Jobert E. Abueva left the Church when the Vatican said (again) that the Church can’t bless same-sex relationships. “The church slams the door right at our faces.” But what if he never quite understood the Church he’s left?
“For the church to claim that my sexuality as my choice equates to choosing to sin is a step too far,” he writes. “… The harsh, if not hostile, message toward the LGBTQ community is a tough pill to swallow for gay Catholics in America and the world over who have long had to walk the tightrope of our beliefs against a doctrine that continually turns a cold shoulder on this one aspect of who we are as holistic beings.” While society recognizes the right to marry someone of the same sex, “the church slams the door right at our faces.”
Before commenting on the piece, I should call to mind two spiritual facts. First, we are dealing with a real human person with real human pains. We can understand why he feels this teaching so strongly. Abueva, with so many more like him, needs our prayers. Second, we are dealing with more than human realities. Our dispute is also with principalities and powers. We should pray against all the damnable lies of the Evil One that lead any of Christ’s flock astray. Many of us have our own teachings we don’t want to believe.
To me, what is most notable about Abueva’s account is something it shares in common with many essays I’ve read by “ex-Catholics” — something which is also in stark contrast with accounts I’ve read of converts to the Faith over the years. That element is the amount of theological content — or, rather, the lack thereof.
Not everyone is a theologian. Some leave the Church for theological reasons and a fair few come into the Church with simple childlike faith, lacking any sophisticated reasoning. However, I’m not talking about the quality or mode of expression of theology. I am talking about the mere presence of genuinely theological reasons, however inchoate or rudimentary they may be.
I’ve often sat with people to puzzle over a loved one’s abandonment of the Church. As people detail to me the reasons a friend or loved one gave for leaving, and ask me to help them understand them, one thing very often occurs to me. The fundamental question isn’t “Why did they leave?” It’s “Why were they Catholic to begin with?”
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I don’t mean the obvious here, that they were baptized as an infant and raised in the Church. I mean what reasons did they adopt at the age of maturity for remaining in the Church? By what logic did they take ownership of what they received in the nursery or Sunday School? Did they ever even take such ownership of their religion?
This is the foundational question, because it really makes the later question largely moot. I could come up with 1,000 plausible reasons for leaving the Church. The real measure of those arguments, however, is how well they stand up to the “apologia” of the believer: “be ready always to satisfy everyone that asketh you a reason [apologia] of that hope which is in you.”
Abueva invites this primary question by going out of his way to establish his religious bona fides. He “took to heart the sacraments of Holy Communion and confirmation, excelled in catechism class, and even considered entering seminary,” and “attended Mass religiously, cherishing its teachings and traditions, offering alms at the collection plate.” (He doesn’t mention the Sacrament of Penance.)
What of this has changed? If his stated reasons really were his rationale for being Catholic, he should be Catholic still. Nothing has changed — nothing, including the “teachings and traditions” (which he says he cherished), of which the recent Vatican letter are simply a restatement.
In many of these cases, it isn’t a situation of someone abandoning Catholic belief at all, but rather a case of him or her having not ever really found it to begin with. Or having not known the fullness of faith which makes it worth keeping even when it feels the most difficult. It isn’t a heard-hearted and coldly calculated act of apostasy. It is a matter of an elusive, and admittedly difficult, truth remaining undiscovered.
The Hope Remains
The hope must still remain that the Truth, never fully realized and therefore mercifully never fully spurned, will one day shine more clearly and call in the seeker’s heart to set out again and find it. And if that day ever comes, the seeker will find it, paradoxically, via the path so well expressed by T.S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”
We should pray that none of us, including Abueva, ever ceases seeking after the Truth. We should pray even more that he, and all of us, may find it in the end.