The Grace to Remain Catholic

The other day, a childhood friend contacted me through Facebook. She had been raised Catholic but now does not believe in God. She knows that I am a convert to Catholicism who writes on religious subjects and wanted to know what drew me to Catholicism and how I could remain Catholic. She wasn’t arguing against belief in God; she was simply curious how I could affiliate with a religion that, for many people, does not seem to value women and that many are leaving.

The question about how I could remain Catholic was what really grabbed my attention most. What could I say? While I was thinking about it, I suddenly remembered that I had answered that question earlier this year, in an essay I wrote for the Catholic Channel, during its blogger symposium on the topic, Why I Am NOT Leaving the Catholic Church. After reading through that essay, I sent my friend the link to it. Here is the essay, slightly edited and revised for publication here.

Will I remain Catholic?

When Patheos’s Catholic bloggers held a blogging symposium on Why I Am NOT Leaving the Catholic Church, I decided to throw my two cents into the discussion. Before I answer the question of whether or not I will remain Catholic, I would first like to look at a few reasons I find insufficient—in themselves, at least—for staying in the Church.

Catholicism is true. Yes, well, so is gravity. And, yet, every year, knowing gravity is true, men insist on attempting to defy it. Sometimes, they succeed. Other times, they fail. The truth of gravity is not, in itself, sufficient to convince some people to act prudently in its regard.

The same is true of Catholicism, I’m afraid. I believe, completely, that the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth, revealed by God for our salvation. And yet, over the past decade or so, I have watched countless Catholics (including many converts who came into the Church because they believed in the truth of Catholicism as fervently as I do) walk away from the Church—not because they are no longer able to believe, but because, for some reason, it seems that they no longer want to believe or care about believing. Sometimes they turn to other churches, sometimes to other religions. Sometimes they simply drop into apathy. But each and every one of them once wholeheartedly embraced the truth of Catholicism.

I suspect one reason is because truth alone, stripped of all else, is a brutal taskmaster. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his homilybefore the opening of the papal conclave in 2005, put it another way: “Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like ‘a clanging cymbal'” (1 Cor 13:1).

I cannot be arrogant enough to suppose that truth alone will keep me in the Church when I have seen that it is not enough to hold the hearts and minds of better men and women than me.

The Church provides Christ in the sacraments. I often hear Catholics remark that they remain in the Church for Christ in the Eucharist. “No one is going to deny me the Real Presence of Christ!” they say.

And yet many find ways to have the sacraments without the Church. Many radical traditionalists, unwilling or unable to accept the development of doctrine and practice in the Church over the past half-century, have clustered around likeminded priests and rogue bishops to receive valid (if illicit) sacraments, along with interpretations of Catholicism that they prefer. Many radical progressives, unwilling or unable to accept the authority of the Church over the past half-century, have gone forth and done likewise.

Lest those who consider themselves orthodox suppose they are immune from this temptation, allow me to share that I have watchedrumors unfold this past year that there are Catholic clergy and laity, still fully in union with the Holy See, who explored “important countermeasures . . . in preparation for [this past] October’s Synod on the Family,” in preparation for the possibility of pastoral directives from the Vatican that they intend to resist. I have even seen individual priests, in posts to social media, murmuring about how they intend to avoid any directives they might receive from a bishop or religious superior to offer the sacraments in accordance with authoritative pastoral directives with which they happen to disagree.

Basically, if you want the sacraments badly enough, you can figure out a way to get them without having to trouble yourself with staying loyal to the Church entrusted by Christ to be their custodian.

What other Catholics do won’t affect me. Many orthodox Catholics delude themselves into thinking that the scandals wrought by bad bishops, predatory priests, and lackadaisical laity will have no effect on their own spiritual lives. There are two problems with this.

First of all, if those scandals don’t affect you, then that is a problem in itself. If you refuse to feel outrage when clergy commit grave evils, or shrug when laity don’t live out their Faith, then you are showing signs of a calloused spirit. Either that or you are refusing to recognize and name evil for what it is.

Secondly, I don’t think it possible to assume that you are that special of a snowflake. I’m afraid that the evils others do will catch up with you eventually.

When the priest abuse scandal of 2002 first broke, a Catholic convert I was acquainted with steadfastly refused to recognize the magnitude of the problem. He constantly chastised others for expressing their outrage at the bishops who had allowed grave evils to occur and who had shielded the predators. A few years later, long after everyone else had been able to lick their wounds and move on, the reality of the horrors caught up with him, and he apparently could not handle it. Because he had also managed to alienate most of his social circle, he did not have many fellow Catholics left from whom to receive emotional support. He ended up leaving the Church; last I heard from him, he has become a strident anti-Catholic chastising Catholics for the scandal of abusive clergy.

The question . . . again

So, then, given this, will I remain Catholic?

God only knows.

I mean that quite literally. God only knows.

I have fallen away from practice of my Catholic Faith before. I tell that story in this blog post, but here is the nutshell:

I was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church in 1996. A couple of years later, I lapsed. I didn’t reject the Church, but I stopped going for about eighteen months. At the time, it was my non-Catholic parents who urged me to start attending church again. They didn't particularly care for the Catholic Church, but they appreciated the change for the better that they had seen faith give me.

In retrospect, I consider this lapse a grace, because it has acted as something of an inoculation against a more spectacular fall—one I readily admit could well have occurred after the explosion of the clergy abuse scandal in the U.S. in 2002.

I have also struggled with temptations against faith:

Political ideals I took for granted to be correct I discovered were not always in line with the teaching of the Church. Prominent Catholic clergy and other teachers of the faith I respected and admired either suffered spectacular falls of their own or jumped the rails of Catholic orthodoxy to greater or lesser degrees. Even the ordinary obligations of being a Catholic (e.g., going to the sacraments, times of fast and abstinence) occasionally can challenge natural concupiscence.

As our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, once said: "The ways of the Lord are not comfortable, but we were not created for comfort, but for greatness, for good." Benedict’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, made the same point more colorfully: "It can't be all peace, joy, and pancakes."

I have even struggled with temptations to apostatize. I don’t intend to give you details of that, since I consider the matter personal, but I share the fact of those temptations because they exist and they need to be acknowledged as existing. No good comes from refusing to admit one’s own limitations. And no good comes from denying that these kind of temptations can afflict anyone—no matter where they are in the spiritual journey or how frequently they practice their Faith.

Temptations are not sinful in themselves; they are to be expected inthe struggle of faith and can be used as stepping stones to closer union with God. Denial, on the other hand, gives the temptations power and eventually can make them impossible to overcome.

And again . . .

Then how will I remain Catholic?

By the grace of God alone.

For some reason that I may learn only in the next life, God wants me to be Catholic. He has given me the grace to become Catholic, he has given me the grace to remain Catholic even in the midst of struggle, I pray he will continue to give me the grace to remain Catholic.

I do not think the grace to remain Catholic will be given in one lump-sum payment, as one might choose to receive winnings from a Powerball jackpot. Rather, I get just enough grace for today. Just enough grace to send the devil packing this time. Just enough grace to get past a new doubt or an old temptation. Not because I deserve that grace, not because I am better than anyone else who has not received that grace, but simply because God loves me and, for some unfathomable reason, wants me to be Catholic.

I can cooperate with that grace. I can maximize the potential that I will continue to remain in that grace. Learning my faith more deeply, receiving the sacraments regularly, praying for those whose actions harm the mystical body of Christ—those are all good ways to cooperate with the grace to remain in the Church. But, in themselves, they are but tattered rags. Only grace gives them the power to transform me into a faithful Catholic.

Which is why, at every Mass, during the consecration of the Eucharist, I pray for the grace of final perseverance.

By Michelle Arnold



  1. Joden Reply

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I am a cradle Catholic and I inherited my faith from my parents who are also Catholics but much to my dismay, they didn’t raise me to be a devout youngin; although I’m with faith, we rarely went to Church. For 10 years, I would say that I have lapsed my Catholicism after my Confirmation when I was in high school. But I was ignorant about the teachings of the Church and therefore had lived a sinful, juvenile life. However. there was suddenly a turning point when Holy Week (it’s called “kuwaresma” here in our country, Philippines) was approaching — I realized, in hindsight, that I trivialized my faith for not observing such wonderful holiday of our Lord who has died in the Cross to redeem mankind and for the forgiveness of sins. So I went for Mass on Easter Sunday but refrained from receiving Communion since I was a lapsed Catholic for a decade. I went to Confession and my sins prior to going back were outstanding! But I felt like a ton of weight was lifted from my shoulders. Since then, I never stopped going to Mass and receive Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, it’s been my favourite part, and go to Confession whenever I feel like it. This is such a wonderful grace from God and I thank Him with all my heart and soul for that.

  2. Patrick Gannon Reply

    The author starts right off with a very poor analogy. Comparing Catholicism with gravity is comparing apples to oranges. Gravity has effects that can be measured – we just measured gravity waves for the second time in history, and in the years ahead it’s easy to predict that we will learn a lot more. The tenets of Catholicism however, have no such measurable effects. There’s no objective evidence for the existence of gods, afterlives, miracles, resurrections, virgin births – nothing. You can’t begin to compare things that can be objectively and empirically researched with things that are strictly subjective and emanate from the minds of what the Church proclaims to be flawed human beings. Every single word about gods and afterlives (not that we have any original texts at all!) came from the hands of fallible men.
    Yes, people who attempt to defy gravity, occasionally fail, but we have absolutely no evidence that those who defy Catholicism fail – it is far more likely that those who defy Catholicism and thereby shed unnecessary and unearned guilt, shame and fear are the true winners. Speaking from personal experience, sloughing off that cloak of guilt, shame and fear sewn to the psyche as a child, results in being far less judgmental and hostile to “the other,” unless the hostility is directed at the organization that instilled it in the first place. It’s to be expected that recovering Catholics are not generally happy with the Church that polluted their minds in the first place.
    The author is concerned for why people are turning away, but I think it’s pretty clear. Christianity (and Catholics and fundagelicals in particular) has become known as the “religion of hostility to the other.” People have had enough with the hostility of the Church whose cloaked, celibate virgins call LGBT’s disordered; while they themselves are apparently disordered enough that the organization removes them from the gene pool (and for which we thank them – if only fundagelicals would do the same!).
    It’s not grace that keeps you in the Church – it’s fear. The very concern that you need grace is an example of that fear. It’s also an unwillingness to look within and see who you really are and what you really know – not believe, what you really know, and you don’t have the slightest idea of what, if anything is going to happen when you die. That’s the simple fact of the matter. Believing anything else is self-deception, and that can’t be healthy.

  3. Alice Soto Reply

    Thanks for keeping it real. I am Catholic, faithful & will follow the truth. Whatever comes along, God gives me the strength to continue knowing I am on the right path. God bless all.

  4. Mike Scofield Reply

    Patrick Gannon poor soul, open your mind. There’s a lot of proof about Jesus God, His resurrection, Miracle, etc..Catholicism will not fail, it is almost 2000 years in existence. For sure sooner or later you will die but the Catholic Church will remain long after your demise, that’s for sure.

  5. Noreen Reply

    I was enlightened by your story. I admire your understanding about the Roman Catholic faith and how you sincerely desire to remain a Catholic.
    I wish I have the same utmost desire to remain in the one true faith which is the Roman Catholic faith.

    Stay humble yet bold enough to defend the Roman Catholic faith when necessary, and according to the grace that our good Lord, has given you.

    Let’s pray for one another.

    More power!

  6. Vicki Sawarin Reply

    The problem is not with the Church. No one seems to realize that Lucifer has been in battle with God for control of the Church, since the beginning. He is the greatest deceiver, & because of him, man kind has changed many teachings of Jesus Christ In the end, God will win & all will return to the Church that Jesus established.

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      Why don’t people understand how ridiculous that is? Here you’ve got this all-powerful being, yet somehow he is in a “battle” with a lesser being that he himself supposedly created. Describing this battle in this way insinuates that the outcome is actually open to question – that an all-powerful being could actually be defeated by a lesser being, which of course means he’s not all-powerful. It’s a ridiculous assertion, unless we drop the idea that Yahweh-Jesus is all-powerful.
      OK, so given that Yahweh-Jesus is not all-powerful and Lucifer is battling for control of the Church – it seems he must be winning, given the historical corruption and evil perpetuated by the Church from Crusades to pogroms, to Inquisitions to burning heretics, to raping children to financial scandals, and so on. I’d say Yahweh-Jesus is losing this battle, or maybe the Church is on the wrong side.
      You suggest that in the end, Yahweh-Jesus will win, but in that case, why go through all the hullaballoo in the first place? If your god is all-powerful, why doesn’t he just snuff Lucifer out? Oh that’s right, after Jesus came people (and devils, I suppose) were no longer simply destroyed when they didn’t live up to expectations, they were to be tortured for all eternity – that’s hardly what I would call “good news.” Before Jesus, everyone went to Sheol, a place of permanent unconsciousness, not a place of punishment. Many Jews believed you were dead forever, but many others thought at the end of time, those in Sheol would be wakened and judged. The good would be rewarded with a new garden paradise, and the bad would simply be destroyed – fair enough. Along comes Jesus, and now we are judged as soon as we die, and if we fail to believe, say and do the right things – without a shred of objective evidence that this god even exists – then were are to be tortured in flames for all of eternity. How exactly has our condition improved? How exactly is Jesus the “good news”? Surely it would be more just and fair to simply destroy those who fail to measure up. The Jews understand justice much better than Christians. Sending a mere human who lives but a handful of decades to eternal torture and torment is about the most evil thing ever dreamed up by the mind of man. By the way, the other three “hells” are Gehenna the Jerusalem town dump, long since closed, Hades, the pagan hell for Greeks and Romans, and Tartarus the bottom layer of Hades reserved for Lucifer and his demons. These four words – Sheol, Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus were all translated to the pagan word “hell” and none of them mean hell as we understand it. Fact check me on this. Look up those words.
      Another question that always bothered me, was why did Lucifer rebel? I mean he’s in heaven. It’s supposed to be bliss. Your god is supposed to be “love.” Why in heaven’s name would Lucifer or any other angel want to rebel if god and heaven is so wonderful? This simply makes no sense. That this fictional character rebelled, tells us pretty clearly that Yahweh-Jesus, if he were to exist, is the petty, petulant, tyrannical god described in the OT. He’s a monster, what with condoning, committing or commanding genocide, sexism, racism, murder of innocents, discrimination against the disabled, and so forth. Of course Lucifer would want to get away from a god like that – who wouldn’t? He’s so bad that he actually has to “command” that his sheeple love him. What good and loving parent ever has to command that their children love them?
      This also raises the question of why Yahweh-Jesus created Lucifer in the first place. If he’s all-knowing, then surely he knew what would happen. The same applies to us. If he knows a human will end up in eternal torment, yet fails to prevent it, how much more evil can you get than that? Christians worship an unimaginably evil god – or the Church who invented him, got it all wrong and created an evil god for its own purposes – to use fear to control the masses. Face it – isn’t that the more likely scenario?
      Remember the talking snake told the truth and Yahweh-Jesus lied in the mythical garden. Your god told the kids if they ate of the tree of temptation they would die when they ate it, and as the snake predicted, they did not die when they ate it. The snake also truthfully told them that Yahweh-Jesus was trying to hide knowledge of good and evil from them, and as Gen 3:22 admits, that was exactly correct. Yahweh-Jesus was apparently so ticked off at having his credibility destroyed that he punished them, and all of us, because the kids did something they couldn’t possibly know was wrong until AFTER they did it. That’s just plain evil. Did you know that in some early competing sects of Christianity there were those who thought Jesus’ role was to save us from Yahweh, whom they considered to be the devil? The Church wiped out the Ebionites, Marcionites, Gnostics and others, but we have a few of their texts that they did not manage to destroy. The proto-orthodox sided with Rome, became Orthodox, then became the unHoly Roman Catholic Church, and the rest was history; but until that happened, the future of Christianity could have gone in several different directions, some of which would have clearly been less evil.

      The foundation for the Abrahamic gods has washed away. We know beyond reasonable doubt today that there was no six day creation, no two-person DNA bottleneck, no global flood, no mass Exodus from Egypt and no conquest of Canaan by Israelites, and without these pillars, what remains to support the foundation for your god?

      1. Vicki Sawarin Reply

        Well Patrick Gannon, you certainly can’t be Catholic, because you don’t seem to know much of anything about the truth. Lucifer never was in heaven. In the beginning, there was Good & Evil. All that God created was good & all that Lucifer created was evil. Man had free will. God does not make anyone do anything against their will. If their souls go to hell it is because they chose it by their actions. If they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ & the Holy Catholic Church that He established, they will end up in heaven, when their souls are purified in Purgatory.

        Many have chosen to follow Lucifer . Many have abandoned the rules of God’s Commandments & started their own churches. The Universe was created in 6 days. There was NO ‘big bang’. .There is NO evolution. Change was created at the time of Creation.

        You really need to learn the truth from those who know the truth. Read about the Church Fathers & learn from EWTN. Your soul depends on it.

        1. Patrick Gannon Reply

          I am what they call a “recovering Catholic.” I have worked hard to overcome the psychological abuse of my childhood by the Church.
          In the beginning there was good and evil? Where in the bible does it say that? In the beginning, supposedly the only thing there was, is your god – and you’re saying he is both good and evil? Well, I’ll go along with the evil part. Yahweh-Jesus created the earth and “saw that it was good,” which raises the question of why he didn’t know that in advance!
          Who created Lucifer? If he was never in heaven, how did he come to be called a “fallen angel”? Where did he fall from? Also, I don’t recall reading anywhere in the bible, or hearing in any Catholic sermon or catechism class that Lucifer was a creator. What is your source for that?
          Ah here comes the old argument that we “choose” to go to Hell. Consider the shopkeeper who works hard all day, and a Mafia goon walks into his place of business with a baseball bat and asks him to “choose” whether to hand over his day’s receipts or get knee-capped. Is that free will, or is that extortion? When a robber walks up to you and tells you to give him your money or be killed. if you give him your money, did you freely “choose” to do so, or were you extorted? This silly argument Christians make about choosing hell is incredibly, fantastically stupid. Nobody “chooses” to go to eternal punishment. You realize that non-believers laugh at you when you say such stupid things, right?
          Humans live but a handful of decades, but if they fail to believe, say and do what the disordered, robed, celibate virgins who insist we call them “father” despite having removed themselves from the human gene pool, tell us to do, then we are sent, not to seven or eight decades of punishment, which might be fair in some cases, but to millions and billions and trillions of endless years of agonizing torment and torture – and you think this is good? This is far worse than what the mafia goon is doing – it’s the most evil thing ever imagined. The people who dreamed this up were looking to control you with fear, and they did it magnificently.
          How many people claim to have followed Lucifer? How does one follow something one does not believe exists? I guess I am a follower of unicorns and fairies too? But given a choice, I would have to consider it. I’m guessing you’ve never read the entire bible, but if you do, you will find that Yahweh-Jesus kills millions of people, almost all of them completely innocent, but Lucifer killed nobody. Oh there’s some question about whether it was Yahweh-Jesus or Lucifer who killed Job’s family, but if Lucifer killed them, he did so with Yahweh- Jesus’ blessing. Aside from that handful of people, name me a single person in the bible that Lucifer killed. Your god killed 70,000 innocents because King Dave took a census for crying out loud. He killed innocent Egyptians after he hardened the heart of their leader. He ordered his people through Moses to commit genocide, commanding that they kill every man, woman, child and beast – except virgin girls they could take as spoils of war! Your god is a monster, unworthy of worship, if he really exists and if he is as his “holy book” depicts him.
          You do realize that you are disagreeing with your own Popes when you deny the Big Bang and evolution, right? The last half dozen popes have accepted evolution and you are calling them liars. Good for you – they lie about a lot – but not about this. You also realize that the Big Bang theory was postulated by a Catholic priest, right? “In 1927, the Belgian Catholic priest Georges Lemaître proposed an expanding model for the universe to explain the observed redshifts of spiral nebulae, and calculated the Hubble law. He based his theory on the work of Einstein and De Sitter, and independently derived Friedmann’s equations for an expanding universe.” The Church loves the Big Bang theory because it insinuates that there was a beginning, that the universe didn’t always exist, which had been thought before – and which might still be true. There was a point from which time and matter expanded, but that point may have been there forever until a random quantum fluctuation brought time and matter into existence – but of course this sort of thing requires understanding some science, and you don’t understand your own religion, so it’s unlikely you understand any science. In any event, it is you who does not understand where the Catholic Church sits on these issues. The only thing the Church denies today is the DNA evidence that indicates that we did not come from two people, but from a pool of early human ancestors, and they refute this (as they refuted Galileo, Bruno and others) because it destroys the concept of original sin. The data is there though, and in time they will have to admit it. All the nonsensical stuff put into forums like this is an attempt to distract from this harsh fact – that the Church is illegitimate – there was no original sin, hence no need to be saved by believing, saying and doing the right things, as determined by men dressed up in robes pretending to know things they don’t know.
          I’m sorry, but there are no souls, or if there are, they are completely moot. They make no difference. We understand everything that can happen to particles in our natural world and there is no room for souls, gods, devils or other forces to explain any actions of particles in our world.
          Tell me something – have you even read the entire bible, as I have? Based on the things you’ve said here, I can safely assume you have not; but my memory isn’t great and I haven’t read it again for a few years, so feel free to provide sources for your assertions. Show you priest this post and ask him what I got wrong. Since you express concern for my imaginary soul, ask him which of the four Hells I will go to. The Church translated four very different words to the pagan word, “Hell.” Look up Sheol, Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus. None of these mean what we think of as Hell today. Hades is the brother of Zeus and Poseidon – what the heck is this pagan stuff doing in the New Testament?

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