My Culture Does Being Catholic Make me a Bigot? by Trenton Mattingly “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” –Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen You may not think of yourself as much of a rebel or a revolutionary, but, in reality, the life of a Catholic is bold, daring, radical, and unusual. Think about it. You are invited to consume the flesh of God at least once a week. You might wear a necklace that pictures an ancient method of execution; complete with a dead body hanging from it. You are asked to love and pray for people that hate you. Your primary goal in life is to die one day so that you can inherit a heavenly Kingdom. All pretty extraordinary stuff. A life like this is inevitably going to invite more than just a handful of raised eyebrows and skeptical glances. And, if you begin to explain some of the moral implications of these beliefs, several of these raised eyebrows may become furrowed, and the glances may change into ones of disgust. Claims of bigotry and intolerance may not be far behind. Many of you have probably personally experienced a similar situation. After all, many people even within the Church struggle to accept or understand teachings on things like marriage, abortion, or the death penalty (just to name a few). It shouldn’t be surprising that people outside the Church might struggle with the same things, but that doesn’t help alleviate the hurt that is left behind when some of these struggles result in you being called a bigot. There are many reasons why people conclude that the Church is bigoted. Often, I have found that the source of this struggle is a result of looking at the Church’s teachings from an unhelpful perspective or misunderstanding the nature of sin. When you don’t understand how dangerous sin is, commandments and moral guidelines begin to look like restrictions that keep you from having fun, things that prevent you from enjoying life; or simply as something that keeps you at odds with mainstream trends. In reality, the teachings of the Church are intended to be guidelines for freedom. They liberate you from the heavy chains of sin. That might not make a lot of sense yet but stick with me. When a musician writes a symphony, they know the intricacies of their creation. They know when a note has been played incorrectly, if the song is being played too slowly, or if an instrument has played out of turn. In other words, the musician knows their art better than anyone else and knows what it will take for their symphony to live up to its full potential. This is also true of human beings. God created you and knows every detail of you – even the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:7). You are His masterpiece. After all, you are made in His image. He knows what is best for you. He knows what will allow you to flourish, grow, and be happy. This is where the Church’s teachings to come in. They keep you away from sin – the wrong notes and missed cues. They put you on a path that keeps you close to Christ – the conductor. If you stick around for long enough and practice with diligence, He will help you swell into the gorgeous, well-executed symphony you were called to be. For those watching from a distance, the hard work it takes to get there might seem oppressive, unhealthy, and the opposite of fun. People might even call it all crazy from time to time. If it isn’t already, let me be clear. The teachings of Jesus Christ, the teachings of the Catholic Church, are not crazy, bigoted, or destructive in any way, shape, or form. You should never water them down for the sake of making them easier to swallow, and you should never reject challenging teachings of the world to make the Church, or yourself, more appealing to others. I’ll say it again: the Church is keeping you away from the things that will hinder you from obtaining true freedom and happiness. If you stretch the truth, you aren’t loving anyone or helping them to achieve greatness. You are keeping them from what they were called to be. However, it is important to point out that if you follow these guidelines in a bitter, aggressive, or gloomy way, skeptics are going to have a hard time believing that this is all out of love. Someone will be much more willing to listen to a kind person’s stance on abortion than someone who is rude and abrasive. This is why it is so important for us, as Catholics, to try to be joyous and respond with love when we deal with others that disagree with us. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t change everyone’s mind about the Church. It is nothing new that some people will never be convinced. Look through the many pages of the Church’s history. It is littered with the bones of great men and women who were martyred by those that were so hostile to Christian beliefs that they wanted to eliminate anyone who adhered to them. Not everyone that disagrees with the Church falls into a hostile category. Many people are on the fence, for example. Some are looking to be convinced in some way or another. I’d imagine that it would be much easier to approach someone in a kind, patient manner who you know is unsure than someone whose mind cannot be changed. You never know when someone who is unsure is watching, though. The way you deal with someone who already has their mind made up could be a factor in whether someone chooses to view the Church’s teachings as bigoted or as loving. This is where the Church truly should be in the news for its radical, controversial teachings. It demands that we always treat all people with dignity and respect. It demands that we always treat people like they were open-minded truth seekers that just need a patient, caring nudge in the right direction to see things our way – even when we know that isn’t the case. Whether it be our greatest enemy or the pope himself, we are called to love.