Thursday, December 27, 2007

How enthusiastically must you believe?

Well, if you've made it this far and still care, I'm sure the question that comes to mind is "why isn't he Catholic already?" Before I get to some practical problems and issues about conversion, I'd like some insight into a more philosophical problem that's been bothering me. I understand that when someone becomes Catholic they must profess to believe all that the Catholic Church teaches to be true. I would not convert until I could say that in good conscience. But how enthusiastic must someone be about a particular teaching?

Take for example. women's ordination. I don't know what it says about me, but this has been the issue that has caused me the most problem as I've wrestled with my attraction to Catholicism. I've read many accounts online of people that have struggled with the dogmas about Purgatory and Mary and the Saints, but these issues have not bothered me much at all. I have no trouble believing and professing the Catholic positions on these issues to be true. But women's ordination has taken me a while longer. I first thought that this position was due to some view of women as incapable of leadership. I now understand that the all male priesthood is due to the Catholic understanding of what a Priest is and what he does.

But here is my question, do I have to like it? If I accepted and believed that an all male priesthood is required, would I be a bad Catholic for being a little sad that this is so? In other words, if you accept that something is true and you don't do anything to contradict the teaching, how enthusiastic must you be? Periodically, I read online a story about some women being "ordained" as Catholic Priests. The reaction in the blogosphere is usually either anger or derision. My reaction is much more one of sadness. I'm sad that they can't be Priests and I'm sad that they don't understand why they can't. Should I be concerned that they don't make me angry?

I know I should probably sit down and talk to a Priest about this, but doing so presents some practical problems that I'll address in my next post. Until then, I'm open to all the free advice I can get, just please be gentle on me.


Irenaeus said...

Great, great great question in general. How many people who convert for reasons of marriage must struggle with (or ignore) a lot of those vows. And I've got issues myself.

As far as women's ordination, a few random, scattered thoughts:

First, I'm fairly conservative at heart, and while I support women's ordination *as a protestant* (prots and catholics really have different ways of arguing about this), I just don't have problems with gender-role distinctions (but I realize you're in a different place).

Second, I think it's important to recognize that Christianity can get into trouble when it adopts Enlightenment discourse -- "rights" and "equality", etc. (That's not necessarily as conservative as it sounds; many 'postliberal' theologians at places like Yale and Duke came up with the idea.) In brief, Christian faith (and here Catholic faith in particular) has particular ways of thinking and speaking that are different than what you and I as Americans have inherited.

On that point, third, I think part of the beauty of Catholicism (or Orthodoxy, for that matter) is that it kinda transcends our categories of liberal and conservative. Women aren't ordainable (but they still do a heck of a lot as religious and lay), but the death penalty according to Catholic teaching is bad. Abortion is a mortal sin, but Catholics have been on the forefront of social justice for a long, long time. Homosexual practice is forbidden, but the church takes environmental concerns seriously.

Fourth, prayer. Ask God to change your heart where you and God think it may need changing.

Irenaeus said...

The other thing you could and should probably do is do a little reading, particularly the encyclical Sacerdotalis Ordinatio -- I may have the Latin slightly wrong, but I think it was John Paul the Second's definitive statement which pretty much effectively closed the debate on women's ordination

Anonymous said...

There is a book called "Why Matter Matters" by David Lang, published by OSV - here's the Amazon link - that looks at the "matter" of sacraments in a simple, philosophical way. One of the chapters concerns this issue - as in why the maleness of the priest matters.

David said...

First, to give the best answer I can to the question you actually asked: "How enthusiastically must you believe?" You don't have to be enthusiastic about a belief, I would think. I'm certainly not enthusiastic about people going to hell. For that matter, I'm not enthusiastic about the sky being blue (I'd prefer a neon green, personally). So, I guess you really don't have to be enthusiastic about a belief.

This particular belief, however, that women's ordination is incorrect, I think is not a problem, if you look a little deeper. You cannot judge the Church and its practices or beliefs based on the practices and beliefs of modern Americans, which are largely the product of Protestant selfishness ("I can interpret the Bible for myself, and I can decide what it means for me").

The best argument against women's ordination is that it has happened yet, honestly. None of the traditional, apostolic churches practice it. It is not present in Eastern Orthodoxy (separate from Roman Catholicism since 1054 or so), it is not present in Oriental Orthodoxy (separate from about 451), and it is not even present in the [Nestorian] Assyrian Church of the East, which split from the rest in 431. And none of these communions, even after nearly 1600 years separated from the others has decided to ordain women. The fact that the Apostles and generations of their successors never found it necessary to ordain women is a very cogent argument, in my opinion.

I can assure you, as well, that the Church's position against women's ordination has nothing to do with women have some innate inability to practice leadership. Women have been accepted as leaders from the earliest days of the Church. They have been martyrs and missionaries, right along with the men. They simply have a different calling from the men: they are not called to be priests, and any woman who believes she is called to be such is mistaken.

This is the reason why you should feel sad for those women who wish to be ordained priests. Not because the mean Church won't let them, but because they are misled in their belief that such is their calling.

I hope I helped (or at least didn't make things worse).

Thos said...


As a fellow outsider looking in, I have similar questions. But mine are caused by the more run-of-the-mill angst you noted (e.g., Marianism).

My personal understanding is that to take the Roman Catholic vow, I need to come to fully trust the teaching that the Holy Spirit inspires the Catholic Church's teaching and preserves it from error in matters of faith and morals. As sacramentalism is part of the faith, and an all-male priesthood is part of their sacramentalism, by trusting the teaching that the Holy Spirit is with the Church, I would implicitly trust the teaching on the priesthood. Likewise, if I trust the Holy Spirit to be with the Church in all matters of faith, then I can implicitly trust the teaching of Mary's being a premier exampler of Christ-Bearing (and devotions to her, her Immaculate Conception, Assumption, etc.).

That's how I imagine taking the vows in good concscience: it requires fully trusting the Spirit. If I really do that, then I would have to trust that over time my heart will be won over on the particulars that give me pause.

Peace in Christ,

Devin Rose said...

I second many of the thoughts expressed by the other commenters. I converted to Catholicism about 7 years ago, professing that I believed all that the Catholic Church taught and proclaimed to be revealed by God.

For me, the lack of unity in Christianity bothered me, as it contradicted Jesus' desire, so that led me to consider the possibility that God had given authority to his Church and protected her teachings from erring.

I didn't quite believe that yet, but it really appealed to me. The Catholic Church, to my great distress, made the best case for being this Church, so I began learning about each of the teachings that I disagreed with.

It surprised me to find that, one teaching after another, the Catholic Church somehow "got it right". I still had problems though with a few teachings, but a critical mass had been reached where I realized that if they got so many right that I once thought were wrong, they probably got all of them right! And that could only be so if the Holy Spirit indeed had preserved the Church from her teachings being corrupted.

So even though I didn't yet "buy" all of the reasoning and theology for the teachings I had disagreed on, I figured that it would just take some time for God to show me that the Catholic Church was right about those ones, too, as He had shown me about the other ones I once disagreed with, and so I entered the Church professing that I believed that what she taught was the truth revealed by God.

May Christ continue to bless you and guide you in your journey.

Tiber Jumper said...

"But here is my question, do I have to like it?"

I converted to the Church three years ago. I was not 100 percent convinced or happy about all of the teachings but like one of the posters said, If they got the Eucharist right and the canon of Scripture, and they are the Church Jesus started etc etc than I needed to really consider all the teachings.
Funny thing, after I converted/reverted, everyday I was drawn more and more into Catholicism and continue to be now 3.5 years later! At first purgatory really bothered me, now I can't understand why I had a problem with it. I struggled with why no contraception, now I regret so much the years that I contracepted . John Paul's Theology of the body was lifechanging in terms of helping me understand marriage. Same for Marian doctrines.
My day starts with a prayer to the Blessed Mother asking for her intercession and the saints have become wonderful friends!
Anyway, I could go on, but my suspicion is that if you are docile to the teaching of the church regarding woman's ordination, vs hostile, and feel God may be drawing you to become Catholic, then as the late great Christian musician Keith Green once said "He'll take care of the rest!"
Conversion is a continuing daily process and I am amazed at how God has softened my heart to Catholic doctrine and spirituality that once were so foreign to me, because of my strong anti-Catholic bent.
My prayers are with you. e mail me anytime.

MHL said...

I want to thank everyone so much who has responded. For all the bad to be found online (and there is certainly plenty) this ability to talk things out and get the perspective of others is one of the best things. One day I'm going to get brave enough to just pick up the phone and call the local Catholic Church and ask to speak to a Priest, but until then, thanks for hearing me out.

Part of my problem is that I'm a lawyer and lawyers often try to craft answers to questions that aren't technically perjury. I wouldn't want to try to join the Church that way. But I do like the idea that if I believe that the Church is indeed the Church and thus protected from error, God will help me more gracefully accept teachings I'm not as thrilled with now.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

Adam said...

Everything that everyone has said has been wonderful.

What has helped me the most with the problem of women's ordination has been this essay:

Two aspects of the essay are particularly helpful. First, the writing is done by C.S. Lewis while the Anglican communion was considering women's ordination. This makes the case against doing so from what is pretty much a Catholic perspective, but in a non-Catholic tradition, which may be of some use to you.
Second, this provides some history to the whole dialog surrounding the women's ordination's movement. I find all of my problems with the church are usually based on some sort of pre-conceived set of ideas that are popular and (considered to be) common-sense at the time I received them. Looking back to where we came up with these ideas has always been a wonderful aid to my understanding them. I would suppose it would be to you too, being a self-professed history nerd.

God Bless,

Ben said...

Here's the correct link:

And about the enthusiasm thing: I typically find that when I am unenthusiastic about a particular teaching, it's because I don't see the relation to other teachings, and by not being enthusiastic it prevents me from getting a clear picture about the other doctrines to which it is related.

eulogos said...

RE: answers to questions which are not technically perjury:

When I made my submission to the Church in 1972 I had to recite a layman's condensed version of the Tridentine profession of faith.

I had to say that the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church [what about the Eastern rite churches????? I ask no] was the One True Church which Jesus Christ founded upon earth, to which I submit with all my heart. ...
it went on to say that the Pope was "the supreme visible head of the whole church who teaches infallibly what we must believe and do to be saved." and to assert that there are SEVEN sacraments "established by Christ." Then the little matter of the Apostles Creed, then back to the Church, and "I renounce every heresy and schism which she condemns. "

A friend of mine who wanted to become Catholic had trouble with this, more specifically with saying the seven sacraments were established by Christ....he said he could say this was true in the sense that the Holy Spirit working in the Church eventually established the Sacrament of Penance as we know it today, but that the way this profession was worded made it sound as if (this is an old joke) St.Joseph built the first confessional.

He eventually found a profession of faith in a catechism produced by the Paulists, a rather liberal religious order, (There was no Catechism of the Catholic Church in those days.), and convinced a priest to let him in using that formulation. I have always teased him about getting in "on the cheap" so to speak.

He now is a priest of the Oratory, a very conservative (or, very orthodox) association of secular priests. (It functions rather like a religious order but they do not take additional vows.) I attended his private mass in the extraordinary form one morning last summer, which was awesome in the older sense of that word.
I had fun shocking some of his seminary students with the story of how he got in "on the cheap."
If there is a point to this story it is that people can have hesitations and scruples about some bit or piece of Catholic teaching, or about some form of expression of that teaching, and still turn out to be really solid Catholics.

As to the woman's ordination issue, this wasn't even on the horizon as far as I knew when I became Catholic, but later on I did have a short period of rebellion about this, not wishing it to happen now, but wishing the issue could be left open to be thought through away from the context of feminist agitation. I did an about face on the issue...partly due to disgust with a lot of female priests in the Episcopal church, seeing a picture of them leading women INTO an abortion clinic, hearing them engage in awful fuzzy thinking and utter sweeping heresies ..and partly, when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope, I realized that I just didn't want to be a rebellious, oppositional Catholic, I wanted to be a real, faithful Catholic. I "submitted" again, and then soon the whole logic of the issue fell into place for me, and soon after that the subjective sense of the impropriety of the image of a woman at the altar reached me affectively.

I think where you are, being willing to accept this without understanding it, and feeling sad for women about it, is just fine for now. The feeling sad for them is touching to me, and a much better thing than a woman demanding ordination as a right. Eventually I think you will know that you do not have to feel sad for women for this reason. But having that feeling shouldn't be a bar to becoming Catholic.

I am still not enthusiastic about the idea of Jesus's miraculous birth. Not that his mother was a virgin, but that her physical virginity was not affected by his birth, that she did not have "labor" as we understand it. I don't like this teaching at all,in fact, it seems Docetist to me.(the heresy that Jesus only appeared to be human and have a human body.) But the reasoning for it is that the "labor" of birth (the same word used for how Adam was going to have to wrest food from the earth) was part of the punishment for Adam & Eve's disobedience, and Mary, being immaculately conceived, would not inherit that punishment. That is logical...but I don't like the idea of Jesus "floating" out of her womb like something incorporeal, and I fear also that this comes from too physical and understanding of the integrity of virginity. This doctrine used to be considered only "proxime fide"...near to the faith, rather than "de fide" of the faith but the Oratorian father who taught the weeklong all day Catechism class I attended said that it is now in the Catechism and therefore has to be taught as de fide.

So what do I do? I acknowledge that I don't know everything; my attachment to birth as the mother of nine is just my personal feeling, and my assessment of what is wrong with this doctrine is just my own inadequate understanding, and why should that be taken as measuring the truth? I await further conviction and illumation about this if God should think I need it. Otherwise, it certainly isn't a good reason not to be a Catholic.
Susan Peterson