Friday 2 September 2016

Why Be Catholic? (1)

One of my young nephews asked me “Why I do you go to Church when we don’t?”  I responded simply: “Because I’m a Catholic”. He came back with, “Well, why are you Catholic and we aren’t?”  I gave the simple reply that “It’s the only Church that Christ started, and so I trust it to teach the truth.” But his question started me thinking: how did my conversion to Catholicism come about? I was eight years old when I first asked to become a Catholic, and several factors were responsible for this desire.
The first was noticing that the family across the street went to Church every Sunday. When I asked the same question as my nephew, “Why don’t we?” and I received the same answer: “Well, we aren’t Catholics so we don’t have to”. I instinctively realised that “Well, if God is GOD, then we should have to”.

The second factor was seeing the film, “The Song of Bernadette”. I developed a great love for the Lady of Massabielle; a love that continues to this day, and always hoped that one day I would to have the opportunity of visiting the Lady’s chosen grotto.

The third was doing history in school when I discovered that the Church of England to which our whole family nominally belonged, had been started by Henry VIII so he could get a divorce –that did not sit well with me; I wanted to be part of the Church Christ started, not one Henry VIIII started.

A fourth factor was noticing that there was a lot of bullying in our school and a lot of what we now call ‘dysfunctional” families in our area. It occurred to me that unless people had a higher authority to account to (God) then we would stay bullies and family life would always be disrupted by alcohol and violence.

The fifth factor was the desire to become a priest. Knowing that few people took God, heaven and hell seriously, I stood in our garden one day contemplating how I could bring people to consider them. I wanted to erect a huge cross in the garden but knew that was out of the question -and at that moment that Father Smith passed our garden and I thought, “That’s it! I’ll be a priest, then when people see me they will have to think about God!”  My family advised me to “be a Vicar because then you can be a priest and get married”, but I remember saying, “No. I want to be a proper in priest”. I was 8 years old when seeing Father Smith stirred my vocation that day, but I did not become a Catholic until I was 20 and my mother booked me and her on a pilgrimage to Lourdes with the local Catholic parish: I simply decided that if I was going to Lourdes I was going as a Catholic, which I did. I am very grateful that I was instructed by the local priest using an abbreviated version of the Penny Catechism, wherein Catholic teaching was clear and precise. It spurred me on to buying F J Sheed’s Theology and Sanity and Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, both of which stood me in good stead for discerning good and bad teaching in the seminary. 

At any rate, having been asked the question by my nephew, I thought a short series of posts on ‘Why Be Catholic’ might be a good idea. Part 1 follows.



[a] I am a Catholic because Catholicism alone has unbroken lineage of pastors and teaching back to Christ, and thus hands on to me (to us) the self-revelation of God: Who He is, and what His plans are for humanity. It gives mankind an understanding of the world, ourselves and our destiny; an understanding that surpasses man’s intellectual explorations of the world, ourselves and the meaning of life.

[b] God is the Supreme Being in whom life and existence originate. While we can say “I have life; I have existence, we cannot say “I am life; I am existence” -only God can say that, because life and existence are His nature: He does not ‘have’ life and existence; He IS life and existence. Existence and life can have only one point of origin (there are not two origins to the universe). Existence and life thus arise together in the same ultimate cause of all that exists: God. I might encapsulate this by saying ‘God is Living Existence’.

 [c] Everyone has an in-built instinct for God; it is an instinct meant to propel us toward union with Him and with His life, happiness and peace. Some express this instinct in overtly religious ways, as do Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims etc., others express it in misdirected ways by believing in such things as fate, luck, karma, superstition, astrology or the occult, all of which are belief in ‘unseen forces’ -and therefore substitutes for God. Without connection to God as the source of our being we can never be truly content, because the foundation of our being is absent. Depressions can only be worse without connection to our foundation; anxieties more intense without connection to our foundation.

[d] The human person instinctively seeks perfect life, happiness and peace, but we can never find it in this imperfect world. Yet the drive to find it is powerful. What religion brings is knowledge of and a hearing of the call to seek God. It also calls us to be the best we can be; the kind of person who, when we die, will have people saying “the world is poorer without”. What the chasing of pleasure (via alcohol, drug use and sexual license and easy money through criminal activity) brings, will be people saying “the world is better off without him”.

[e] I am Catholic because it is the home of science. Science being the enquiry into what creation consists of and how it works, goes hand in hand with Catholicism -which has pursued scientific enquiry for centuries: the scientific method being formalised by Rev. Roger Bacon; the Big Bang discovered by Rev. George Lemaitre; the Mercalli scale for measuring earthquakes (still used today) developed by and named after Rev. Mercarlli. In medical science the laws of genetics were discovered by Rev. Gregor Mendel; cell cytology pioneered by Rev. J. B. Carnoy; chemical digestion in human physiology first described by Rev. Lazzaro Spallanzani; the fallopian tubes named after the anatomist Rev. Falloppio; the glandular-lymphatic system first described by Rev. Niels Stensen (who also founded the science of geology by developing the correct theory of sedimentary rock, geological strata and the origin of fossils).

Although many assume there is a conflict between science and religion this isn’t the case: science tells us how the world works; religion tells us why we are here –and how to live in the world and make use of its resources in moral ways that lead to God. Conflict only occurs between religious bodies and scientists when the scientist says “Because we can do A, B or C, we should”, making no reference to God’s revelation of what is right and wrong.

N.B. the ‘Big Bang’ so clearly points to God that when first discovered it is reported that the Quantum Physicist David Bohm said its discoverers had “turned traitor to science to find answers convenient to the Catholic Church” (cf. Why Does the World Exist?: One Man's Quest for the Big Answer By Jim Holt, American philosopher, author and essayist). Further, while the Big Bang describes how the universe was created, the (unproved) theory of Evolution simply posits how creation developed over time (akin to the Bible’s poetical ‘seven days’ which simply describe huge amounts of time for, “To you Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day” (ps.90v4; 2.Pet.3v8). So neither the Big Bang nor Evolution contradict the Bible.


  1. It was good to read this and I look forward to further postings.

    I too was hugely influenced by 'The Song of Bernadette' which I saw when I was still considering the truths of the Church. In fact I sat through it twice I was so impressed - in the days when you could do this!

    I first read about Lourdes in a magazine I bought in 1958 (the Centenary year - I have it still) and from then on it remained a long-standing wish to visit Lourdes. However I did not get to visit until 2005 but have felt drawn to visit each year ever since and every year brings new experiences there.

    One of my grandsons is sadly not being brought up a Catholic and I had begun to wonder what to reply if he were to ask me why I was a Catholic. Your reply to your nephew helps me to formulate a similar answer if and when the occasion arises. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Pelerin.
      There are few glaring historical inaccuracies in The Song Of Bernadette, but it is a good film to watch all the same.
      I hope my posts do indeed prove useful to you, but I don't think they are going to be of ant great depth, just musings.
      God Bless.

  2. Thank you for this enlightening post, Father. I will print it out, as it expresses many points that I am unable to express, but with which I totally concur.

    Some observations:

    You sought truth at a very young age, and was able to recognize it when you saw it. What a blessing, and what courage to follow it.

    I am currently compiling books from the pre-Vatican II era. I grew up post-Vatican II, and given my unorthodox experiences in the late 1970s and 1980's - [I attended a university heavily influenced by Jesuits who were really into Liberation Theology] - I want to get back to my Catholic roots. As such, I thank you for your references to F J Sheed's Theology and Sanity, and Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. These will be soon part of my library.

    Last, (for this comment anyway- but not necessarily least), I am struggling with what 'No salvation outside the Church", and what Ecumenism really mean.

    The 'no Salvation outside the Church' is something I have only come across in more recent years in perusing traditional blogs. I find myself more in sync with these blogs than the Catholicism I was given. Perhaps it is because Jesus said,[my paraphrase] I am the vine and you are the branches. Without Me, you can do nothing. And so, given that the Church is the Mystical body of Christ, of which He is the Head, then it makes sense to me that 'Outside the Church there is no salvation'. Of course, in human terms, it seems cruel...but Our Lord has provided every means of salvation with His why is it cruel? Because we want salvation on our own terms?

    Then for me, what follows is ecumenism. What is it, and what is its connection to "Outside the Church there is no salvation"?

    Is it possible for you to point me to some reading where I can find answers to these subjects/questions that I have?

    God bless you, and thank you for this blog.

    1. Thank you, GC.
      I believe the books will be very useful to you. I woud add another by F J Sheed: "Theology for beginners". It too is excellent.
      Seeking truth was a gift from God. "No Salvation outside the Church" has a histry of controversy; I cannot be sure but you might find something on it if you good the Father Feeney case. There is an article from EWTN you might find a useful starting point:
      God Bless.

  3. I'm so glad to read your post, Father! Here in the west coast of the country across the pond, I've been experiencing a bit of a difficult summer. So good to read your calming and clear writing. Thank you! It gives me much thought for meditation, which will give me a break from thoughts of my personal trials. God bless you! I hope to hear more from you soon.

    1. Thank you Mary.
      I'm pleased you found the post pleasing or at least useful.
      God Bless.

  4. Thank you Father Dickson for your post - what a breath of fresh air to read - concise and clear. If only there were more priests of your caliber in every single parish - sadly there are not, and too many "Catholics" are not being fed the TRUTH of our very rich Catholic faith. What a blessing indeed you discovered and sought truth at such a young age - and followed through on it. You obviously were open to the Holy Spirit who guided you. I grew up pre-Vatican II - and so I miss greatly the reverence, the silence, the sacredness of the Mass that I grew up with. In our city we lost our Latin Mass, and unfortunately my vehicle is not trust worthy to allow me to travel to where it is being given now. There is so much turmoil, confusion, and division today in our church - so sad. Too many of my "Catholic" friends have been caught up in today's "modern" and what seems to me to be very non-Catholic teachings. It saddens me. Thank you for your words of truth of our faith, and I will add you to my list of priests I pray for. I pray for all priests, brothers, sisters, and especially for those in Purgatory (another subject too many Catholics I know who do not believe in Purgatory!). God bless you Father.

  5. You had a definite calling Father, if you first noticed that at eight. I think I was struggling with my first catapult then.

    The Penny Catechism is something I have in my desk drawer, have given to my children and made available to my grandchildren,

    Catholicism comes back to the Resurrection. Without that we are nothing. In attempts to get this discussed in the Catholic media recently I have notice a reluctance of Catholics, clergy and lay to join in.

    That is a bad sign.

  6. You know, Father, even at my advanced age I still recall my Penny Catechism from school when faced with many dilemmas. What sank in as a child I still find most useful in my adult life. Maybe not an exact answer to my query but, with a little lateral thought, it usually gives an answer.
    Missed seeing you at EF Mass this morning!


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