Let's Face It: Catholicism is Weird
“It comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a ‘sign of contradiction.’” (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 18)
Let’s face it. Catholicism is weird. This is true for ignorant outsiders and for dissenting insiders. Like the Hebrews of old, Catholics are a peculiar people, a people set apart (Deuteronomy 14:2; Psalm 4:3; 1 Peter 2:9).
The ethno-hyphenated Catholics (“My sainted grandma was born in Galway and my son is at Notre Dame – so of course we’re Catholic”) are not so weird. They fit in too well. I’m talking about the “all-in” serious Catholics who do things like accept all the teachings of the Church, including the hard sayings.
In a world of Kardashian-worshippers, anyone who thinks sex is reserved for marriage, or that marriage cannot be redefined without grave consequences to society and culture, or that contraception undercuts not only the procreative dimension of marital union but also the unitive dimension, or, for that matter, that a man who grew up in Nazareth is the God of the universe and that He founded a Church (after suffering torture and death and rising from the dead) and gave her sacraments and the gift of infallibility – is by definition, weird.
See, once you accept the weird label, things get easier and become clearer.
You stop trying to please everybody. You start breathing easier when you get push back at fashionable parties. And you can fashion a way to describe why the weirdness of Catholicism is uniquely fitted to the weirdness of life itself, and why all of it (kata holikos means “of the whole, or “universal”) fits with what God has previously revealed in nature and with what the human heart really desires.
The human heart craves fullness, the nth degree of peace and joy, the highest imaginable summit of truth. It was built for riches and glories unimaginable. This major theme of the Bible – man’s insufficiency and God’s super-abundant sufficiency – is verified by two famous writers:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. — Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII (425)
And then there’s the more famous St. Augustine from his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
The One who gives us that final, deep, and lasting rest is the same One who came to earth in the form of a helpless baby who – in the noonday of life – underwent torture and murder, rose from the dead, returned to His Father, sent the Holy Spirit, and is present to the Church until He comes again. If you’re hearing this for the first time, “weird” is not an unreasonable reaction.
And I haven’t even mentioned Transubstantiation, in which bread becomes the very Body of God. Or the incorruptible saints whose bodies do not decompose. Or the miracle of Lanciano in which, during the eighth century AD, the Host turned into myocardial (heart) tissue of an adult male with AB blood type – a phenomenon that can be seen to this day.
Here’s my question: are these supernatural realities any weirder than some of the natural ones discovered by modern physics? Try the Mpemba Effect on for size, in which hot water freezes faster than cold. Or the mass-energy equivalence, which means the faster you travel (not Usain Bolt fast, but intergalactic fast) the heavier you get. Or the double-slit experiment from quantum mechanics, in which light behaves as both a wave and a particle (odd enough on its own) and yet, when merely observed, makes it one or the other. And how about the fact that atoms are 99.9999999999999% empty space?
The natural world around us features plenty of weirdness. Next time someone tells you Catholicism is weird, grin broadly, and reply with a few facts about the ill-tempered Maribou Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer), which makes every scientist’s Top Ten list of weird animals. This picture of weirdness has a colossal 12-foot wingspan, makes disturbing noises with its throat sac, defecates all over its legs and feet, and yet often washes its food with water before dining.
What would be much stranger is if the teachings of the Church God founded were less weird than the world He made.