Friday, March 17, 2006

Letter to an Inquirer

Pontifications is a blog I've read off and on for over a year and am a better person for it. Its author, Alvin Kimel, is a man who was an Episcopalian priest for over 25 years, and last Easter left all of that behind to join the Catholic Church. Indeed the posts last year at this time for filled with the full range of emotions as he made ready to 'cross the Tiber'.
In Letter to an Inquirer, he offers a wonderful apologetics lesson on the Church, relativism, and on searching to a young Catholic who is thinking of joining the Episcopal Church. It is worth reading the whole thing, but here's a snippet. Be sure to read it all, especially the last paragraph where he recommends some wonderful books worth reading.
I am seeking to learn more about the Episcopalian Church. I am currently taking RCIA classes at my local Catholic church and want badly to convert but am assailed with doubts for the following reasons: the Church’s stance on divorce, birth control, abortion, homosexuality and women as priests. I am a liberal and cannot and will not betray my conscience by accepting the teachings of the Church hierarchy that I view to be implicitly wrong. I love Christ will all my heart and long to serve him, but don’t know if I can reconcile my personal belief system with these teachings, not to mention the overall alarmingly conservative outlook of many Catholics. I know that many former Catholics have become members of the Episcopalian Church. Do you know of any yourself? Is it true that many have become members since Pope Benedict took his place in the Holy See?

I have encountered some Catholics online who are progressive and share my views but they seem to be the minority, alas. I’m feeling pretty lost right now and I don’t know where I can find a home, so to speak, a church that will accept and embrace my views. I love so many aspects of Catholicism, the dignity of Mass, the sacraments, the emphasis on social justice, but don’t want to feel as if I’m living a lie but rejecting other teachings. Does the Episcopalian Church offer the sacrament of Reconciliation? I don’t know if I could stand to leave this behind. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

* * * * *

Dear Inquirer,

I applaud your commitment not to betray your conscience “by accepting the teachings of the Church hierarchy” that you believe to be wrong. The Catholic Church teaches that the conscience is the voice of God and therefore a person should and must obey his conscience, even though it is possible that he may have misheard the divine voice. “It is never lawful,” Cardinal Newman writes, “to go against our conscience.” However, we also have a moral obligation to inform and train our conscience. How are we to do so?

You write that you disagree with the Catholic Church’s positions on divorce and remarriage, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, and the male priesthood. May I suggest that you bracket these convictions for a moment and consider a more fundamental question: Is the Catholic Church who she claims to be? This question must be asked and answered before you can reasonably address the specific teachings of the Catholic Church, for if the Catholic claim is true, then you will be forced to reconsider your present beliefs. Let’s be honest. Given the beliefs and values of our culture, you would be a remarkable person indeed who did not disagree with the Catholic Church on the issues you mention. Since your birth you have breathed in a spirit of inclusivity, relativism, and anti-authoritarianism. You are a grandchild of the sexual revolution. You have been indoctrinated in a worldview that is hostile to the Catholic faith. The teaching of the Catholic Church on sexual morality is especially offensive to secular culture. The Catholic Church now exists in the United States as a counter-cultural community. I propose that this counter-cultural stance be considered as one piece of evidence in favor of the claim that the Catholic Church speaks to the world with divine authority and truth. How easy it would be for her to conform to contemporary sensibilities. How the cultural elites would applaud if she would just affirm the permissibility of abortion or gay marriages. Yet the Catholic Church will not accommodate. She knows she is entrusted with a solemn responsibility—to guard the faith once delivered to the saints and to pass it on intact to future generations.

For the Catholic, the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the decision to accept the authority of the Church is one decision. They cannot be separated, for the risen Christ will not be separated from his mystical body. We love to manufacture religions that express our own ideological and religious preferences. As Luther once remarked, “Every man is born with a Pope in his belly.” The grace of the Catholic Church, with all her weaknesses, sins, and failures, is that she confronts me as other. She is not, and refuses to be, a projection of my ego. She simply is. She speaks with a voice that is not my own. She challenges me with the authority of God. Here is one meaning of the ancient Christian dictum extra ecclesiam nulla salus: outside the Church there is no salvation. The Church saves me. She saves me from the sin of self because she cannot be assimilated into my self; I must be assimilated into her. I am the one who must change. I am the one who must be willing to submit my intellect to her wisdom and knowledge. Incorporated into the Catholic Church I am simultaneously incorporated into the glorified and risen Christ and brought into the ecstatic life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


When I became Catholic just under a year ago, I made this profession: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” Believe me when I tell you that this was one of the hardest moments in my life. I had been an Episcopal priest for twenty-five years. As my friends will tell you, I have strong convictions about a great many things and especially about matters theological. If nothing else, I am opinionated. Yet with that surrender to the magisterial authority of the Church came true intellectual liberation. Finally, for the first time, I had a knowledgeable and faithful guide. As Chesterton wrote, “To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think.”

Is the Catholic Church who she claims to be? Is she the Church of Jesus Christ? This is the question that you must answer.


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