Why we are Catholic
... and now "Old" Catholic.
It is popular among our Protestant/Evangelical brothers and sisters to place a "Statement of Faith" somewhere on one's web site. This usually represents their own or their particular church's articulation of what they believe. Catholics generally shy away from this, not because we don't have a Statement of Faith (though sometimes we don't know it too well), but because we're not in the practice of making up our own, individualized ones. The Catholic Statement of Faith is summed up in the Nicene or Apostles' Creeds, comprehensively explained in the excellent Catechism of the Catholic Church, and is easily accessible to anyone, so there's little point in posting it here.
What is worth posting, though, is why we became Catholic. It is not as if our own story is more interesting or important than anyone else's, but perhaps there will be elements in it that encourage or amuse the reader. First, not everyone at The Rosary Shop is Catholic. Seth and Tyra, the owners, are. And a couple of the workers have been. But we also have partners who are not, and some that just aren't too sure. So when we write about why "we" are Catholic, we are speaking primarily about ourselves, Seth and Tyra, and the company in a general sense.
The company is Catholic not merely in its products, but in how we try to operate it and in the way we treat the people we meet; vendors, customers, visitors and workers. In keeping with the Church's teachings, we believe that business exists not merely to benefit the owners -- in fact we are the least paid of anyone by the hour worked -- but to benefit and improve society. The authentic purpose of business is to act as a meeting point at which vendors, workers, customers, owners and investors can exchange genuine goods and services with each other in a spirit of truth and respect. In our particular business, we are fortunate that our "product" is so unambiguously religious in nature. But even companies with less overtly spiritual products can do this through how they treat others. For example, we also have a band instrument/music business in which the same principles are manifest.
The basic principle is that people should always be treated as human beings created in the image of God, and not merely as means to an end. This is significantly different than how most secular businesses are run, in which workers, customers and even vendors are treated more like numerical assets than people. This is easier for us at this point, since the company is so small, but it is a principle we hope to carry within us as we grow. The key is "People first, profits second." While the business cannot continue to exist without profitability -- no business can -- we will not sacrifice people for additional profits. Serving others is always the fundamental priority. A few related topics:
- No corporate speak. We speak plainly and honestly with everyone and avoid spin. Too many companies distort the truth and hide behind tired cliches. We'll not have it.
- No passing the buck. When we make a mistake, we admit it and correct it. If something wasn't done correctly, we do what we can to make it right.
- Delegation of responsibility. We don't micromanage. If anything, we probably don't manage workers and partners closely enough.
- Worker-centered. We do what we can to arrange work around the workers' life-needs, not the other way around.
- Living wage. We try to provide wages in keeping with the workers' stated needs, not necessarily just what the market would afford. This isn't always possible to achieve.
- No psychobabble. We will never attempt to manipulate the customer through clever words and tricky sales or unbeneficial products. We will always treat the customer with respect.
- Listening. A lot of companies talk about how much they listen to people's complaints, but they don't really do anything about them. We actually try. In fact, just about everything we've ever done right was a response to a customer request, so we try to pay special attention when people start asking for things or criticizing things that aren't working well.
- High Expectations of Ourselves and Others. Running a "Christian" company does not mean that we are "softies." In fact, we probably have higher expectations of our people than most. We are also forthright about our perspective in the event of a disagreement. We believe it is possible to disagree, and even at times correct, but to do so in a way that respects the dignity of the person.
- Work and low-income housing opportunities. The Rosary Shop has provided part-time employment to youth, the retired and the out-of-work. We've worked with the state's "back-to-work" programs to help employ people recently laid off due to recession. The Rosary Shop remodeled a daylight basement and rented the rooms to low-income individuals, sometimes providing them with contract work, as well.
- Speed, Quality, Economy -- pick any two. We try to strike a balance between these elements. With thousands of customers, we don't always get it perfect, but we do our best. Customers can choose expedited, if expensive, shipping methods. Customers can choose from low-cost nickel items, 14k items, and just about anything in between. Even so, most of our low-cost items are still decent quality for the price. If we wouldn't buy it, ourselves, then we don't sell it.
- Keep good books (accounting). Going into this, we had no idea how important "proper accounting" is to a business's success. We do all of our own accounting in-house, which allows us flexibility, but also keeps us very aware of the business's financial health. It is also a matter of accountability and responsibility. Unlike many companies that string out their vendors and customers, we try to pay all bills on time, and we don't charge the customer unless we believe the order can ship within a few days.
A third way in which business benefits society -- beyond its products and treatment of people -- is through charitable efforts. We strive to provide quality, authentic, helpful information for free (e.g., our tutorials on the Liturgy of the Hours, basic finance and investing, and pamphlet on basic Catholic Q&A). Like many businesses, we also believe that a portion of the profits should be given to charity. We wish we had more profits to give away, but the truth is that we are running a pretty lean ship in a competitive marketplace. It isn't always easy to be profitable.
Brief Rant: Unfortunately, the US Tax Code discourages charitable donation from corporations; it limits the tax deduction to only 10% of the company's net profits. In bad years a company might not have any profits. In good years many companies have only around 5% retained profit. This means that the government, through manipulation of the tax code, discourages charitable donation more than zero to 0.5% of a company's typical earnings. We think this is bad, and recommend you contact your legislator to have this changed. It doesn't make sense for the government to place extra tax burdens on companies that give to charity.
(We will edit this document from time to time as things develop.)
We have hesitated to enter our own reasons for being Catholic on the site because we didn't want to be accused of trying to play the faith for a profit. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We've never earned less or worked harder than we are now. It isn't easy to be Catholic. But we love it, and have found owning our own business to be a way that we can truly express our faith without interference from... well... people like your boss.
We've decided that this is worth writing because, as most people will notice from the site, it isn't about pushing a product. It is about providing goods and services that genuinely benefit others. In the same vein, if our reasons for being Catholic encourage, help or challenge you, then this page has served a good purpose.
Though each person may have his own individual reason to be (or not be) Catholic, there is ultimately only one reason to do so: Truth. Either Catholicism is true or it is not. If it is true, then all the reasons in the world one might generate to avoid it are but excuses, and if it is false, all the reasons in the world to join are insufficient.
While there is ultimately only one reason to be Catholic, there are about as many reasons not to be as there are people. But most objections to Catholicism distill down to three fundamentals:
- The person isn't actually interested in the fullness of truth, but only in those elements that are comfortable
- The person misunderstands something about the faith (or knows little or nothing about it)
- The person has personally known someone who was a poor example of the Catholic faith
A good, childhood friend of mine summed these together one time when we were discussing the Catholic faith by telling me to stop wasting my time on him: He attended a Catholic school as a boy, and had been "inoculated."
We deal with Catholics every day. We are Catholic... or at least we try to be. There have been times that we have failed to live up to what Christ calls us to be. There have been times that the people with whom we interact have done the same. And there have been times where everyone was being honest, but events conspired against us. For these and other reasons I usually tell people who are new to or are learning about the Catholic faith to do their best to put their trust in God and "The Faith," and not so much in an individual human person who will, sooner or later, disappoint them. In other words, at some point our motivation for being Christian must shift from the person or event that led us to Christ, to the truth of Christ, himself. If it does not, then our faith stands in great peril when it is tried.
For the first twenty-five years of our lives, Catholicism was entirely irrelevant. We married at Seattle Pacific University in 1991. I had all but ceased attending church, though I grew up steeped in various Protestant movements. If I wished to spend time with Tyra, though, it had to include going to church on Sunday... whether I wanted to or not.
After college we ended up in Pullman, Washington at The Church of the Nazarene, a small denomination based on Wesleyan theology and arising from the "holiness" movements in the 19th and 20th centuries of the USA. While studying to become a pastor and working at a local engineering/manufacturing firm, I was asked why there are so many different denominations.
I answered that it is kind of like steak. Some like it well-done. Others rare. Some prefer a potato on the side. Some don't. But in the end, the basic substance is the same. It is all steak.
The engineers were satisfied with this answer, except for Warren Greenway. He stood up, said "That's a nice story, Seth, but I'll eat my steak the way Christ serves it to me," and walked out of the room. It turns out that Warren was Catholic.
Learning of his "religious affiliation," though not being anti-Catholic, myself, I figured I should try to save Warren from the errors of his ways. If nothing else, I was just curious. So I picked out the obvious suspects when one wants to bash Catholicism: Mary's perpetual virginity, papal infallibility, Eucharist, etc. Years earlier my grandfather taught me that, to learn what people really believe and why, it is best to go to the source. That is, don't pay nearly so much attention to what others say about Mormons, Baptists, Moslems or Catholics, but look at what these religious bodies actually say, themselves. So we did this. We read almost all of the generally-available writings from Christians of the first few centuries, re-read the Bible, and compared these with the current Catechism of the Catholic Church and documents from our own faith traditions. But rather than finding weaknesses and loose threads, thorough study and reflection revealed solid and compelling reasoning behind the Catholic Church's positions. When I reviewed the positions of my own church on some of these matters, there was either silence, or just ranting against the "papists." (These and many other issues are well covered by many 'Catholic thinkers' both present and past. We'll be happy to answer your questions or refer you to resources and/or people who will if you wish to contact us.)
Despite my best efforts, I began to suspect that it might not be as easy as I thought to "save Warren."
Over weeks and months, my attempts to find weaknesses and errors in Catholicism shifted from skepticism to admiration, to attraction, and finally to a strange kind of unwilling compulsion. Being pursuaded by history, Scripture and argument that Catholicism was where we should be, we realized that we needed to take the next steps. It was time to talk with a priest about becoming Catholic.
Actually becoming Catholic turns out to be more difficult than you might imagine. You can't just walk up to the local parish, sign up, and start receiving communion (except in exceptional circumstances). We ended up in a series of feel-good, warm-fuzzy weekly meetings masquerading as RCIA. The "Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults" is a revival of an early Church tradition by which adults come to know and enter the Catholic Church. It is a series of classes, prayers and rituals that gradually immerse one in the Catholic life, culminating on reception into the Church on the Easter Vigil... most of the time. In our case, we were told the first night that we weren't going to be taught anything. This was disappointing.
Later that first evening I asked the instructors, a religious sister named Sister Locati and a priest who introduced himself as Father Mike, the only question that really mattered to me at the time: "I'm a Christian. I have been for as long as I remember. I believe I have a good relationship with Jesus. Why should I become Catholic?" It wasn't a trick question; it was exactly what was on my heart. But they replied that maybe I shouldn't, that I should simply go wherever I felt I was being led.
We stuck with the course for awhile, until the guest instructor one evening -- a history professor from WSU and a Catholic -- said that Christ's resurrection was not an historical fact. It was all I could do to hold my tongue through the night, and after he was finished with his presentation, I asked him why, if Christ's resurrection was not factual, should we pay any attention to anything else he said that evening? If Christ has not really risen from the dead, then Christianity is a joke. I later received a call from the priest "disinviting" me to RCIA and saying that we would not be allowed to join the Church because we didn't have a sufficient understanding of what it meant to be part of the local community. Perhaps this means that we aren't to ask questions of the stupid guest lecturers, but whatever he meant, it was an obstacle.
Sadly, this would not be the last time we would be refused participation in the Catholic Church because we actually believed its teachings; sometimes I joke with my wife that "real believers need not apply." I don't really wish to, but this is a point worth expanding for the benefit of the reader. There are some wonderful, sincere people working and volunteering in parishes, college campuses, diocesan offices and religious organizations. These institutions could not continue to serve without their able assistance. Unfortunately, not everyone who staffs these offices -- how do I put this delicately -- not everyone has intelligence, prudence or ethics equal to the needs of their position or the needs of the people they are serving. These days you should never assume that the campus minister, parish staff, diocesan administrator, even your local priest, etc. has a clue when it comes the faith. They very well may, and many many do, but many times they do not, and to blindly place your own or your child's faith at their feet without exercising some discretion could prove to be a serious error. This is not to say that we should put every religious worker to some kind of test. I merely recommend "trust, but verify," and it puts more responsibility upon us -- perhaps rightly so -- to take personal responsibility for our catechesis and that of our children.
But back to the story: I made calls to every priest in every local town and asked them, as I had the RCIA leaders, why should I be Catholic? Most said they didn't have time, didn't know, or something like that. One, in a gruff voice, answered that we should be Catholic because it is the fullness of what Christ intended for the Church, and that through the Catholic Church, I may be able to draw closer to Christ. Everyone is called to be Catholic. It was a good answer, and the only one I heard that sounded remotely like what the Church actually teaches in its own writings.
His name was Fr. Felix Lorge of Colfax, and he met with us on several evenings over the next months. Seeing our intensity and preparation, he kindly received us into the Church during the Advent season. This is a bit of an exception, as he did not require us to wait until Easter, which is the usual convention. Consequently, when people ask how we became Catholic, I sometimes answer "by sneaking in a side door."
Since then we've had five beautiful children of our own, completed a Master's Degree in Theological Studies, and had quite a change in lifestyle. Tyra, though the official President of The Rosary Shop, has shifted from being career-oriented to being more family/wife/mother-oriented. I've gone from being physics/engineering-oriented to being more theologically/philosophically-oriented. In worldy terms, we're miserable failures.
I've lost friends and close family over it. One thing that is interesting and somewhat amusing is the lengths people will go to in trying to invent reasons that we became Catholic; "he needed a more liturgical experience," "we didn't teach him enough Bible," "he was brainwashed." To some, the real reason -- that it is true -- is so inconceivable that they must make up other possibilities. (Don't hate people if they do this to you. They usually have such misunderstandings of the Church that one can't really blame them.) And, at times, it is very hard to "be" Catholic, but we can think of nowhere else to go, for if Catholicism is false, then we are sure of one thing: All of Christianity is false.
Some will be alarmed by the criticisms I level at my fellow Catholics, especially towards those in positions of leadership. "He shouldn't be doing that." We all fail in many ways, myself included. I do not and cannot judge one's ultimate destiny, or even the intent or sincerity with which they engage in particular acts. However, the Church is in trouble -- at least the Church in our region. It is under intense attack from outside forces, and at the same time, is experiencing a crisis of fidelity brought about by the actions of its own leadership. In this I am referring not merely to the blown-all-out-of-proportion accusations of sexual abuse, but to infidelity in general.
In many ways I feel I am a failure when it comes to faithfulness to Christ. I sense that I am not who I could or should be, had I made different spiritual choices in my past (or daily). The truth is that we are all in this same boat to some degree or another, but some seem entirely unaware of this. In their blissful ignorance, combined with having a position from which they either teach or have some kind of oversight over spiritual formation, whether they be lay or ordained, they inflict great harm upon others. I have personally witnessed or experienced expressly forbidden, harmful actions and statements. I'm not talking about little silliness that hardly anyone would notice, but glaring atrocities. For example:
- Seminarians weeded out because of their faithfulness to Christ, the Church's teachings, or refusal to respond to usually-homosexual advances by seminary teachers and leadership.
- Priests who tell youth preparing for Confirmation that it is fine to dissent from the Church's moral teachings, and that they do so themselves. Or who openly teach other heterodox things that are harmful to the souls in their care (e.g., that contraception is fine, or there is no difference between attending a communion service and a Mass, and that people are free to do whichever they wish).
- Campus ministers who believe it is their responsibility to make college-age Catholics grow in their faith by jettisoning the Church's doctrinal teachings.
- High ranking chancery office officials who actively use subtle deception to actively pit personnel against each other, even against the bishop (and vice-versa).
- Priests who knowingly select people who do not know or teach the Catholic faith for Catechetical positions -- in some cases even selecting non-Catholics with lives openly/publicly at odds with the Catholic faith to be teachers, Eucharistic ministers, music leaders, etc. For example, I've personally heard "official" catechists teach the Christ did not rise from the dead, that the fall of man was a good and necessary thing -- that God intended it -- and almost any other nonsense you can think of.
- Priests who marginalize, defame and condescend to people who believe and attempt to practice the Catholic faith as handed on by the Church.
- Priests who refuse sacraments to faithful people legitimately requesting them, knowingly offer them in heterodox -- even invalid -- fashion, or who use the availability of sacraments as a means to manipulate individuals.
- Priests and lay ministers who teach that we should acknowledge God as "Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier," instead of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." This is no small matter; in so doing, they invalidate any sacrament celebrated under that formula (and demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the Church's teachings about who God is), and one cannot even continue to call himself Catholic while denying the Church's teachings regarding the Trinity.
I have no doubt that Christ will ultimately previal (and already has), but in the mean time particular souls are being harmed and lost as a consequence of these kinds of activities. This is worth pointing out. I know people who have stopped participating in the Catholic faith not because they have doubts about it or because of any (apparent) serious sin in their own lives, but because they just can't take the abuse any more. This is in-principle no different than the poor people who have been physically/sexually abused by priests, and it is worth getting angry about. People persist in the above and similar actions because people remain silent. If the people engaging in such activities are upset that the activities are being publicly criticized, then the solution is simple. Stop doing it. If they can't stop doing it, then they should remove themselves (or be removed) from their positions. No ethically-run secular business would put up with workers who did not faithfully perform the duties expected of them; the Church's leaders should hold themselves to an even higher standard.
For some time I tried working "in the Church." I served as a 'Pastoral Associate' in an urban parish and later as the Assistant Director for Ministry Formation for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon. I've authored texts for adult RCIA and youth Confirmation programs, and a tutorial on how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I've participated in Permanent Diaconate discernment and formation process (until the subvertive actions of a local parish priest combined with outlandish behavior by the Oregon Catholic Conference to make the whole experience so repugnant that one just couldn't continue to participate in good conscience). I nearly lost my mind and my faith, but I learned something important, something that really validated for me the reality of Catholicism at a time when that validation was quite needed. Many people see the faults of Catholics -- and there are many -- and assume that the Church must be false. Some hear parts of Catholic teachings, usually distorted, and draw the same conclusion. But I've not yet found a person who, when the teaching is correctly, faithfully presented in a way they can grasp, doesn't go "oh, hey, that makes sense." It might be hard to live, but it truly does make sense. And rather than proving that Catholicism is false, we frail Catholics actually prove its truth, for no institution filled with such stupid (if well-meaning) people could last 2000 years unless God truly is guiding it. Believe me, I've worked in a chancery office. I know about what I write!
If you genuinely believe in the Catholic faith, you may find that you need a way to express it in addition to attending Sunday Mass. A sense that you should be doing something more. A common misconception is that the way to grow like this is to "get busy" in the parish as a volunteer of one kind or another. This approach is actively encouraged, usually to the exclusion of all else, by many parishes and, granted, many parishes have genuine need of bodies to assist in the various ministries; it may be a good match for you, but we laity need to remember that we are not called to be "ecclesial" (Church) ministers. We are called to be ministers to and in the world. What this means is that, for the most part, we need to find ways that the faith can be brought to bear in our homes, our communities, and our places of work. The fundamental way of doing this is to allow ourselves to be conformed to Christ by following his teachings regarding faith and morals, and through prayer and study; this is a life-long process of conversion -- of conforming and submitting ourselves to Christ. There are advances and failures. If I am a jerk at work, or my company is not treating others ethically, for example, or I am a poor father, then I am only fooling myself if I am volunteering at a parish. On the contrary, our calling as laity is to become experts at our work, and at exercising it ethically, and to be good friends to others, to be good spouses and good parents. If these things are in order (and you still have time and energy left), only then is it generally appropriate to also assist in the parish. All of this is summarized by saying that our first calling as lay Christians is to our homes and to the world. Secondarily and optionally, we might assist in the parish.
There are many misunderstandings about what Catholics believe and why. This is a difficult obstacle to overcome because good (authentic) information regarding the Church's teachings is not easily acquired due to misinformed clergy, poor (and sometimes openly dissenting) theology and catechetical teachers, and widespread secular efforts to harm the Church. Even when found, in the form of a catechism, tapes or a good spokesman, it is prone to misunderstanding due to how different it is from our common secular experience. My grandfather, who upon discovering that I was considering Catholicism asked why I would want to go to hell, has taken great efforts to point out to me the errors of Catholicism, much as I attempted to do with Warren. In exasperation during one of our "debates," I told him, "grandfather, let me assure you that whatever difficulties you have with Catholicism, mine are greater." And it is true. Not simply because it is a difficult life to live, but because it takes a great deal more mental effort and horsepower to reconcile the teachings of the Church with adult experience than it does to dismiss them. G. K. Chesterton has written words to the effect of "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and so is left untried."
I think that in this present age we need also to recognize that the problems so publicized about Catholics are not due to them being Catholic, but to the degree that we are not. For myself, my character faults have nothing to do with my giving my life to Christ -- they have to do with those areas of my mind and soul that have not been given over. And so it is with each of us.
It is important, as well, to recognize that "Catholic voices" are frequently wrong. Many who portray themselves as Catholic simply are not. And even those who authentically speak on behalf of the Church may be in error, especially when it comes to secular matters. For example, here in Oregon, the "Oregon Catholic Conference" made a disastrously erroneous statement on a bill regarding raising the minimum wage. They have stated that their positions on such matters must be accepted by the faithful as 'matters of faith' (in direct violation of the Church's teaching on the autonomy of the temporal order and the competency and responsibility of the Lay Apostolate). It may be that the statement resulted in its passing, as it passed by a small margin. While the intentions behind the statement may have been good, the position was a gross error and have resulted in decreased purchasing power for the poor, increased unemployment and failed businesses. Though the Conference intended to help the poor, they actually just dealt them a heavy blow. While we laity should have the utmost respect for our Catholic leaders, we need also to recognize that there are some areas -- especially secular ones -- in which they really have no expertise whatsoever. Unfortunately, they are sometimes unable to clearly distinguish between their authentic areas of authority and competency, and those that are rightly reserved to expert laity (and vice-versa). But this is nothing new, so don't fret if father or sister (or a representative thereof) says something you know to be absurd. Just smile sweetly, let them know how important their opinion is, and then do the right thing. We've sometimes made the "mistake" of trying to educate these people as to the effects of their erroneous statements. Unless you are dealing with a uniquely intelligent and open individual, such efforts are a waste of precious time and generally result in some kind of retaliation against you. Yes, 'Church people,' even priests, can be just as vindictive as anyone else (and it usually cuts deeper because you don't expect it). Go figure.
Apart from the specific doctrines of Catholicism, a few precious experiences have stood apart. One is being reminded by a Benedictine monk/priest that it is through our families -- spouses and children in particular -- that Christ shows us his love. And it is through us that Christ's love is shown to them (or not, as the case may be). Also, as the years creep past, I recognize the importance of prayer and purity in the Christian life, and how, in their absence, all the theological knowledge in the world is a pitiful waste.
So please, if you have difficulty with or questions about Catholicism, do not give up. Sometimes, our parents serve us food that we think doesn't taste good, but they do it because they know it is best for us. Our taste buds -- our appetites, will and intellect -- are just out of whack. I think that Warren was right, that we need to eat our steak the way Christ serves it to us.
Over the last couple years -- after about 20 years as Catholics and 40-50 as Christians -- we've learned a great deal more about the Orthodox Church, as well as other forms of Christianity that can authentically trace their existence to Jesus via the apostles. We've learned much more about Catholic doctrines and philosophy, as well. For the sake of the souls of our family, friends and neighbors, we've decided to participate with a traditional, conservative group of Old Catholic bishops (Old Catholic Communion of North America). We believe that this is the way that we can best draw closer to Christ in prayer, worship and service. The OCCNA adheres to all of the Christian truths held in common among Catholics and Orthodox, especially those taught during the first few centuries of the Church. They also accept any compatible doctrines taught since then. The notable difference is that they, like approximately 2 billion Christians (and the rest of the world), do not accept papal infallibility and supremacy claims. However, they (and we) fully recognize and honor the Pope as the Bishop of Rome and a vital Patriarch of the Church, and we embrace all that is true and good in the Catholic Church.