Do Catholics believe in aliens? What about evolution? Man-made climate change? Do we believe in karma, reincarnation, leprechauns? And now here are a few sensitive but important questions: was celibacy the cause of the sexual abuse of children by clergy? Has the Church oppressed women? Was the Inquisition bad?
The answer may not be what we think it is. And there is one answer to all these questions. Today, Jesus says, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18:37). The answer to all these questions is: if it’s true, then we believe it.
Let’s apply this answer to the questions above. Do Catholics believe in aliens? If they’re out there, then sure! The Church says nothing about aliens. But if they’re there, then go baptize them. The same thing goes for evolution. If it happened, then we believe it. (We know, however, that souls can’t evolve because they’re immaterial, so God would have needed to put a soul into the body. But evolution of the body is possible.) Do we believe in man-made climate change? If we are affecting the climate, then ‘Yes.’ If karma is real, then we believe it. If reincarnation happens, then we believe it. Do we believe the Canucks can win the Stanley Cup? Not a chance. Because it’s never going to happen.
The fundamental position of Catholicism, of the Church, and of every Catholic is to believe only what is true. Our whole existence is oriented not to what feels good, what we want to believe, or what makes life convenient, but to the truth. Why? Because Jesus is the truth (Jn 14:6), and as He says today, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18:37). We want to listen to Jesus, and so we listen to the truth. The questions we always ask are: is it true, does it exist, is it real?
St. John Paul II wrote that the human mind ascends to truth on two ‘wings’: faith and reason. If we want to find out what’s real, then we use our mind, we study and investigate things (reason); but we also listen to what God reveals to us, because some things are beyond human reason (faith). So, why don’t I believe in leprechauns? Because they don’t exist. No one has ever actually believed that they exist. There may be stories about them but no one has ever tried to demonstrate their existence. Why do I believe in God? Because He exists. I know He’s real through those two wings/ways of human knowledge: 1) human reason can demonstrate His existence through philosophy, logic and science; 2) I know He exists because He reveals Himself in Jesus Christ.
For me, I never used to think like this. I learned two other ways of thinking: 1) what’s true for you might not be true for me. God might exist for you, but not for me. Karma might exist for you, but not for me. Abortion might be wrong for you, not for me. On certain things, like matters of taste, this way of thinking works: I like tennis, you don’t; I like halo halo, you don’t. But on other things, matters of objective reality, this is illogical.
One time, I was e-mailing a young college student and he wrote something very insightful but not widely accepted: he said that atheists and theists can’t both be right. Either God’s there or He’s not. This young man was right. In the same way, Karma either exists or it doesn’t. Abortion is either right or wrong. And there’s a consequence to this: if God is not there, then we’re wasting our time. Truth has very practical consequences. If God really doesn’t exist, then prayer is ultimately useless and the foundation of who we are as Catholics is false. But, if He is there, then atheists are incorrect. We can’t have it both ways.
2) The second alternative that I learned was to not rock the boat. Rather than offend people, I was taught to stay silent—there’s a certain virtue in this: it’s good to want to avoid offending people. But, what if it’s a matter of truth? What if, for example, celibacy does cause sexual abuse? Shouldn’t we deal with it? But if it doesn’t, and numerous studies have shown that sexual abuse by priests is lower than among the general population, then we should say so, and not unfairly blame celibacy.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable talking about abortion with friends or in public? Just say the word and see what happens. Why are we so uncomfortable? Because it’s politically incorrect. In 2008, when asked, “At what point does a baby get human rights?” President Obama said it’s “above my pay grade,” thus dodging the question. But shouldn’t we try and find out? If a baby is human, then abortion kills an innocent person.
Dodging the question is wrong because it’s a matter of truth. If we were about to demolish a house with a big wrecking ball and someone said, “Wait! Someone might be in there!” would anyone say, “I’m not sure, it’s above my pay grade”? Shouldn’t we first find out if someone’s in there? Same thing with abortion. If we don’t know if it’s a human or not, then we stop and find out the truth. Sometimes the right thing to do is rock the boat. Jesus came to bear witness to the truth, and that’s why He often rocked the boat.
The truth is beautiful but it can cut both ways. Sometimes it’s agreeable, and we like to hear it; other times it hurts us or makes us uncomfortable. When we talked about corrupt popes a month ago, I mentioned how St. John Paul II apologized for the sack of Constantinople in 1204, and I wanted to say, because I thought it was true, that the popes’ involvement in the crusades was pretty good. But after some research, I found out that it wasn’t all good, so I changed my opinion on the matter. What I thought wasn’t true, so I had to change my mind.
In that homily, I also mentioned how Gary Krupp, a Jewish man, was defending Ven. Pope Pius XII as saving more Jewish lives than all religious leaders put together during WWII, which makes Catholics look very good. But I also learned from him that Catholics in the past have been involved in anti-Semitism, which is to our shame. But that’s the truth, and I want to listen to Jesus’ voice even if it’s uncomfortable.
Does it surprise you that I say this? One friend said she thought “the clergy is hardwired to defend the popes no matter what.” We’re not. We’re hardwired to defend the truth, whether it makes us look good or not. The popes themselves do the same. Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict have no problem admitting the weaknesses of the Church. I pray that all of us do the same. If, for example, our child does something wrong and we’re called to the school, we don’t have to defend him/her as completely innocent. We have to find out exactly what happened: what was right and what was wrong. Or, if I, Fr. Justin, do something wrong, you don’t have to defend me unnecessarily. Do what St. Thomas More does in A Man for All Seasons. Someone approaches St. Thomas, who is a judge, and says, “My daughter has a case, sir, in the Court of Poor Man’s Causes,” and then offers him a bribe. To this St. Thomas says with a smile, “I’ll give your daughter the same judgement I would give my own: a fair one.” Isn’t that great? That he doesn’t play favourites? He’s only interested in truth, whether it’s his daughter or someone else’s.
Let’s adapt Jesus’ words and make them our own, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” We only believe what’s true.