THINGS CATHOLICS ARE ASKED ABOUT
THE CHURCH AND NON-CATHOLIC INQUIRERS
A gentleman said to me, some time ago, “Father, why is your Church so narrow with regard to divorce? Do you not realize that your marriage doctrine keeps a good many people from your religion?” My reply was that people said the very same thing to Christ in His day. I then went on to show him that the Catholic Church is no narrower or broader than her Founder, Jesus Christ. His Church may no more alter His teaching than a judge may alter the Constitution, or a decision of the United States Supreme Court.
I further explained to him that the Church’s teaching on marriage did not originate with her, but with her Founder. Furthermore I showed him that the Catholic Church originated no doctrine, but only taught what Christ commissioned her to teach. I proceeded to say that from the beginning the Catholic Church has been the depository and guardian of Christ’s teaching. That is why she never changes. And that is why the churches change which are not His. Truth never changes. Christ was Truth. The Church which is His teaches what He taught, and that is why her doctrine on marriage is what it is. It is God’s own. As many rejected Christ, Truth itself, because His teachings did not accord with their views, so they reject His Church because she does not teach what they want to believe. But on the great day it is Christ’s standard that will prevail, not the world’s.
After I had developed this point at some length, he replied, “That is all news to me. Why doesn’t the Church explain her position to the public? People have an entirely different view of the matter.” Before proceeding I may say that as a result of this and similar conversations, this gentleman has become a Catholic.
There is no doubt at all that when the Church’s position on any matter is made clear to those outside they either become Catholics or at least drop their hostility to her. Most people are fair-minded and when they have the facts of the case judge reasonably. The trouble today with regard to the Church is that those outside have not the facts. They have plenty of supposed facts, which is worse than having none at all, but of facts they have only distortions.
How is this situation to be remedied? You may say by suggesting books which will set them right. But they will not read books, especially Catholic books. What is to be done? The very best thing is to use the opportunities of personal intercourse to give correct notions of the Church and her teaching. Nearly all persons whom I have received into the Church, have approached the matter of conversion as the result of a chance conversation they had with a Catholic friend or acquaintance.
When known for what it is in reality there is nothing in the world so appealing and convincing as the Catholic Church. The difficulty is that many Catholics do not know how to express themselves with regard to their religion. Of course this is not to be wondered at. Many people know a thing well enough for their own needs and satisfaction but are not able to convey their knowledge to others. This holds in every department of life. Many good and patriotic citizens of the United States know enough about the Constitution to appreciate, reverence and uphold it, yet are not able to explain it to the satisfaction of others. It is easy to understand a thing but not easy to put the matter in a way to make others understand it. However, the average intelligent Catholic should be sufficiently instructed in the Faith to be able to convey a fairly accurate idea of it to those outside.
Frequently a non-Catholic has said to me, “Father, what is the matter with your people? I often ask them why they do this or that, why they believe such and such a doctrine, and they put me off with a shrug of the shoulders.” I replied that often the reason was shyness, or a suspicion that they were being asked out of malice. I also added that many people cannot explain what is perfectly clear to themselves. This I made evident by the fact that only a few persons out of a hundred can give a rational explanation of the political party to which they belong, yet they have their own good understanding of it. To know a thing and to be able to impart the knowledge of it are two very different things.
Yet if one is really interested in something one will endeavor to know enough about it to interest others. We Catholics are vitally interested in our religion. We know that nearly all the hostility to us and our Church comes from bigotry based on misunderstanding, for the most part. Out of self-protection, not to say loyalty, we should equip ourselves to meet all ordinary comers in matters pertaining to our Faith. We should have a conversational knowledge of the main points of difference between ourselves and others. If every Catholic gentleman could give a satisfactory explanation of his belief and practice he would be doing real service to his religion.
Catholics should be crusaders of Christ. In the days of knighthood the staunchest defenders of the throne were those valiant men who formed the bodyguard of the king on the battlefield and in every place of danger. These knights gloried in the defense of the realm. Educated Catholics should be a chosen body of loyal sons of holy Mother Church. They are, for the most part, professional or business men or skilled craftsmen. As a body they are above the ordinary intelligence. They are doing splendid work for Church and State in social and civil activities. Many, too, are spreading abroad right notions of religion and morality. But altogether too few are doing the personal work for God and His Church which they could do if they made themselves well-informed on Catholic matters and used their opportunities to enlighten inquirers.
It is with a view to aid in this particular that in the present volume I hope to present topics of paramount importance, and to set them forth in such a way that Catholics will be well-informed on them and able to inform others. There is only one thing the Catholic Church fears — ignorance. She welcomes all the light that can be thrown on her. But it must be white light. Too often she is seen under the colored light of bigotry, and in that guise she may repel rather than attract. But in herself she is so beautiful, her teaching is so sublime and logical that the greatest minds in every age have been captivated by her. Surely when we see an intellectual giant like Newman bow down in submission to her we may know that she does not quail before the most rigid investigation. And when, in our own day, we behold a master-mind like Chesterton’s acknowledging her divine character we need not fear that the assaults of lesser minds will harm her. It is not for her we fear, for she has the guarantee of God Himself, but it is for ourselves, lest we fail in what we owe her.
Today people outside the Church are hungry for the things of the spirit. Their own churches give them stone for bread. They have a longing for something more than the unsatisfying things of earth. They find life empty. The end of a day brings them nothing really worth while. They would welcome our blessed religion if they knew it for what it is. Most of them have drifted into materialism or indifferentism, and they are dispirited. The Catholic Church answers every cry of the soul, as we know. She satisfies the loftiest aspirations of the human mind. She needs only to be known to be loved. We can help make her known. Our lives are the best portraits of her, if we are true to her. After our lives, our conversation, our information tactfully and correctly conveyed, will do most to bring her into the affections of those who are now estranged from her.
With this in view I shall endeavor to treat various essential subjects in a simple and understandable way, which will, I trust, enable my readers to meet the questions which are at times put to them by inquiring non-Catholics. Hardly a day passes without some of us being asked questions about our Faith. In the office, on the street, in the shop, religious topics not infrequently occupy the principal place in conversation. It is astonishing to note the rapt attention one receives if on such occasions one can say something to the point. The matter of fact is that deep down in every man’s heart there is a yearning for knowledge about the soul and God and the hereafter.
The Catholic religion has definite information on all these matters. Moreover, a well-informed Catholic has also the answer to the perplexing problems of daily life. The Church is simply the continuation of Christ’s mission to mankind. He taught us the way to live for our peace here and our eternal welfare hereafter. He has given the reply, at least in principle, to every question of life. His Church is His mouthpiece. If we want to know what God thinks of marriage or of any other issue of life we may go to her for the information. After all, it is God’s judgment on these matters that counts. Sometimes a patient declines to consult a physician with regard to an ailment for fear of learning the truth. But it is better to know the truth, even though it be undesirable, than to walk on in darkness and fall over a precipice.
The truths of religion are not for our passing pleasure, but for our permanent peace. Christ came on earth not to give us the fading joys of time, but the everlasting joy of life with Him. He did not come to give us anything which man of his own power could obtain, but what was above the power of man to achieve. He came to give us a share in divine life. All His teaching was to help us to become partakers of the divine nature. That is the end of religion, to make us children of God, members of the divine family. His Church was established not to make us rich, nor to give us honor, nor to make us long-lived, but to make us children of God. A Catholic who is well-informed has the true knowledge of life.
In considering the teaching of the Church we must always bear in mind that she has in view not merely the welfare of this brief life but of the life which knows no end. A father often makes regulations for a child, which the child, seeing only present interests, considers unnecessary restraints. But the father sees the future, and knows that later on his child will bless him for those salutary restraints. Our Father in heaven is solicitous mainly for our eternal well-being. His commandments are for our lasting blessedness. And every man in his innermost nature feels that this is so. That is why the Catholic Faith, when rightly explained, satisfies the most exacting inquirer.
God is the Author of Catholic Faith and also the Author of human nature. It is only distorted human nature that can find Catholic truth, rightly explained, at variance with human aspirations. It is with the hope of presenting to the reader the truths of Catholicism in their real significance that I undertake the present volume. A Catholic, rightly informed, is an asset to Church and State.
Note by GADEL: Fr. Martin Jerome Scott (1865-1964) was a Jesuit Priest and scholar of the pre-Vatican II Church. He has authored many books including Introduction to Catholicism, God and Myself, The Hand of God, You and yours; practical talks on home life, Have you a God? what is He like?, Marriage problems, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John Were they fooled? – Did they lie? and No Pope can be wrong in teaching doctrine among others that shows how consistent the pre-Vatican II Church is with that of Vatican II.