One thing I was certain about when I became Catholic: I knew I would not be a Cafeteria Catholic – picking and choosing what suited me. If I thought I’d have that attitude, then I could’ve saved myself a lot of trouble and remained Protestant. (For what else is Sola Scriptura but the ultimate all-you-can-eat Spiritual Smorgasbord? A huge Bible buffet with no one to tell me that I have to eat that bit of spinach or can’t eat that bowl of chocolate. Take as much or as little as you like.)
No. Having found that the Catholic Church was the answer to the question Who has the authority to interpret Scripture and establish doctrine? I was and am determined to yield to its Apostolic Authority. I said “I will embrace all I can, and accept what I cannot embrace.” There was no other choice.
I know that a lot of American Catholics (maybe some in other countries) don’t feel that way. This is a democracy, which we love and cherish, which means that the Catholic Church needs to get with the times and be more democratic, too. American Catholics may not vote at a parish ballot box on Catholic doctrine, but they certainly vote with their feet, or their giving, or their voices. Obedience to the Magisterium is a mere technicality, if that. For many, if Catholicism isn’t a great Cafeteria, then it’s kind of a spiritual Whole Foods grocery store. And it’s not for me, or anyone, to tell them otherwise. And I learned the hard way. Here’s how:
The other day I ventured to read an article about Gays and the Boy Scouts on the National Catholic Reporter website. The article was not a surprise, considering the context. But, unusually for me, I ventured down to the posts following the article. I don’t normally do that because it’s easy to get sucked into this weird vortex that is Posting, a land of people with opinions, lots of them buzzing around like hornets, others prowling more like lions just waiting for the kill.
I saw comments by one or two fairly traditional posters – and lots and lots of posts from those who disagreed with them. I also noticed that the traditional posters had, in their own way, over-reached themselves by going after a particular point and had been dragged off by the lions into the weeds. They were being devoured. I felt bad for them.
I naively thought, “This is the National Catholic Reporter” so I ought to say something Catholic. I posted why I disagreed with the conclusions of the article and reaffirmed Catholic teaching on the subject.
Boy, was that a mistake.
I won’t try to recount everything here, but I’ll say that the first response called me a “blind bigot” – and that was as nice as it ever got. I have never experienced such vitriol or personal attacks. And I had to resist getting dragged in the weeds. But that was only possible because I held my ground as a Catholic who loves and obeys the Magisterium.
Though the experience was exhausting for me, I was also greatly relieved. While the hornets were buzzing and the lions were roaring, I had the Catholic Church to hang onto – as a solid rock, a foundation to keep my feet upon. I wasn’t merely spewing my opinions, which were no more or less valid than anyone else’s, or offering up my lone interpretation of Scripture, or proclaiming a personal philosophy. I attempted to articulate the teachings of something so much greater than my own views. I heard myself saying again and again the answer to my question Who has the authority to interpret Scripture and establish doctrine? It’s the Church founded by Christ Himself, carried on by the Apostles, the One True Catholic Church. This was not a house built on the sand of current whims, the latest trends, pseudo-scientific facts, or even a democratic voting process. It is the Truth of Christ, for specific ages and times, and for all eternity.
So, let the hornets sting and the lions bite. I never felt freer in all of my life.