M. Regina Cram
My husband Peter and I had been actively involved in Protestant churches for most of our lives. Over the years, however, Peter began to develop questions about the whole authority thing. Who gets to decide what we believe? Which interpretation of the Bible is the right one? How can one church on one corner believe one thing, while another church across the street believes something entirely different?
It was as if each church, or maybe each individual, had authority to decide the details of his or her own faith.
This led to a disturbing question: as someone who was deciding for myself what was truth, hadn’t I become my own pope?
If so, I was not a very good one.
Ultimately, this issue of authority led us to become Catholic. The teaching authority of the Catholic Church is clear, handed down from Jesus to Peter and his successors. These popes, along with the Magisterium, have the authority to teach and interpret God’s laws, much like Moses did for the Children of Israel.
To be Catholic, therefore, is to place myself under this teaching authority. Let me say that again. To be Catholic is to place myself under the teaching authority of the Church. All of it. It is not possible to say that I am a Catholic, yet disregard some of the laws. I cannot sleep with my boyfriend, or avoid confession or use artificial contraception if I am Catholic. By accepting some beliefs while rejecting others, I am protesting the authority of the teaching Church, led by the pope. And that, by definition, is what it is to be Protestant.
Think of how it works in the secular world. If I join a local business venture or a softball team, I cannot accept most of the rules but reject a few that I dislike – not if I want to be part of the team. It’s a package deal.
So too with our faith. I cannot pick and choose which doctrines to follow, and which doctrines to ignore. There is a term for such a person, a rather insulting term: a “Cafeteria Catholic.”
Wikipedia, the popular online dictionary, defines a “Cafeteria Catholic” as “a person who dissents from selected Catholic moral teaching on issues such as abortion, contraception, premarital sex or homosexuality.”
Back to our journey. Peter and I struggled hard with a variety of Catholic beliefs that made little sense to us. But since the issue of authority had brought us that far, we knew that if we were to become Catholic, we had to BE Catholic. That meant adhering to all Church teachings, even those that were an uncomfortable fit.
This is especially difficult for us as Americans, who have been raised to think for ourselves and to question authority. It’s hard to relinquish control, and even harder to swallow our pride. And yet, truth is not a matter of consumer preference, nor will it ever be. The paradox is that God’s laws, which seem so strict and even unreasonable, actually provide tremendous freedom. Disobedience ultimately brings heartache.
So what does one do when a Church teaching seems intolerable? Research. Read everything you can get your hands on. Ask questions. If the answers are unsatisfactory, ask more questions. Find out why the Church teaches what it does. And pray. Like the widow in the Gospel who would not stop hounding the judge until he answered her plea, bug God until he gives you answers.
The only requirement is that you desire to know the truth, even when the truth is an uncomfortable fit.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.