ASK FATHER: How are we supposed to remain Catholic these days?

tight ropeFrom a reader…


How are we supposed to remain Catholic in these days?

A commission to study women deacons, after 2-3 previous studies said no? Beg forgiveness from gays? As if the Church was ever wrong to oppose the vice I’ve struggled with my whole Catholic life? Move away from “medieval, authoritarian, clericalist monologue” to “sisterly dialogue” (Cardinal König)?!

Was 1900 years of opposing error not good enough? Whence the change to the Church of Nice? At least you could tell Arians from Catholics in the 4th century. Now it’s the Church herself who speaks ambiguously — and she seems to be unsure that she’s even the true Church anymore, ecumenically coddling everyone (except faithful Catholics). What does tradition matter if we smash it?

I’m sorry for my non-question, but I’m a man who desires to serve the Church as a priest, and I can’t tell if I’d even be working with the Truth anymore, under any given bishop, cardinal or even (God forbid) Pope. I struggled for years to accept Catholicism (especially the Magisterium), only to convert and realize that the whole Church has become an Episcopalians-lite club with seemingly no functioning teaching office. My heart is being broken by this “spirit of Vatican II” that just won’t go away.

What the heck are we supposed to do? Who do we trust? How do we live?

Not long after my conversion I wrote in an article for Sacred Music that no sooner had I entered my new home and settled into a comfortable chair, I realized that the other tenants were tearing the place apart and even calling in the wrecking ball.

Haven’t we always had trouble in the Church?  Satan hates the Church, and all of us. The Enemy is really good at stirring up trouble.  For example…

In 359 three hundred bishops, including the majority from Italy and France, met at Rimini. They denied the teaching of the Council of Nicaea. Pope Liberius may have rejected this Council, but he made no move to replace or to discipline these heretical bishops, leaving thousands of the faithful in the care of bishops who preached an incorrect version of the Gospel. The Emperor appointed another man, Felix, as pope, leading to chaos and confusion as to who should be obeyed.

When Pope Liberius died the clergy and the faithful of Rome gathered in two places to elect a successor. The upper class supporters of the antipope Felix supported the election of Damasus.  Many of the deacons and the lower classes supported Ursinus, a deacon under Pope Liberius. Riots broke out and the Emperor had to send troops into Rome to stop the killing.  (People took these things seriously.  In N. Africa people rioted when they heard an unknown Latin version of Scripture.)  They propped up Damasus and banished Ursinus, who continued for years to contest the election.  Damasus was even accused of murder and, when he died, Ursinus made a final move to assert that he had been duly elected pope.

We could go through crisis after crisis for a very long time.  We’ve always had trouble in the Church.  From our perspective, we can look back through history and make a call about who was right and who was wrong, though in some cases there are legitimate scholarly disputes.  In the midst of it, in the hugger-mugger, things were much less clear then than they are to us now.

And you can bet that many people were troubled, just as you can bet that many were blithely unfocused.  Just. Like. Today.

It has never been easy to be a faithful Catholic. There have always been heretical bishops.  After all, on the very night of their “ordination” 1/12 of the bishops sold the Lord and, later in the evening, in their first act as a body, all but one abandoned Him.  There have always been those entrusted with the teaching authority, the Magisterium, of the Church who do and say really stupid things.  Being ordained a priest or a bishop guarantees neither holiness nor intelligence.

Getting down to it, how do we remain Catholic when things are confusing, when those who should teach with clarity and conviction are, instead, feckless, vague and craven (when they aren’t downright dumb)?

We put on our big boy pants and we stick to the Catholic Faith as it has always been taught.

We adhere to the solid teachings of the Church as found in the Fathers, the Doctors, the Councils.

We cling with hope-filled tenacity to Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, for there is no other source of salvation than Him.

We clutch lovingly the hem of the garment of Our Blessed Mother, praying our rosary, turning to her for consolation and guidance.


This is not the time for weak Catholics.  There was never a time for weak Catholics, of course.  But now, more than ever, we are in serious straights.  We’ve got trouble, my friends.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you who are actually causing the trouble will bellyache, “You are exaggerating as usual!  People always think that the troubles of their times are the worst.  Things are GREAT!  We are finally heading the right direction.  We are spirit-filled and in tune with nature again.  You are fear-mongering!  Why?  You know why.  You HATE VATICAN II!”

I respond:  Satan.  Get behind.  Out of my sight.

The times we are in now are… different.  There is a qualitative difference to the trials we collective face.  That’s the stuff of another post.

Back to the perspective of history, our times, and how we move forward.

GK Chesterton wrote,

“This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom–that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

Hence, in answer to the question: How do you remain Catholic, how do you keep to the straight and narrow, when storms rage and the very earth shifts?

You step out onto the highwire of orthodox Catholic Faith with the rest of us, friend, and, with your eyes fixed on Christ Jesus, you put one foot in front of the other.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Our Catholic Identity, Semper Paratus, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Mary Jane says:

    Absolutely excellent post, Fr Z. Perhaps one of your best! Thank you.

  2. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Once again, I am humbled by how you address certain questioners and answer certain questions. God bless Fr. Z.

  3. rtjl says:

    “The times we are in now are… different. There is a qualitative difference to the trials we collective face. That’s the stuff of another post.”

    Please write that post. I am anxious to see what you have to say on the matter.

  4. APX says:

    I’m not saying that we should stick our heads in the sand and act like we’re A-OK, but perhaps it might be helpful to stop reading about all the negativity in the Church might also be helpful. It seems like everyone one I know who read certain traditionalist blogs are in constant anxiety and fear about the Church.

  5. jkking says:

    “We put on our big boy pants and we stick to the Catholic Faith as it has always been taught.”

    Best quote ever. Oorah!

  6. HyacinthClare says:

    Magnificent! Bravo!! Bravo!!

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    A wonderful blog post Father Z.

    your reader :

    A commission to study women deacons, after 2-3 previous studies said no?

    The last of which, to be quite fair, suggested that further study of a more theological nature was needed, after having established OTOH very conclusively that the deaconesses of Antiquity were NOT simply deacons who happened to be women, but that they had a different ministry, the main commonality being in the teaching function.

    The essential difficulty resides in the 1000+ year-long debate on the nature and essence of Ordination, that Lumen Gentium even did not definitively resolve :

    In gradu inferiori hierarchiae sistunt Diaconi, quibus “non ad sacerdotium, sed ad ministerium” manus imponuntur

    The history of the question is very interesting — but it is also very confusing, and quite liable to be misinterpreted, even when presented with good intention to the good-willed.

    As if the Church was ever wrong to oppose the vice I’ve struggled with my whole Catholic life?

    I have struggled with my own situation of abstinence, for different reasons, and it is clearly not at all helpful when Bishops of the Church seek to present Vice itself as being capable of Virtues. The words sacrilege and blasphemy spring unhappily to mind.

  8. Joseph-Mary says:

    This is an incredible time to be a Catholic! Yes, many who know the faith suffer in unfaithful parishes, etc. True. But that pales in comparison with how the early Catholics had to live in a pagan society where they could be fed to the lions or martyred some other way; to be Christian meant putting your life on the line. There were the persecutions and confusions when Protestantism reared its ugly head and you could be fined, your property taken, or even killed for your faith. Right now, this very day, Catholics are suffering terribly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
    What to do? Be faithful. Be holy. Frequent the sacraments. Go ahead with your vocation even if it means suffering. Be a true disciple of Christ and you know He promised rewards and also persecution.

  9. AnnTherese says:

    This is a worthwhile struggle, which I face, as well. I cling to the Gospels and read or listen to Catholics I trust, respect, and am inspired by. Find your companions and guides. Breathe. Breathe in the life-giving Spirit that surrounds you always and everywhere.

  10. rmichaelj says:

    I would very much like to read the other post about “qualitative difference to the trials we face” today. I have my own ideas, but would like to read the opinion of one with a greater background in history than myself.

  11. Hidden One says:

    As a convert, I have never yet understood why I would ever doubt the Faith on account of the actions of people who don’t believe It.

    On the whole, the activities of people who firmly believe that two and two do not make four seem to me to be great evidence that they do, and yet I am instead supposed to doubt a higher Truth than this because other wrong people do bad and silly things? If counterfeit bills won’t let me pay for my lunch, should I lose faith that the real ones will?

    It’s easy to get distracted, confused, and thoroughly disquieted by reading the news. The best advice I know is first to read less of it, and then to read something else and better instead.

  12. SKAY says:

    Thank you Father Z.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    I would comment on one thing the reader said: “Now it’s the Church herself who speaks ambiguously”.

    Never! While some members of the Church may speak ambiguously and sow confusion, the Church never can.

  14. Henry Edwards says:

    Haven’t we always had trouble in the Church?

    But perhaps not always in the same way and to the same unavoidable extent as now.

    A Catholic convert in the 1950s encountered no “trouble in the Church” that was perceptible to the ordinary pew Catholic, or even to one who attended his university’s Catholic faculty weekly discussion group with its slightly wider range of topics than discussed in the typical local parish. There were no cracks in the teaching magisterium of the Church that were visible from the pews, no evident disagreement among clergy or laity about what the Church teaches. No evident liturgical abuses or conspicuous variations in the liturgy from parish to parish or from diocese to diocese, or from priest to priest–it was possible to come home from Sunday Mass and not remember that afternoon which of the parish’s priests had celebrated the morning Mass you attended.

    All this seems strictly a post-Vatican II a post-Vatican II phenomenon to older Catholics who remember what truly were halcyon days in the Church, who therefore see a “business as usual” view now as that of an ostrich with its head in the sand.

  15. The thing is, when you belong to any society — whether it is a family, a nation, the Catholic Church — you are going to share, not only in the joys of that society, but also its sufferings. This is part of the deal. Confusion is a suffering. The Church is in a state of confusion and we must all share in her suffering. I feel it too. It is unavoidable. Paul says that when one member of the body suffers, all the others suffer with it. But where else are we going to turn for the words of everlasting life?

  16. Gilbert Fritz says:

    Be glad you don’t live when there were three men all claiming to be pope, and even saints got it wrong! And was it easy to tell who the Arians were? I think not!

  17. Winfield says:

    This is the best post I’ve read on your blog, and that’s saying quite a bit. It brought tears to my eyes by reminding me that our hope ultimately rests not on sinful or foolish men, nor on their influence they wield, but on Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

  18. Cosmos says:

    Isn’t the issue that:
    1) the Church has validly-ordained clergy;
    2) the Church has a theological concept called development of doctrine;
    3) members of the validly-ordained clergy teach things that APPEAR to contradict the Catholic Faith as it has always been taught (e.g., Jews are saved by the older covenant and should not be evangelized);
    4) those same members of the clergy–and many orthodox Catholics–insist that nothing has changed, doctrines have only been legitimately developed;
    5) those same members of the clergy–and many orthodox Catholics–insist that we, as laymen, lack the competence to judge whether something has validly developed or is a rupturous novelty;
    6) those same clergy–and many orthodox Catholics–point out that we are both presumptuous and rebellious to rely on our own competency to judge what is real development and what is not.

    So how do we know we are being truly faithful or just obstinately clinging to the past against our superiors in the hierarchy?

    [Use good catechisms, find good and reliable sources including trustworthy priests.]

  19. yatzer says:

    Thank you. That question has been rolling around in my mind a lot these days.

  20. Gerard Plourde says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z., for an excellent pastoral post. The quote from Chesterton (a personal hero of mine) encapsulates the task Our Lord set for His Church – to navigate the snares and shoals set before humanity by Satan. The way will be perilous: we may often appear to be on a course toward the rocks but we have Our Lord’s assurance that the Holy Spirit will help Christ’s Vicar to find the safe passage.

  21. arga says:

    Thank you Fr. Z for this marvelous reply. You do much good.

  22. Jenson71 says:

    The Cross remains steady while the world turns.

  23. Gilbert Fritz says: Be glad you don’t live when there were three men all claiming to be pope, and even saints got it wrong! And was it easy to tell who the Arians were? I think not!

    There may never have been a worse crisis in the Church than the present crisis of modernism, the “synthesis of all heresies,” when the entire Deposit of Faith is considered to be up for grabs, and the very existence of the crisis is denied. There may have been earlier crises that were on a par with this one, but I have a hard time believing any were worse.

  24. Matamoros says:

    As one holy priest said, if it were good and true 100 years ago, it is good and true now. If it were false and heretical 100 years ago, it is false and heretical now.

    I thank you for this post. It has been my answer to this question that we have been given the Faith. It is readily available in books and on the internet in the teachings of the Councils, Saints, Fathers and holy Popes. Hold fast to tradition and you will be in the barque of Peter.

    A Pope must be in communion with the Church and its thought. A Pope teaching heterodox ideas is the same as Peter telling Jesus that he should not die, and being told Satan, get behind. This is contrasted with the Peter of revelation, Though art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

    So there is Peter the man, and Peter the Pope. Ignore the man, reverence the true teachings of the Magisterium, which may come through the same man when God uses him as Pope to proclaim a dogma, etc.

    Those who allow themselves to be tossed about by the confusion in the Church, instead of holding fast to Tradition and the defined teachings and dogmas of the Faith, will lose their faith. Hold fast to Tradition.

  25. Orlando says:

    Father Z , Bravo ! Fantastic post ! Agree with many of the comments made on this post, this is an awe inspiring time to be Catholic, yes the Devil is at door and the enemies of truth are many but the Holy Spirit has chosen that this generation of Catholic and those to come will carry the Cross of our Savior and battle the forces of evil. With God there is no happenstance , he has a plan and is calling on us to see it through. Will we accept this challenge or be one of the twelve who betrayed him? I say bring it on we are ready!

  26. Ben Kenobi says:

    I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

    God bless you Father Z!

  27. Heorot says:

    Father, were it liturgically correct at this time, I would offer you an inclinatio profunda out of reverence for this post. Despite the emotional frame in which it was typed, I have no shame in admitting that I am the Christianus quaerens who asked this question, since it produced such a moving post which appears to have given hope to other posters, as well as to the original.

    One foot at a time. Thank you. This is the motto of the Catholic man of this day and age, along with:
    Benedictus Dominus, Deus meus, qui docet manus meas ad proelium; et digitos meos ad bellum!

  28. Pingback: “How are we supposed to remain Catholic these days?” |

  29. Semper Gumby says:

    My two cents: If Fr. Z ever collects posts into a book, this one should be included.

  30. Gerhard says:

    Simply brilliant, and brilliantly simple. Thank you. I needed to read and heed that.

  31. JuliB says:

    I’m reading the Leonine Encyclicals based on Father’s recommendation. It’s helpful in that many of the matters the Pope addressed are still around today. Of course, the nature of communications can increase the sensation that it’s a mess everywhere.

    So these old encyclicals show that there was no ‘golden age’. And it’s a nice change to read the strong and clear language of pre V2.

  32. doncamillo says:

    Thank you, it was helpful and I needed it.

    Paolo, Italy

  33. Filipino Catholic says:

    St. Pius X, ora pro nobis!
    St. Teresa of Calcutta, ora pro nobis!

    Fr Z’s answer reminds me of an old way of dealing with seasickness — don’t look at the motion of the ship, but fix your eyes on the horizon. We all know what happened whenever the Apostles looked at the storms instead of Christ.

  34. Romanus says:

    To Father’s correspondent:

    If the “vice” you have “struggled with” is a homosexual inclination, and you are still considering a priestly vocation, I would respectfully draw your attention to this document of the Holy See:

    A prudent spiritual director is indispensable. God bless you.

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