Though the final decision about my faith may not have fully been made in my head (though it’s close), it’s been made in my heart for quite some time now. As I’ve said before, when I try to picture myself going any route other than becoming Catholic I get stuck. I literally can’t imagine it. In some ways it feels like it’s not even my choice: my doubts are still there, but that indescribable, intense pull is stronger than ever. I feel like I have no choice but to resolve my doubts since I’m obviously going to end up being an orthodox, practicing Catholic.
So that leaves me with the next step — one that, thanks to these medical issues, I must make sooner than I’d planned: “coming out” as a Christian and a Catholic. And I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be. I’ve never made a firm verbal statement of faith. I’ve talked about it on this site but nobody I know personally reads it. To my husband and the few Catholics I know I’ve come really close to defining myself as a Christian Catholic but always manage to blurt out a bunch of qualifiers like, “I guess I’m sort of a ‘Christian’ because my husband and I are, you know, pretty much Catholic, mostly.” And to my family and most of my friends I still skirt the issue and don’t dispel the impression that we’re just going to church every Sunday because we think the priest is an interesting guy.
I can hear most of you thinking, “Why on earth is it a big deal to tell people about your religious beliefs?” It probably isn’t if you haven’t spent most of your life wrapped up in the Church of Atheism.
One thing that you’ve probably noticed about atheists (the people who vociferously describe themselves as such, not necessarily all people who lack religion) is that their beliefs are founded on pride. The reason they love to “debate” religion is because they think it’s an opportunity to show everyone how smart they are. The quality they prize above all else is intelligence, particularly their own, and they spend a lot of time making sure everyone else is aware of their reasonableness and intelligence. And they fancy that announcing their lack of belief to the world is great shorthand for, “Check out how scientific and smart I am: I don’t believe in anything I can’t see or measure or prove on paper because there is nothing in the universe that’s not understandable to clever people like me.” A glance through the comments on the Raving Atheist or other theological debate sites will show you what I mean. It would not be incongruous to tack on “Check out how scientific and smart I am:” to the beginning of almost every anti-religion comment made on the site.
And, I’m embarrassed to say, I was always one of these people. I didn’t even fully realize it until I tried to tell the hematologist of my religious beliefs last week, but I’ve spent my whole adult life building my ego around the very fact that I didn’t believe in God. It’s what made me smart (so I thought), and being smart made me valuable — and, if I did say so myself, quite superior to the average Bible-beating yahoo. So when I went to tell the doctor that I needed him to take a moment to discuss alternatives to Coumadin because I’m Catholic and don’t believe in contraception, the words got stuck in my throat. Those old demons jumped back up to yell, “You’ll sound like some unreasonable, superstitious fool!”
Ah, pride. I now understand why they say it’s the most dangerous sin. It’s what kept me away from God for so long, and what keeps me from proclaiming my beliefs now. As I said in Part I of this post, my medical situation would be a lot less complicated if I would just be open about the fact that I’m Catholic and my beliefs are non-negotiable. I think one of the reasons I’m excited about finding a Catholic doctor is so that I can slink away from my current medical team without having to stand up to them for what I believe. I guess I’d rather them see me as a flaky patient than a religious nutcase.
Obviously, this must stop.
So I’m in really new territory here. Becoming Catholic in my heart was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever known. But, oddly, becoming Catholic to the world is an even bigger change, because it has an even bigger impact on my ego. It involves a 180-degree change in the way I’ve always presented myself to the world, and one the requires a whole lot more humility.
This is why St. Augustine’s advice, “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand,” is the only path to God for lifelong atheists like myself. As I heard Fr. John Corapi explain the other day, faith must come first because it forces you to set your pride aside and admit to yourself that you don’t (and can’t) know it all, that your little brain cannot comprehend everything about life and the universe. And when you’re willing to shut up and admit that you don’t know much at all and that you need help finding the answers, a whole new world unfolds before your eyes.
Life as a Catholic for me is, truly, a whole new world. It’s more gratifying and fulfilling and calming than I could ever describe, and I look forward to telling the world about it.
[RCIA starts August 28th]