Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
My friend Gaurav Shroff is in the news, talking about how Gregorian Chant brought him to Christ. We had a great time wandering around Green Lake with our mutual pal Alex Edezhath and then going to an uber-high Dominican Rite Latin Mass at Blessed Sacrament (my home parish) here in Seattle a couple of summers ago. The guy is absolutely terrific!
As I read about Gaurav’s story, I realize again that one of the many reasons that the whole “the Catholic Church cannot survive the Scandal” thing is so utterly out of touch with reality is the fact that journalists, being primarily attuned to politics, tend to think of the Church in political terms. So the notion seems to be that people become converts because they say to themselves, “Wow! Bishops! I’m becoming Catholic because of their enormous holiness and personal charisma! My faith is caused by—and stands or falls with—the personal sanctity and holiness of my bishop!”
In reality, I’ve never met a living soul who became a Catholic because of their attraction to the magnetic personal holiness of their bishop. My own bishop seems to be a good guy. But I don’t know him from Adam and he could not pick my face out of a crowd if his life depended on it. On a day-to-day basis, he has as much impact on me personally as the mayor of Menomenee. And when I was in the process of converting, I gave my local bishop scarcely a thought.
To be sure, there was great veneration for JPII, one of the most personally charismatic men to ever sit on the Chair of Peter. And I do know of people who were moved to become Catholic by, among other things, the spectacle of his funeral. But even in his case, what you are generally looking at is people who, for an enormous variety of intensely personal reasons having nothing to do with the Pope or the bishops, found themselves deeply attracted to *Jesus Christ*, present in the Catholic communion. The moving spectacle of the funeral was not so much the cause of the Faith (that’s the Holy Spirit’s job) but rather the pebble that finally touched off the avalanche. In short, people become Catholic for a colossal variety of reasons and they stay Catholic for a colossal variety of reasons. Gaurav became Catholic because he experienced God as The Beautiful in the Church’s musical tradition. Other people become Catholic because of mystical experiences, or a great-aunt whose life was inexplicable apart from daily Mass, or because they simply became convinced that it is the Church Christ founded, whatever the bishop of the diocese may be doing, whether doofus or hero. So while the Scandal certainly does impact those who, thanks to the ministrations of journalists, have not the foggiest idea what it is they are rejecting, it is simply not the case that the Scandal is going to “destroy the Church”. Millions will go on being Catholic, because their faith was never in the personal holiness of bishops or priests to begin with. It’s in Christ, as it should be.