Confessions of a Cowardly Catholic
HEARING THE COCK CROW
In the eighth grade, when I received the sacrament of Confirmation, I impulsively chose Peter as my Confirmation name. It seems natural enough for a Catholic adolescent to want to associate himself with the glorious Prince of the Apostles, and I chose Peter for my own without a second thought. In the years since then, I have learned (to my chagrin) how apt the name is. For it turns out that I do have something of Peter in me — not Saint Peter, the Bishop of Rome, the preacher, healer, and martyr, but Simon Peter of Galilee, the fledgling fisher of men, the blockheaded and cowardly man who so stumblingly loved the Lord.
My blockheadedness I discovered pretty quickly, when I entered freshman year at a Catholic high school. (I now teach English and theology at the same high school — but more on that later.) When our religion teacher informed the class that the Resurrection of Jesus may have been a kind of mass hallucination on the part of the Apostles, I quite unaccountably failed to see the validity of this hypothesis. I wanted to know how the alleged mental instability of the Apostles had been ascertained. I also wanted to know how the delusion of these imaginative men had developed into a universal religion. To these and similar questions, my teacher responded merely by shaking her head and awarding me the grade of the attentive dullard, a C.
My skull only grew thicker over the next few years. Though intelligent enough to be admitted to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., I was evidently too dense to comprehend why Fr. Charles Curran should be permitted to defy the Pope in that pontifical university. Many of my fellow students saw so clearly the justice of his cause that they felt quite at ease supporting him without having read his books. I myself had read several of them, and still I could not see.
When a nun sporting a T-shirt that said “All Poped Out” called Cardinal Ratzinger a fascist, I asked her to clarify and substantiate her accusation in light of Catholic principles. When a graduate theology student expressed his reverence for the papacy at the statue of Pope Leo XIII by placing a beer can in the hand of the pontiff, I asked him how such a beverage comported with the chalice of divine truth from which all of Peter’s successors drink. I even wrote an editorial for The Tower, the student newspaper, defending the right of Pope John Paul II to travel all over the world in order to solidify the Church over which (according to Vatican II) he has “full, supreme, and universal power.” Blockhead though I was, I was not yet a coward.
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