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Should I stay or should I go now ...


In which the pilgrim addresses those who consider leaving the Catholic Church.
Darling you gotta let me know Should I stay or should I go? If you say that you are mine I'll be here til the end of time So you got to let know Should I stay or should I go?—The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"


So I sometimes encounter Catholics of two stripes—the zealous of orthodoxy and the zealous of liberalism—who question whether they should even stay within the Church anymore. The former group cites lackluster liturgy, horribly homilies, terrible theology, variations in the interpretation of Vatican II, and widespread worldliness among the faithful and the latter points to frustrations at the lack of progress in the Church in regards to women in Holy Orders, teachings on birth control, more laity involvement in the Curia, failure of the Church to act for social justice, or other outmoded paradigms of thought. And Catholics from all walks of life were scandalized (as they should be) by the sexual misconduct in the church and the misconduct of the hierarchy to address with compassion the needs of the alleged abused. Many were also torn when the new English translation of the liturgy was promulgated.

So how do we answer those who say that the Roman Catholic Church no longer seems authentic? What do we say those who have considered leaving the Church, or indeed have already left it? I feel a little better suited to address directly the first group—the zealous of orthodoxy and desire for holiness in the church—but the argument to both is essentially the same: the Church is infinite its graces and its place in creation because it is God's church, and what we see now are but people in the smallest sliver of time and space.

Those tempted by another denomination or faith must ask serious, soul-searching questions. However, do not ask whether our Christian brothers in faith are more or less capable of living holy lives—of course they are—but are those other denominations custodian of the pleroma, the fullness, of Christ's revelation on earth and His sacraments and thus most closely resembles the reflection of the full Church that is his Body? Christ appointed Peter as the head of the apostles and told all that upon this rock "Petros" he would build his Church. Do other churches contain the fullest representation of Christ's desire for how his apostles carry out the revelation of the Gospel to all creatures according to Jesus relationship with Peter?

After asking yourselves those two questions and determine the Catholic Church does contain the fullness of revelation and the authority of Peter, even if the Church seems to stand at the gates of Hell, you yourself cannot budge. If these two markers demonstrate that the Catholic Church is the true church of Christ that means that by its sacramentality and custodianship of the sacraments, it receives the fullest measure of the Holy Spirit. Neither you, nor anyone else can afford to separate from Holy Spirit's guidance of the Church—even if it seems like no one else in the Church is listening—or from the Church's concrete sacramentality if you know that sacramentality and the promise of Jesus to send his Holy Spirit to remain with His Church are true. There are too many saints who stood up even to popes, much less obnoxious bishops and bad priests (St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Teresa of Avilla being my obvious favorites), to think that the holiness of the living people in the Church should in any way deter us from individually living out the content of our faith.

Even if someone holds that the Catholic Church to be the true deposit of faith and the sacraments, some decry what they hold to be a worldliness in the Church, a lack of holiness. Those zealous doubters then point to members of other Christian denominations, especially, who exude holiness while those they know in the Catholic far from even try toward growth in virtue. Anyone who knows such virtuous and holy people, especially if they are of a Christian faith, should consider themselves blessed to have them in their life. We should imitate St Antony of Egypt, who learned from the different anchorites in his community, collecting what was good from them as a bee collects pollen from one flower and then another. We should go to any such holy people often and learn what we can from them. They are certain to be good Christians—we shall know them by their fruits.

However, if one searches any town there will be men and women of heroic virtue in every faith present there—the story of Abraham asking about the fate of Sodom and the ten righteous men holds special resonance with me in this regard. When Abraham asked God if he would spare Sodom if he found ten righteous men there, Abraham knew there was no way there could be ten men of the covenant in Sodom; after all, his was the only family under the covenant. So it must be the righteousness of another faith that could have saved the city (Gen 18:16-32). I always figure that there's always at least ten tzadik in any given town that is still standing, regardless of faith. They too are saved by the blood of Christ, and in that way Christians, even if they themselves do not know it (See CCC 818-819). But the example of their virtue, which should inspire, does not speak to the content of their creed or dogmas even though it may speak to the content of their faith.

Speaking of the holiness of individual members of the Church always reminds me to make the prayerful petition for saints as bold and charismatic as St Augustine, Antony, Francis, Dominic, Bernard, Francis de Sales, Teresa and John of the Cross, or whomever your patrons and inspirations are. These meteoric saints, true cities on a hill inspiring men and women across the Church to lead holy lives, reforming the very Pilgrim Church herself, always arise in times of lackluster faith, heresy, and conflict within and without the Church. These are the times for great saints, and if we are honest in our prayers for them, then God will answer and the Church will reflect God's graces externally as well as internally.

It is my unshakable belief that the Catholic Church IS Christ's Church on earth, and all will find more available graces with her than on any other path. As long as it contains the fullness of revealed Truth and remains custodian of the sacraments it is the True Church of Christ, no matter how worldly or anachronistic its members may seem. God is holy; God is Eternal; and God has blessed his Church with those qualities as well. Amen.

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