants. The presense of such a dominating mind in Catholic thought certainly creates the illusion of unity of thought, but even today when the Church has put up its walls against the unwashed masses of heretics who trace their theological lineage from the Reformation, even when being a Christian does not necessarily mean assenting to the pope's authority so that everyone in the Catholic Church is supposedly there by choice, even now there is not unity of thought. The pope decrees that the debate on women's ordination is closed, but it's not. Cardinal Ratzinger decrees that the Church's theologians should teach that God's grace comes to other churches exclusively through their loose relationship to Rome, but they won't teach that.

Being Catholic is not entirely a matter of doctrine. I can defend them all with the best of them: the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, perpetual virginity, papal infallibility, transubstantiation, and all the rest of the doctrines that led one of my friends to say that he liked Catholicism just because it had the coolest words. I can make the arguments from silence; I can take into account and ignore the appropriate passages from scripture; given time, I'm sure I could convert you into the Catholic fundamentalist I once was. That misses the point, though. Being Catholic does have to do with doctrine; our Greek heritage requires us to have logical points to give our assent to. More than that, though, being Catholic has to do with a continuance of the tradition of historic Christianity and quite simply with worship.

The problem of what constitutes "historic Christianity" is much too large for a single short draft posted on a web page (if you want to find out how big a problem it is, start by reading The Christian Tradition and The Vindication of Tradition by Jaroslav Pelikan). The one aspect of historic Christianity that has been unquestionably preserved and practiced every day (Good Fridays excepted) by the Catholic Church throughout the centuries is what the Church has come to see as the purest form of worship: the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper, or whatever you want to call it really. This profound mystery of an ordained minister playing the role of Christ in a reenactment of his last meal with his apostles is in truth the summary of and the necessary nourishment for the Christian life as a whole. It is at least the following things:

  • The Passover of the new covenant
  • The presentation again of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ
  • An anticipation of the feast of heaven
  • A participation in all that Christ was and is: his life, death, and ressurection

This is what keeps me coming back to mass every week: I simply cannot go a week without receiving the Lord in communion. God's grace works in an infinite number of ways, but I firmly believe that communion allows us to participate in God's grace in a way that is unaccessible to us by any other means. It is not just a memorial; it is not just a reenactment: no matter how you think it happens in a metaphysical sense, it is a participation in Christ. It is a taking into oneself of everything that Christ has for us. No song, no sermon, nothing can ever hope to take the place of that.

In conclusion, I am Catholic because the Catholic Church is the place where the Eucharist is celebrated. Take away all the trappings of authority and doctrine, and that is what you have: a congregation gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. Church is many things, but Church is at its best and anticipates the life of heaven the best when it celebrates that sacrament that is so many different things at once. That sacrament is ultimately why I became Catholic and it is why I am still Catholic.