June 26, 2015. The day the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage. As I listened to the announcement on the radio, I knew that that ruling would mean a lot to several of my dear friends. What I didn’t realize is how much it would impact my faith development.
I grew up going to a Catholic Church, but there was a lot of leniency, especially as I got older. In college, I was surrounded by a lot of dear friends who are LGBTQ+, and my Catholic faith was limited to Sunday mornings and quick prayers at night. I happily wore my “Gay? Fine by me” shirt with a cross necklace to demonstrate that I wasn’t one of those judgemental Christians. Though my faith developed more during college, the issue of gay marriage was always one I felt at odds with.
As celebrations took place for the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage, I saw a lot of attacks directed towards Christianity. Though I still thought same sex marriage was a good thing and Christians against it were wrong, the attacks I was seeing started rubbing me the wrong way. There were some really nasty things being said. One of the things that was really getting to me was the way people accused all Christians of being hateful. Though I didn’t agree with Christians against gay marriage, I didn’t think they were hateful (just misguided). I decided that I was going to defend them, and more importantly, Christianity. To do that, however, I realized I needed to understand why Christians were against gay marriage in the first place.
As I researched, I learned more and more about why Christians supported traditional marriage. The more I learned, the more I started to question my stance. Ultimately, I came to realize that I had been wrong. What had started as a goal to just explain where a different side was coming from caused me to switch over to that side. This caused me to look for truth in other areas I had been uncertain and ignorant. I say this was such an important part of my faith development because the more I learned, the more logical I realized the Church was. For me, my spirituality isn’t just based on a feeling; my belief in God and His Church has become concrete fact justified by well-supported reasoning.
That being said, it took me awhile to get to that place of total trust with the Church. In fact, there are still times I struggle. I understand that doubt is a natural part of growing in faith, and I even believe it can be fruitful. The way we address that doubt, however, is key.
I have found that doing the following have helped me better understand what the Church teaches.
Pray. I know it seems obvious, but God doesn’t want to hide
I know it seems obvious, but God doesn’t want to hide Himself from us. All we have to do is ask for guidance. It’s ok to even get frustrated and tell God you think it’s stupid, but in the end, ask Him to help you understand. If you find that that isn’t true, tell him you want to want to understand. He knows what is in our hearts; He knows our struggles. There’s no point in trying to hide that from Him, and chances are, He’s heard a lot worse than “xyz moral teaching seems really stupid.”
Adjust your attitude to doubt rather than defiance.
There is a big difference between “I know what the Church teaches, but I’m going to do my own thing” and “I know what the Church teaches, and I am really struggling with it.” One is blatant disregard for Christ’s teaching while the other is an acknowledgement of our own human weakness and an openness for action.
Research what the Church teaches.
The Catechism is a great resource, and you don’t even need the book. Just Google “Catechism of the Catholic Church” with the topic you want to know, and there’s a good chance it will come up. Read the Bible with commentary. Sometimes, the English translation is inadequate and understanding the original wording can shed some light. Look at reputable websites. Be careful that you are looking at people who actually know what the Church teaches. Talk to a priest. Find a friend who knows the faith. Listen to podcasts. We live in a time where information is so easily accessible.
Research opposing arguments.
If you want to be confident in what the Church teaches, try to look at what dissenters say. Read their arguments critically and compare the different ideas. In my experience, those arguments tend to pale in comparison to what I have found from apologists, but it helped me when I was really doubting if I gave a fair chance to the other side.
When it comes to moral teaching, don’t look at it as a set of rules.
We are made because God loves us, and He truly wants us to be happy. These teachings aren’t meant to be limiting; instead, they allow us to live as the best versions of ourselves, as God intended, and as happily as possible in this broken world.
Recognize there’s a really good chance that you’re wrong.
I know this seems harsh, but the Church has existed for over 2,000 years. The Catholic Church carries apostolic tradition and have an excellent understanding of scripture. She possesses the fullness of the Truth. While there is certainly truth in every religion, you will only find the full truth in the Catholic Church. “The faithful as a whole cannot err in faith, because Jesus promised his disciples that he would send them the Spirit of truth and keep them in the truth..[a]lthough individual members of the Church can err and even make serious mistakes, the Church can never fall away from God’s truth. The Church carries through the ages a living truth that is greater than herself.” (Youcat pg 20).
I know this can be challenging, but I truly believe that finding the truth, even if it poses some really big challenges for us, ultimately makes life better.
If you find yourself struggling to understand Church teachings, you are not alone.
How have you sought to understand what the Church teaches better? Are there still teachings from the Catholic Church that you are struggling with?