"Catholic enough"

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 14, 2005

Commonweal features an unusual, and disheartening, account by a Catholic convert of what she calls her "bumpy path to Rome." In fact, at the end of her journey she finds companionship in mediocrity among cradle-Catholics who share her doubt and dissent.

At age forty-seven, while having some relatively routine surgery, I ask my gynecologist to perform a tubal ligation. Several miscarriages and one midlife pregnancy have taken a physical and emotional toll. I am not anxious to repeat these experiences. Now, everybody knows that the church is against artificial methods of avoiding pregnancy, but I surmise from cradle-Catholic friends that the church takes extenuating circumstances like age and health into account.

Where would these cradle-Catholics have gotten the notion of "extenuation"? From their homilists and confessors, of course.

But, some months after the tubal, I consult the Catechism and discover there is no "escape clause." For women in late middle age who do not want to become pregnant there is, implicitly, NFP or abstinence. Voluntary sterilization is a "grave sin." My inner Anglican argues that I have not sought the tubal to commit any sins, so the action is morally neutral. My inner Unitarian, however, says that it's hypocritical to take Communion having broken a rule so central to the church's teaching about sexual morality and advises me to try to better understand the church's position on birth control.

Her "inner Unitarian" doesn't correspond to many outer Unitarians of my acquaintance, but may account for the curious mixture of candor and affectation in this story.

At the end of a year, I understand the logic and reason behind Humanae vitae, but I'm still light years away from buying it. Moreover, I have discovered there are several lifelong Catholics of my acquaintance who have had tubals and are still taking Communion. My inner Unitarian opines that therein lies a critical difference between convert and cradle Catholic. Cradle Catholics may not always agree with the church, but it's their spiritual home, and they are content with being "Catholic enough."

I wish the author were wrong here. Regrettably, I think she's on target. For the majority of semi-catechised semi-Catholics, the word "home" in "spiritual home" doesn't mean what it meant for St. Augustine, the rest we find in God at the end of our soul's restless pilgrimage. Instead, it means nearly the opposite: the nexus of compromises with the world they find comfortable and familiar. They remain Catholic because, in spite of their manifold dissatisfactions, it's too much bother to move elsewhere.

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  • Posted by: - Jan. 19, 2005 7:39 AM ET USA

    Coach, try the Fathers of Mercy. They come to parishes and give missions. That way you can have VII heaven and not have to move. They have a website and perhaps you could persuade your pastor to invite them in. Otherwise may I suggest moving to Chicago and attending St. John Cantius. God be with you.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 18, 2005 9:19 AM ET USA

    I entered the Church in 1949 as an adult, and there was truth then that converts were more knowledgeable because as in my case they received thorough indoctination in de fide doctrine and the power of the Magisterium. Sadly, it has been my experience that most post-VCII converts are less knowledgeable than the cradle Catholics in the pre-VCII period that I call the Golden Age of Catholicism. But occasionally, I am pleasantly surprised by someone that managed to overcome the flaws of the RCIA.

  • Posted by: Sterling - Jan. 15, 2005 3:52 PM ET USA

    Forty-seven and feels she has to have her tubes tied? Yes, yes, I know late pregnancies like this do happen - rarely. Maybe she should have taken into account the extenuating circumstance that she's VERY unlikely to become pregnant!

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2005 10:26 AM ET USA

    I have often wondered "Where do these people go to Church?" They have wonderful liturgies, excellent Homilies(sermons), all round great experiences with the Catholic Church in their area. They sound like they went to VII heaven!! These converts are on fire about the Faith. We need more of this VII heaven offered to the cradle-Catholic that has been so neglected but remains faithful. Is there a Roman Catholic state,city, town,burb where I could find this????