Paul Berens

Why I Am A Catholic

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (—C.S. Lewis)

This line from Lewis resonates with me, but I suppose I first ought to express why Catholicism at all. I don’t mean to suggest that the creed can be improved, but here’s how I’d articulate my credo in my own words:

I believe that the eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, perfectly-just God created us out of sheer agape, and also granted us free will, which we took and abused (original sin). And so He pursued us like the Hound of Heaven—being madly in love with us—through the centuries via prophets and kings and through a special people (Israel) and finally through His only son, Jesus Christ, to save us from ourselves (because addicts can’t just pull themselves up out of their addiction “by their bootstraps”), which He did by being horrifically crucified, though innocent, on a cross in order to expiate the past, present, and future sin of the world. He founded and left us His Church to give all the means to be saved through that sacrifice.

Ergo, I’m Catholic because that’s the divine gameplan…and it being the fountainhead of Truth and God’s Grace.

The Inimitability of Catholicism

But if I had to summarize what’s truly special and unique about Catholicism, I’d say a few things rise to the very top:

  1. Sacramentality. (Amazing) Grace breaking through the veil: Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, et cetera.
  2. Historical Continuity. From the Apostles through antiquity to the Middle Ages to the modern period; through Her victories and saints, Her failures and sinners; the Church has endured for two millenia uninterrupted (against all odds).1
  3. Doctrinal Steadfastness. On the whole, the Church isn’t trying to win a popularity contest, and so does not modify its teachings and pronouncements in response to the whims of popular culture, and I quite respect this.

Growin’ Up

The first and simplest answer of why I’m Catholic is that I was “brought up” in the Faith, which I’m proud of (fidei donum) but also a touch self-conscious about—or shall I say I’m defensive against the tacit assumption that faith is a mere function of upbringing and where the Fates had you be born2 as I’d characterize this as a genetic fallacy. It also holds less water as society secularizes and it’s not so fashionable to practice Catholicism. But, as I say, it was a gift: Mass every Sunday with Mom at the piano, leading the congregation in sung prayer, as Dad ensured we didn’t screw around and participated (sang). They were carrying a tradition passed down from their parents and so on. This is more than my immediate family: four grandparents3 (one a convert), 19 biological aunts and uncles, family friends, et al. Kindergarten through third grade, and then eighth through twelfth grades were Catholic schooling, and while it was maybe catechetically unremarkable, I was surrounded by many people living out their faith to the best of their ability (which carries a lot of weight).

Claiming It

My formation in Christianity and Catholicism was multifaceted with many lovely people playing parts, but at the same time it also lacked rigor—for which I take full responsibility as I was given the gift of attending wonderful Catholic institutions with unfettered access to marvelous teachers. High school was diocesan, and so it was my Uncle John who turned me on to the Jesuits (he having been formed in the tradition for the better part of a decade before deciding to exit). And so I chose Boston College for undergrad, its (Jesuit) Catholicity no small factor, and once there my faith indeed expanded…in the classroom certainly (e.g., with Fr. Michael Himes), through various retreats and activities (e.g., Liturgical Arts Group), and during many late-night discussions and debates with clever friends4. Kairos VIII impacted me enough that I joined the leadership team of a subsequent one; but theologically it only went ankle-deep, and so it demanded I take the next step on my own, which I failed to do…at least at that time. In my mid-20s I did deviate from the Faith when Protestantism directly challenged it and I lacked the theological foundations to overcome. However that detour ended up being profitable to my faith life overall, and ultimately, I appreciated the shake because it sent me on a path of greater inquiry. I became hungry for theology, and several texts had an oversized influence on me—Seven Storey Mountain being among the most important. Later the Word on Fire institute and EWTN and Padre Peregrino were very helpful to my formation and growth.

Love and Marriage

I married “up” in many categories, but faith was certainly one: Lisa’s itself but also that of her family: earnest, natural, bold, everpresent—possibly a gift passed down from the Korean martyrs. We met in the contemporary choir of St. Dominic’s, me a guitarist and vocalist; she a pianist. Faith occupied an important part of our relationship (e.g., weekly Lectio Divina with friends), and it eventually led us to an orthodox parish, Star of the Sea, which has been a solid spiritual home for the past several years.

Crescamus in Illo per omnia,

— ᴘ. ᴍ. ʙ.

  1. It’s a reason to love Catholicism (Mt 16:18), but also good evidence for it being guided by the H.S. as every other institution and empire has fallen over the centuries. 

  2. This is frequently hauled out by the atheists (e.g., “How thoughtful of God to arrange matters so that, wherever you happen to be born, your local religion turns out to be the true one” —Richard Dawkins). 

  3. Maybe for another post, but there’s a story to be told on how my maternal grandmother’s tireless efforts can be credited with cultivating the faith of the next generations. 

  4. It’s funny: among my five roommates senior year, two became priests: @jzipple and @FrDaveNix, on diametric opposite ends of the conservative-liberal spectrum.