Michael Terheyden on 'Why I am Catholic: An Introduction'
In January of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI said the world is facing a profound crisis of faith, and Christianity is in grave danger and risks oblivion. In the United States, open persecution of the Catholic Church has begun under the Obama administration. So what are we to do? One thing we can do is reflect on why we are Catholic.
Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6)
KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - Pope Benedict XVI made the following two comments when he spoke at a meeting held by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in January 2012: The world is facing a profound crisis of faith, and Christianity is in grave danger and risks oblivion. In the United States, open persecution of the Catholic Church has begun under the Obama administration. So what are we to do? One thing we can do is reflect on why we are Catholic. Knowing the reasons why we are Catholic can strengthen us and help us keep our faith alive in a dark and uncertain future.
Each of us has his or her own story to tell. Technically, mine began when, by God's grace, I was born into a Catholic family. But I will begin when I was still in high school and preparing for college about forty years ago because that was a turning point for me. Back then it seemed like college campuses across the country were on fire. I am referring to the throngs of protesters that were on the news almost daily. They had so much to say. I listened to them point out the evils of our society. They cared. They were going to make things better. I suppose it was because they were older that I looked up to them.
I finally left home for college in the early 1970's. It did not take me long to see the hypocrisy around me parading as self-righteous indignation. I did not find peace and love or a higher ethic; I found self-indulgence, escape, thrill seeking, lust, rebellion, and chaos. Needless to say, I did not fully immerse myself into this culture and steadily drifted away from it.
However, this left me in a quandary. Although I continued to practice my faith, at least minimally, I had largely rejected my parents' values and was now adrift without a value system or meaning. I felt completely free, but I also felt lost and alone. It was like being on the open sea in a small sail boat without a rudder or a compass to guide me. Fortunately for me the 70's was also a time of soul searching. Thus, my quandary motivated me to search for truth and the meaning of life.
I was surrounded by secularism. It stretched out before me as far as I could see. So I began my search in this environment. I took classes in the humanities, the social sciences and the physical sciences. All of these studies were interesting and helpful, but I never found what I was looking for, only fragments, bits and pieces. I gave up hope that I would find answers in secularism.
At this point, I began searching for spiritual answers. I read about the major world religions, except for Christianity. I did not think Christianity, or anything Western for that matter, had the answers I was searching for. Eastern thought fascinated me most, so I concentrated on it. I found great wisdom and beauty in Eastern religion and philosophy, but I could not accept some of their fundamental assumptions or their relativistic reasoning.
My mind was wide open to new ways of looking at the world in those days, but I needed ideas to be rational and relate to human experience in some way. This need gave me something solid to stand on. It also led me to books which attempted to synthesize Eastern and Western thought. These ideas were exciting at first, but as I read more, I found them too speculative and shallow. In general, I felt like these books were leading me in circles, so I stopped reading them.
Only after I had failed to find what I was looking for in secular and Eastern thought did I look at Christianity. I still did not think I would find answers in Catholicism, so my explorations only included Protestantism. Some of the protestant writers had a dramatic impact on me, and I am eternally grateful to them. Reading them was like soaring above the tree tops. Yet, my need for firm footing dampened the flame they ignited. Except for C.S. Lewis, and maybe one other, their reasoning was too loose for me at times.
That is when I started reading Catholic books, and they blew my mind! Catholicism included the fragments--bits and pieces--of truth that I had found in secular, Eastern and protestant thought, and much more. Its reasoning was tight and elegant. Moreover, it offered profound explanations of human experience and compelling, forceful reasons for faith. After being tossed about in the open sea for years, I finally felt solid ground beneath my feet, and it brought me much comfort.
Now, many years after landing upon Catholic shores, I can make my confession of faith in union with our first pope. When Jesus asked the apostles if they also wanted to leave Him, Peter responded, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68). Peter's response has great meaning for me today because it represents one of the chief reasons why I am Catholic. I am a Catholic because I believe truth is real and that the fullness of truth, especially as it relates to the human person, is only found in the Catholic Church.
I believe that truth is real because I see signs of it in the structure of the universe--in the patterns and relationships evident in physical matter and in the desires and moral struggles of the human person. These signs show me that there is something about the universe, and my experience of it, that is ordered, unified, good, beautiful, and objectively real. I believe this reality is truth. Thus, truth is rational and it is knowable and it relates to our experience.
This indicates that we can know much truth about ourselves. But the physical universe alone cannot provide an adequate explanation of the human person. Such explanations defy reason and our experience. Therefore, I believe the only possible rational explanation of the human person must be religious. However, despite the depth in other religions, only the Catholic Church offers me a rational explanation of the human person that is fully consistent with experience and resembles truth.
Peter saw the fullness of truth in the very words and person of Jesus; I see it in the teachings of the Catholic Church--the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. In these sublime teachings, I see truth reaching beyond space and time. It is reaching toward an infinite perfection of order, unity, goodness, and beauty. In its fullest and absolute sense, truth is the Triune God: our beginning, ultimate end, and happiness.
In his Apostolic Letter, Door of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of Faith. It will begin on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. In preparation for the Year of Faith, I hope to write a series of articles which focus on some of the main ideas I grappled with on my journey, ideas that affect all of our lives even today. Let us pray that no matter how dark it becomes in the world or how turbulent the seas, in the end we can all say, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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