A while back, gave a rather stiff and high-falutin’ statement of why I’m Catholic. Now, there’s never one answer to that question for any person, unless it’s ‘because of the wholly unmerited grace of God’ – which, while certainly true, explains in perhaps less detail than one would want.
It’s a fundamental assertion of the Catholic faith that no one is so devoid of blessings and graces that there is no chance that they can be saved. That said, we also bow at that point in the Creed when we confess that Christ was incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit and became Man. God, in the fullness of time, chose, not to save us with a wave of His almighty hand, but rather to send Himself into the world as a very real, very human child, born of a very real, very human mother. Why? That is such a powerful question, with such terrible consequences, that all of Christian history has been haunted and cursed by attempts to either deny the Incarnation outright, or, at least, put it in a well-contained box where it can’t get out and mess everything up.
When Christ told his followers that His Flesh was Real Food, and His Blood Real Drink, and that unless you eat this Flesh and drink this Blood you will have no life in you – well, that’s the Incarnation hitting far too close too home. He had every chance to straighten out their ‘misunderstanding’, except they understood perfectly well, so He not only didn’t back down, but doubled and tripled down. Even when the crowds left Him, an opportunity He often took to explain to the Apostles what the crowd has failed to understand, He offers no clarification, but merely asks if they want to leave as well. Yet, it is traditional among many Christians to insist He was kidding, inviting the question: is there anything He could say, any other words He could use, to make it clear He wasn’t kidding?
Take, for example, the readily-supplied passages that are held up as supporting Sola Scriptura – if they were half as clear and definitive as the assertions in John 6 about Christ’s Body and Blood being real food and drink, they would read something like this: “Truly I say to you, all teaching authority is in the written Word of God that my followers will eventually write; you need nothing more for your salvation. Any other source that claims to be my teachings is not of God. ” And then throw in a list of canonical books, just to cut off debate. Instead, we get claims, for example, that “useful for instruction” somehow means the one and only source of teaching, and, by the way, all that stuff about keeping to the verbal teachings, about keeping to the traditions handed on by the Apostles, for example, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” – well, that needs a bit of nuance to be properly understood.
There are many more ways the Incarnation is marginalized, where we rebel against the idea that God is right here, right now, working through messy and flawed matter. But that’s exactly what Jesus did, even to the point of spitting in the dust and using mud to cure, to letting His healing power flow out through the hem of His cloak, and even to choosing a man he knew to be a traitor and entrusting him with the awesome office of Apostle.
The Church embraces the Incarnation following the example of her Spouse, so that no matter is too coarse, no building is too grand, no relic is too off-putting, no devotion too goofy, no person too crippled and sinful, that God may not use them as instruments of His grace. Based on the example of Christ, we should shocked if the Church did otherwise. That bread and wine should become Our Lord and Savior is indeed right and just.
I am Catholic because my faith allows me to share more deeply in the created beauty of this world.