I was deeply moved by the article that appeared at this site, entitled “Seminarian: ‘Is There Any Reason Why I Should Remain Catholic?’” What follows is my affirmative reply. I’m under no illusions that my answer will be comprehensive or convincing to everyone, but what it has going for it is the sincerity of a person who has himself been wounded by members of the hierarchy, who has been denied speaking platforms on account of upholding the traditional Faith, and who has also stared into the abyss of corruption and apostasy that mark the Church on earth in our times—and yet who believes, finds reasons to believe, and, indeed, finds reasons for hope.
Even if we take the most conservative estimate, dodging the “saint factory” that revved up in the 1980s under John Paul II, the Catholic Church venerates at least 6,000 saints officially recognized as such (some would say over twice that many, depending on how you tabulate them). Each one of these saints is a masterpiece of God’s grace triumphing in the frailty and fracturedness of fallen human nature. Each one is a bright light in the encircling gloom. Each one tells us what the Christian is called to be and can, in fact, become by fidelity to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Each one gives the lie to fatalism, nihilism, and cynicism. And each one is an unanswerable argument for the truth of the Catholic Faith.
Decades ago, Joseph Ratzinger made the following observation:
The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history. (The Ratzinger Report, 129)
One could perhaps amplify this by saying there is a threefold apologia: the saints, the civilization produced by Catholicism, and the inner cogency and coherence of traditional Catholic theology, which displays a monumental solidity and a profound consistency.
If someone were to ask me “Why be a Catholic?,” I would reply: The saints—the Apostles like Peter, John, and Paul; the martyrs from Lawrence and Stephen down to Maximilian Kolbe and Franz Jägerstätter; confessors like Athanasius the Great and Basil the Great; religious like Benedict, Francis, Dominic, John of the Cross, Clare of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux; priests like St. John Vianney and St. Peter Julian Eymard; missionaries like St. Francis Xavier, St. Edmund Campion, St. Isaac Jogues, and Father Damien of Molokai; kings and queens, simple porters and lay brothers; the list goes on and on and on—and I barely know a fraction of my heavenly family, whom I can’t wait to meet in person (please God!), but with whom I am already bound by a mystical communion in Christ our Head. He, of course, is the reason for the greatness of these heroes of faith and charity who adorn His Mystical Body: He is their Model and Maker. If they are so wonderful, what must He be like? And He has given Himself to us already in the Most Holy Eucharist under the veils of bread and wine, so that He may prepare us to see Him with face unveiled in the Kingdom of heaven.
If someone were to ask me “Why be a Catholic?,” I would reply: The glorious civilization the Catholic Church inspired and built—the culture of fine arts and sciences that has no equal, let alone rival, anywhere in human history, because divine revelation illuminates and fuels human endeavor. It attracted and motivated the highest flights of genius as well as the most extensive philanthropy; it made a home for epiphanies of beauty that reach up to eternity and infinity, lifting us above our earthbound vision and daily doldrums. The music, the architecture, the painting, the poetry—Gregorian chant, Palestrina and Byrd, Haydn and Bruckner; Romanesque basilicas and Gothic cathedrals; Giotto, Fra Angelico, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, El Greco, Bernini, van Eyck; Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Manzoni, Hopkins, Chesterton, Waugh… once again, the list could go on practically for ever. From the holy mountain of Christ rushes down a torrent of delights and insights, consolations and provocations—all bearing witness to the splendor of the Incarnation that dazzles the human spirit, and sustains it sacramentally.
If someone were to ask me “Why be a Catholic?,” I would reply: The theology of the Church in its apostolic, patristic, and scholastic plenitude, a grand oak tree birthed from a tiny acorn, showing in its mighty trunk and vast crown the power of the principles at root. As John Henry Newman saw and described so well in writing the work that accompanied his entry into the Roman Church, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, the truth unfolds in strength and stability across the ages of faith. Whether we take up the formidable Summa theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas with its seried ranks of syllogisms or simply consult any standard catechism from the Counter-Reformation down to the eve of the Second Vatican Council, we will find one and the same Catholic Faith, always confessing the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the perfect humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ, the virginal maternity of Mary, the veneration of the saints, the life of grace, virtues, prayer, worship, and sacraments, the promise of eternal life in the bliss of the beatific vision. There is no deviation, no distortion, no dereliction in the Faith of the Church; it is there, it is knowable, it is livable, it is lovable. When we know it, we can live it; as we live it, we come to love it, to treasure it; we would no more choose to live without it than we would choose to live without sanity of mind or health of body.
The transcendentals are inseparable, but one may predominate in this or that subject. The glorious company of the saints show forth the Good; the great artists, architects, musicians, and writers show forth the Beautiful; the theologians show forth the Truth. Together they bear witness to the Father (“no one is good but God alone”), the Son (“image [eikon] of the invisible God”), and the Holy Ghost (“He will guide you into all the truth”) (Mk 10:18, Col 1:15, Jn 16:13). I am reminded of the proverb: “Though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccles 4:12).
The article to which I am responding suffers from one fatal logical error that runs from start to finish: the anonymous seminarian allows the enemy to dictate the terms of the entire debate. He lets the postconciliar distortion of Catholicism set the agenda for the discussion, and that is why he is disgusted and has no way of escape: he gave himself for a decade to what he can now see is a lie, but he does not seem to see that the existence of a falsehood implies the corresponding existence of the truth, since error is parasitical upon truth, as evil is upon the good. The lie he hates and thrashes against is not Catholicism, but neo-Catholicism or Modernism (as he obliquely recognizes when he says the only punishable crime nowadays is adhering to tradition). For example, he writes:
I could not tell you one teaching of the Catholic faith that isn’t always changing. I don’t think we’ve even begun to acknowledge the extent to which modernism has undermined the foundations of the faith. The Church is crumbling into quicksand, and we are scolded ad nauseam that the Church still has to change more with the times.
But what’s going in reality is this (modifications in italics):
I could not tell you one teaching of the Catholic faith that today’s Modernists in the Church aren’t saying must always be changing. I don’t think we’ve even begun to acknowledge the extent to which modernism has attempted to undermine the foundations of the faith, even though we know it can never do so, since God’s truth is indestructible, and the consistent teaching of the Church on any major issue is easily accessible. The human element of the Church (certainly not those in a state of grace or the saints in glory) is crumbling into quicksand, and we are scolded ad nauseam by the progressives and liberals that the Church still has to change more with the times, even though this view was condemned again and again by Church authority.
One could do this kind of “fisking” on every sentence. To let the modernists in the hierarchy of the Church define the meaning of being Catholic would be the equivalent of letting the Jacobins of the Revolution define the meaning of being French, or the Democrats of 2021 define the meaning of being American. The wolves in sheep’s clothing of today warp the teaching of Catholicism by means of an “official theology” that has and can have no magisterial standing, although it wishes it could. How do we know that it has no standing? For one simple reason: the Faith cannot contradict itself: as St. Vincent of Lérins classically expressed it, growth over time in the understanding of religion does not mean mutation or substantial change. Catholicism is a religion of faith and reason, where the one never contradicts the other.
I feel for this seminarian. He has been put through the machinery of neo-Catholicism, and it’s shredded him to a pulp. His article is the anguished cry of a man who has been spiritually abused by the “Squishy Church,” with all its pomps and works—a simulacrum of Catholicism that no longer tries to hide but openly parades its perversity. The seminarian recognizes that the modernist reinvention of Catholicism in the ascendent after the Council leads to a dead end: the traditional reasons given for being Catholic are no longer accepted by the modernists themselves, who have virtually expelled themselves from the Church. The Church of Christ has been occupied by impostors, by modernists who are not believers. They wear the clothes, they hold the offices, but they do not hold the Faith, and do not pass it on. The seminaries of these impostors are mind-bendingly manipulative as they try to suck out the spirit of right judgment and the love of tradition.
What I see sorely missing in this article—though again, my heart bleeds for this victim of a bloodsucking bureaucratic monster—is an awareness that there is any alternative, but there is, and, like Christ, it is the same yesterday, today, forever: traditional Catholicism. Regardless of what the churchmen who occupy ecclesial posts may do or say, the Catholic Faith is still believed, practiced, lived, across the world in places where the authentic Roman liturgy, trustworthy catechisms, true devotion to Our Lady and the saints, and a love for Catholic culture are still to be found. They do exist, here, there, across the map like sprinkled drops of holy water from a cosmic aspergillum, in greater numbers than one might think possible in a time of such decadence. Whether it be a dedicated priest in an out-of-the-way rural refuge or a parish run by a religious order in a million-peopled metropolis, such circles, or dare I say cenacles, of faithful Catholics will never disappear. If fifty years of relentless hostility and lack of support have not been able to crush traditional-loving Catholics, who, though a minority, are more numerous, well-informed, and committed today than at any time since the Council, nothing will crush them in the future. Divine Providence will not permit it, because the true Faith must last until the end of time. The Faith is alive, and in a humble way, thriving: but you will seldom find such evidence of supernatural life in the mainstream parishes, chanceries, and seminaries.
As readers can see, I agree with the author’s dark portrait of the situation, but diverge when it comes to the crucial decision that must be made: Do I stay at the foot of the Cross with St. John and Our Lady and persevere to the promised resurrection, no matter how bleak things appear, or do I walk away shaking my head because the Messiah wasn’t what we were expecting Him to be, and His mission looks like it’s all over? Surely, that ragtag coetus of disciples is a pathetic sight—nothing great can be expected from them. The former, with the eyes of faith and reason, sees what must be so, waits, works, and does not waver; the latter, closing those eyes, sees what the Enemy would have him see, and thus gives up, stops working, and falls away.
Speaking of Our Lady… there’s a glimmer of faith at the end of the seminarian’s cri de coeur where he turns to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the Stella Maris, the star that guides the desperate sailor in the stom back to the safety of the port. Outside of Jesus Christ, there is darkness and shipwreck. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
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Long-time readers will know that I have written many articles for OnePeterFive that respond to the doubts and despair of Catholics in our times. It may be helpful to list some of the more pertinent ones here, for those who may wish to read further:
- If The Pope Is a Heretic, Hold Fast to What Is Certain (September 16, 2020)
- Why Remain Catholic, in Spite of Everything (November 25, 2020)
- Instruments, Not Armies: God Accomplishes Great Things by Little Means (December 2, 2020)
- Have There Been Worse Crises Than This One? (January 13, 2021)
- Preparing Now for What the Future May Hold (January 27, 2021)
- The State of the Church and the State of Our Souls (August 12, 2020)
- A Traditionalist’s Spiritual Charter (May 20, 2020)
- On Keeping to Arduous Paths and Leaving Satan Behind (April 8, 2020)
- Discovering Tradition: A Priest’s Crisis of Conscience (March 27, 2019)
- Happy Catholics Don’t Make the Pope More than He Is (February 13, 2019)
- The Cult of Change and Christian Changelessness (July 18, 2018)
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism who has written many books and publishes on a wide variety of sites. His work has been translated into twenty languages. Visit his personal website at www.peterkwasniewski.com, his Substack “Tradition and Sanity,” his publishing house Os Justi Press, and his composer site CantaboDomino.