In the past year, I’ve made some surprising decisions. My wife and I decided to have our daughter born at home. More recently, I have been reorganizing my life around the carnivore diet, eating only animal products. Each of these things taken on its own is controversial; taken together, I must seem insane. Even our midwife isn’t a fan of eating only animal products. When discussing any one of these things, it’s easy to feel like Saint Peter on Pentecost, trying to explain why an entire crowd is speaking in tongues: “these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day” (Acts 2:15). “I know that this looks shocking, but trust me, there’s a perfectly logical explanation!”
Saint Peter noticed that the multitudes speaking in tongues caused shock and misunderstanding. Despite this, he proclaimed confidently that there was in fact an explanation. Because home birth and the carnivore diet are controversial to most groups of people, they too cause shock and misunderstanding. However, since they were the result of many hours of research, conversations, and prayer, I am confident that they are based on sound principles — perhaps not as sound as the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but sound nonetheless. Confident in their foundations, I can soberly tell others just how “insane” I am, explaining my rationale for these apparently unorthodox decisions.
To most today, living the Catholic Faith is just as, if not more, “insane” than home birth or an animal-based diet. Transubstantiation, periodic continence, carrying children to full term, Adoration, and even monogamy are held in suspicion. Catholics must have looked stranger than ever in recent months, parked outside locked churches and watching streamed liturgies from a computer. To many, ours is a nonsensical way of life. But often, I find that we don’t defend it as boldly as we do things like medical and dietary choices.
Most of us can articulate the reasons for our faith to stranger, friend, or family. It is not difficult to give a witness. When it comes to morality, however, fewer come forward. Believing in God is not quite insane, even in the eyes of the secular world, but the moral positions are seen as scandalous. The Church’s teaching on sexuality has drawn fire time and again. When it comes to this, it is suddenly less palatable to proclaim it to those closest to us. Do I challenge those in my family who remain agnostic? Can I calmly discuss Catholic sexuality with my gender-non-conforming friend? Sometimes, but not always.
This illustrates a major difference between the Catholic faith and choices like home birth and the carnivore diet. The latter choices are important, but they cover far less ground than Catholicism. Birth and diet are major facets of life, but they do not cover everything. If we get into an argument about the ideal diet, our loved ones are unlikely to disown us. While our choice might seem crazy, it is at least not the most important thing in our lives. By the same token, a dispute about health care might hurt our feelings, but it will barely insult our identity. It is simply not foundational, which makes it easier to discuss.
Insult a man’s faith, however, and the identity takes a hit with it. Catholicism, truly lived, is foundational. It informs our lifestyle, actions, and worldview. Because of this, if we get into a serious dispute about religion, we can risk irreparably damaging relationships. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matt. 10:35). True Catholic faith is not safe. Its precepts demand a reorganization of life, both for those who believe it and for those they interact with.
To make matters more complicated, we are also called to admonish the sinner. We may try to convert others to our views on good parenting, but this is not the same as calling out a family member in an adulterous relationship. Much more is at stake when we are commanded to point out sin and encourage repentance.
We shrink from boldly embracing the challenges of our faith because of the tension it may cause. Not only does it appear insane to those outside, but Catholicism also places foreign and unwelcome demands on them. The potential for discord is much greater than with our less foundational choices. The Catholic can easily become a nuisance to his family and friends: “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training” (Wis. 2:12).
But to boldness we are called, even to the admonition of sinners. Discord may come, but this is not a reason to be timid. Our lifestyle may look insane, but we are still called to defend it with sobriety. We already do this with the less important decisions; why not soberly defend the insanity of our most fundamental choice? We know that we stand in the Truth, and we must not only defend it, but call others to live in it. We do not have to be abrupt, rude, or insulting when we do so, but we ought to be courageous.
On that first Pentecost, Saint Peter began by acknowledging his sober insanity, but his address did not end there. He continued speaking, admonishing the crowds for murdering the Author of Life, and called them to repentance. Inspired by the Lord, he was eloquent and incisive. We ought to turn to the same Holy Spirit who inspired him, knowing that courage is needed where demands are great. After all, salvation is much more important than a balanced diet.
David Dashiell is the associate director of liturgy for a group of parishes in the Pittsburgh area, where he lives with his wife and child. After growing up in Maryland, he earned his Master of Arts degree in theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He continues to read and study theology and the liturgy in his spare time. His other interests include music and philosophy.