Becker’s Gift to Catholicism
By Charles Nolan
Catholicism spells out its mission on the first page of the Baltimore Catechism. For children (like myself) who were raised in Catholic households, this is their first introduction to the principles underlying their upcoming religious experience. The famous questions and answers make things very clear:
Who made us?
God made us
Why did God make us?
God made us to show forth his goodness and to share with us his everlasting happiness in heaven.
What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?
We must know, love and serve God in this world.
From whom do we learn to know, love and serve God?
From Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who teaches us through the Catholic Church.
Jesus Christ is the path to eternal life and the Church is the path to Jesus Christ. Through ritual, sacrament and revealed dogma, the believing Catholic is able to fulfill God’s purpose and gain eternal life. Like millions before me, I have felt the deep peace that comes from participation in the rich symbolism of the sacraments, from the sense that I was in touch with God on the path He meant for me to follow.
The problem the Church has faced through the centuries is that, in taking its sense of Divine authority too literally, it has too often opened the door to persecution, war and quests for personal power that were diametrically opposed to the teachings of its founder. Awareness of this sad record has caused the Church to lose ground and credibility in the modern world, though a significant portion of the human race still count themselves as members. I believe that what Becker’s work can contribute to today’s Catholic, both believer and organization, is, above all, a sense of humility.
An awareness that our fear of our own mortality may be the driving force behind our faith can be an effective balance against the urge to take the sense of divine mandate too seriously. While no believing Catholic could be expected to fully subscribe to Becker’s idea of religion as a hero system, the self-aware believer needs to never forget that the act of faith is, above all, a leap. The rigid dogmatism that has plagued the Church has done much to obscure the message behind Jesus’ words “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). Faith based on certainty is not faith. The believer can (and millions do) draw comfort, purpose, a moral compass and the courage to navigate life’s pitfalls from the teachings and rituals of the Church. But where the believer and the Church can go astray is in becoming too rigid in the protection of its symbols. Becker’s work is a reminder that “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) and that the act of redemption was Jesus’ acceptance of his own death. The way to eternal life is through the grave.
The problem the Church has faced through the centuries is that, in taking its sense of Divine authority too literally, it has too often opened the door to persecution, war and quests for personal power…
Becker validates the need and the right of the fragile human to a protection system against the dark truths with which the mixed blessing of consciousness has burdened us. The Catholic Church can serve this purpose well and beautifully. And Becker’s warning against the temptation to let our defense systems serve the darkness is a message that can only help a Church attempting to maintain its relevance in a changing world. Fortunately, the current Pontiff, Francis, seems to have heard the message.
Charles Nolan is a freelance writer and poet, whose work is chiefly concerned with the problem of human meaning and how we deal with “the strange hand we’ve been dealt” without the supports previously provided by formal religion. He has recently written his first full-length non-fiction work, entitled The Holy Bluff: The Search for Meaning in the Post-Religious Age.
Charles Nolan studied for the Catholic priesthood for eight years, holds a Masters Degree in Social Work and has been a Human Services worker for over forty five years. He is the father of three and has six grandchildren. His work is aimed at providing “tools for the job, not easy answers”. Charles lives in Philadelphia with his wife Cheryl.