I’m a wayward Catholic boy.
Well, that’s an exaggeration. Father Andrew Greeley liked to repeat the cliché that, “Once Catholic, always Catholic.”
With qualifications, yes.
Nothing ever leaves you. No one ever leaves you.
A friend from long ago lost his mother to breast cancer. He was 14. And every year on the anniversary of her death, he cries.
He told me that people say you’ll get over your grief. But no, a permanent scar goes from acute to a milder, chronic ache, he told me.
A Catholic childhood
Did I just compare being raised Catholic to having a scar? I guess I did. But I have no complaints. Some horrible things happened in the Church. Y’all know what I mean. But it never happened to me.
Catholicism has left me free from permanent scars.
Death with no scar
The people I’ve loved the most—whom I’ve lost—are my grandparents.
Of course I would outlive them. But they’ve never left. I see Papa’s face every day. He doesn’t say much. Never had much to say anyway. Just smiles.
There’s no scar. Death is no surprise at 89. That was 15 years ago.
“She travels outside of karma”—U2
What does any of this have to do with Grace?
For Catholics, Grace is God’s love, not because of what we have or have not done, but because God wants it.
“Oh, because you want it? Fuck you, God!”
The atheist objection, “Why pray, because God either will or won’t and has already made up His mind anyway,” is compelling—at first. Catholics say, “Well, that misses the point—relationship is the point. You talk to people you relate to. It’s not about your ego.”
Goodness is impossible
Stoics, like Catholics, believe that goodness isn’t good if it isn’t pure. But no one’s perfect.
You’ll drown in 6 feet or 6 inches of water, so how close you are to the surface is irrelevant. What’s the point?
“Keep trying” is not a good answer. I will fail. So, why try?
Pragmatically, it makes sense to focus on an achievable goal. Being good, therefore, it not a rational goal.
Grace says, “The intent and the effort do matter. But even though your efforts won’t succeed, God—not humanity—will bridge the gap.”
A demon haunted world
Why, then, am I not a Christian?
About 30 years ago, liberal theologian (and bishop) John Shelby Spong wrote that Christianity must change or die. But looking back, it’s liberal churches that are dying. And while Christianity overall is in decline (especially among the young), conservative evangelical churches are holding water.
Christianity is a literalistic religion. Jesus is always casting demons out of people, and these demons are actual spiritual beings, not personified psychiatric conditions. St. Paul’s letters describe an earth where real demons and angels are duking it out.
We can’t assume, though, that if God exists then angels and demons must also exist.
In other words, Grace could become a belief in philosophies like Stoicism without having to resort to a demon haunted world. But is Stoicism without Grace—thus, Stoicism without God (even if not the biblical God)—feasible?