If you asked someone on the street which doctrine of the Catholic Church is the hardest to believe in, you might hear “the Church’s teaching on gay marriage” or “contraception” or “the historical reality of the Virgin Birth” or “the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist” or some other difficult teaching. However, I think one is harder than all of these.
This Easter Vigil, tens of thousands of men and women around the world, as they seek entrance into full communion with the Catholic Church, will say:
I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.
This is, I think, the hardest doctrine of them all. I, as a fully rational and free person, am asked to assent fully to a body of teachings—all of them. One must believe and profess all the Church teaches, and in addition, the teaching that all her dogmas are unchanging. This difficult doctrine of doctrines did not dissolve with Vatican II; it was, in fact, strongly reinforced. In Lumen Gentium, the document on the Church from that Council, we read:
This infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded…and the faithful are to accept this teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.
At the First Vatican Council, in the 19th century, the following articulation showed the unchangeability of doctrine:
If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.
All this seems pretty intimidating. It almost seems like I should pick one teaching to disagree with just to assert my independence and freedom of thought. Isn’t this the “thought police” telling me what to think, and me, just exercising doublethink, blandly assenting to a lot of teachings simply because someone more powerful than me said so?
I don’t believe so. Rather, I, Br. John Dominic Bouck, believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God—not because I think Pope Francis is a nice guy, or that Thomas Aquinas was really smart, or that two thousand years is a long time, and that that really gives a lot of street-cred to those teachings.
I believe most of all because I have been given the supernatural gift of Faith by God Himself, through the Church, and through my family and teachers. I have not earned it. God knows I don’t deserve to believe. I could come to a reasonable knowledge that there is one supreme being who created and rules. But I would not come to know that that Creator actually loves me as a Father, and that when I disobey Him, He is not an angry bully, but a lover who wants me back, just as He said in Hosea,
She went after her lovers,
and forgot me, says the Lord.
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her. (2:13-14)
I believe because of the blood of the martyrs, especially of that truly great generation of men and women who knew Jesus while He was on earth. They were utterly convinced that Jesus was God, that Jesus was man, that Jesus died, and that Jesus rose—yes, rose from the dead. So convinced that they lived lives of self-forgetful charity, and died deaths of unspeakable torture. Martyrs not of a political cause, nor suicidal, but lovers slain testifying for their beloved.
If I should through my powers of reason and intellect find a contradiction, a real contradiction in the history of Church teaching, or a system of thought more comprehensive and more coherent and more satisfying than the Catholic Church–established by Jesus Christ–then yes, I would look into that seriously. But so far, nothing. And, indeed, I don’t think any real contradiction is possible. Jesus founded His Catholic Church as an agent of truth, and Jesus and His Church do not and cannot lie.
I believe because as St. Peter said to the Lord, “To whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Even amidst doubts, what good would it do me to worship a god of my own creation? He can’t save me. In God alone is my salvation. And if there is no God, no salvation. That seems pretty clear to me. And if God is unchanging, and He wants to help us, it makes sense that He would make known to us what we need to know about Him and ourselves. And this he tells us through the Church.
That’s why I believe in all of it; Lord, help my unbelief.
An Act of Faith:
O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that the divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because you have revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
Image: Jan Matejko, Maid of Orleans