The one thing Christianity cannot be is moderately important.
Perhaps it is all nonsense.
Perhaps we have been hoodwinked into believing the Greatest Fairy Tale Every Told.
A God who made man (and woman) in his Image. A Chosen People. An ark and a flood. An enslaved captivity followed by an Exodus aided by a Pillar of Fire. A king who — once a shepherd boy — slew a giant with a sling and rock. Elijahs and Elishas. Prophets of Doom and Songs of Songs. Isaiahs and Ezekiels. Angels and a Virgin birth.
And then the greatest chapter of the story: a God-made-man who would upset the entire order by performing incomprehensible miracles and teaching the truest of parables. Ultimately, this Christ’s greatest act would be to pronounce proper Justice and hand out limitless Mercy by submitting himself to the Passion and the Cross. The ensuing Resurrection and our hope for the same would conclude, for a time, the Greatest Story Ever Told.
But is it true?
Or is it just a genius work of literature?
This, after all, is the greatest reckoning of our lives: To determine if the Truth of God and the promise of Christ will mold our lives, shape our purpose and usher us into a glorious eternity in Heaven, or if we are to dismiss it all as nonsense and follow our appetites (if not an alternative self-satisfying dogma) and then simply “call it a life” as we die only to become the carrion of the earth and foodstuff of the worms.
As you might guess, I have my bias: that is, the Truth found in the Catholic Faith. But let me explain just a few reasons why.
First, let’s be clear. There is no other story like that told by the Catholic Faith. In its sweep, it exceeds the epics of Homer and Virgil. In its beauty, it surpasses the lines of Yeats and Wordsworth. In its grasp of human nature, it transcends the insight of Shakespeare and Dante. It is intellectually unparalleled and mystically profound. As one bright thinker observed, “It would take a Christ to invent a Christ.”
Second, the mystical and intellectual depths of the Catholic Faith have only begun to be penetrated. It is no wonder that young people, raised on the thin gruel of a childhood faith, walk away from it as an adult. After all, they have been left untutored and unsupported as they grow up and enter the swampy vitriol of the anti-religious world.
G.K. Chesterton reminds us that the Catholic Church, “the only living institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years,” has crafted a “map of the mind” showing us the holy way forward amid the blind alleys and cul-de-sacs that have been tried and failed by humankind when we are consistently left to our own designs.
For anyone uncertain about the heft and rigor of the Church’s intellectual tradition, I would challenge them to find the equals of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, Blessed John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton and Pope Benedict XVI. For anyone wondering about the deep spirituals wells feeding the Church’s mystical tradition, consider St. Benedict, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Lisieux. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, “The Catholic Church has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Third, the Sacraments of the Catholic Faith are life-giving. The Church walks with us at the richest and poorest parts of our lives. Upon birth, our children are welcomed and cleansed with the waters of Baptism. As they grow to fuller maturity, they are ushered into an adult life of the Faith with the Confirmation of Baptismal promises. Marriages are blessed. The ill are anointed. And perhaps most importantly, our Confession washes our sins from God’s memory and our weekly (or daily) consumption of the Eucharist offers an unmatched intimacy with Christ. The Sacraments embody the theological virtues: with Faith we approach them, with Hope we anticipate their grace and with Love we receive God’s embracing mercy.
I could go on and on (and often do). But faith in God is not simply a matter of intellectual assent. The Catholic Church is not afraid of Reason; it sponsors it. But in the end, if God is who he is, then he not only participates in our reasoning (being its Author), but he forever exceeds it. Our relationship with God is one of Fides et Ratio, Faith and Reason.
There is a part of Faith and Reason that, as Blessed John Henry Newman would insinuate, is like climbing a mountain where the stones to grasp are not fully apparent until you begin the ascent. Then, they are considered, maneuvered and gripped one stone at a time as the summit draws ever nearer. One uses reason, but finds greater fullness in an openness to revelation. Or as Bishop Robert Barron recently described, at some point in every intimate friendship, one doesn’t simply understand the complexities of a person based on a study of their history, their resume and their nature as demonstrated by words and actions; at some ultimate point, you must make a leap of faith and believe that they are who and what they say they are. So too our relationship with God.
Grappling with God — the Author of all things — and considering the purpose of your life and the destiny of your soul is no small undertaking. It is, or should be, the central focus of your existence. Perhaps C.S. Lewis put it best,
One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.