I was born into a devout, conservative evangelical nondenominational Christian household in Alabama. When I was fourteen, in eighth grade, I read myself into the Roman Catholic Church. Though many people, especially those from the south and from similarly conservative backgrounds, first fall in love with Roman Catholicism through a certain unnamed “global Catholic network” or from the writings of similar-thinking writers and “apologists,” I followed a different route.
I was attracted to the Roman Catholic Church firstly by the fact that it was a great church of history, a church of the arts, visually (Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, etc.), architecturally (St. Peter’s, Notre Dame, Chartres, St. Mark’s in Venice, Salisbury Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, [yes they are now Anglican, but still…]), and musically (Tallis, Palestrina, Gesualdo, Sheppard, Byrd, etc.).
The writings of theologians such as Congar, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, von Balthasar, Küng, McBrien, Boff, Gutiérrez, the liturgical scholarship of people such as Virgil Michel, Godfrey Diekmann, Jungmann, and the scriptural scholarship of greats such as Brown, Fitzmyer, Boadt, as well as the fact that it was the Church which sustained such greats as Oscar Romero, the El Salvadorian Jesuits, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, and Joseph Bernadin, sealed the deal for me that I should enter full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
I knew from the time I entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church that it was not any more the church that these people were part of. Rather, today liturgical renewal at the official level is by and large dead. Concerted efforts have been made to kill moral theology and liberation theology. Saint John’s is a place where this is not so. Rather, Collegeville still stands out as a center of liturgical scholarship, and is a place that does not believe that the “grand age” of liturgy ended with the Missale of 1962, yet the Liturgy is still celebrated with reverence and has not devolved into “Guitar Masses.” Also, this is a place where theology, not catechism at a university level, but true theology, takes place, where people dare to ask the hard questions, and not fear the potential answers. This is why I chose Collegeville.
This scholarship, this quest for truth, and a desire to articulate it in ways that are relevant to the modern world, rather than rehashing sixteenth century dogmas in thirteenth century terms, is why the so-called liberal Catholicism of the sixties and seventies is not dead, will not die, but lives and will remain the true driving force in the Church.
Disheartened progressives and all people who lament the unfortunate condition the Roman Catholic Church is in today: do not lose hope. Do not lose faith in the Church. The hierarchy may be corrupt, the liturgy may be in decline, and Christians of all traditions may be forsaking the ecumenical dreams of years past, but God will make a way. The Spirit will prevail. We may be in the winter now, but a new springtime will come. This truth is why I am Roman Catholic. This truth sustains me when, joining another communion seems so enticing.
I close with a loose paraphrasing of the NIV translation of 2 Corinthians 4.16-18:
“Do not lose heart. Though outwardly the Church may be decaying, inwardly the Church is being renewed day by day. These light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”