You’re Going to Have to Do Better Than That

by Margaret Grace on March 10, 2012

Nice try, Freedom From Religion folks. Nice try, but no dice. Yesterday, you ran a full-page open letter in the New York Times that was directed at me, a “liberal” Catholic. In this horrible ad, you said it was my “moment of truth”, that it was time I stopped “propping up the pillars of a tyrannical and autocratic, woman-hating, sex-perverting, antediluvian Old Boys Club”. Pretty strong stuff. But, sorry guys, I’m not budging. I’m Catholic, and I intend to stay Catholic until the day I die. Your open letter was a poorly-reasoned screed against the faith I love, and it is clear from the text of that letter that you completely misunderstand the nature and depth of my faith. In response to your letter, there are a few things I want to say. In no particular order:

1) I did not join the Catholic Church because I expected it to agree with every thought that ran through my head and every opinion I had on every subject. That would be a ridiculous state of affairs. I joined the Catholic Church knowing full well that there were points of disagreement for me. I did not expect that the Catholic Church would change its doctrine to accommodate me, and I would have respected it less if it had. I joined the Catholic Church because I was in love with the mass, because I felt comforted by Mary and the saints, because I was moved by its care for the sick and the destitute. I joined the Catholic Church for these reasons and a hundred more. My disagreement with the Church on the finer points of a highly limited number of teachings is far outweighed by all these other things. And I pray that in time I will come to understand these points of disagreement better, so that my heart may be changed.

2) I am not “better” than my church. You have that backwards. My church (the worldwide collection of believers that stretches back twenty centuries) is better than I am. My church feeds, clothes, and houses the poor. My church cares for the sick and the dying, from cradle to grave. My church opposes state-sanctioned murder and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. My church speaks out for the downtrodden and forgotten. How often do I neglect these duties? Quite often. The Church never does. Do Catholics sometimes do bad things? Yes. Has the Catholic Church as an institution sometimes done bad things? Yes. So do I, frankly. All the time. But I firmly believe that the Catholic Church is the church that Christ founded. We are humans, trying to sustain the Kingdom here on Earth. We will make mistakes from time to time. The important part is that we recognize these mistakes, ask for mercy and forgiveness, and continue to preserve the true faith as a community of believers.

3) I am not “beaten down every Sunday”. I am lifted up. Sunday mass is the highlight of my week. Of course, you think the mass is just “incense-fogged ritual”, so there’s no way you will understand this. You can’t understand how ritual can be freeing and life-giving. You promise me a “more welcoming home”. But mass is home. And the home you offer is actually no home at all. Let’s not pretend. You’re the “Freedom From Religion” folks. You’re not going to be happy if I just roll over and become an Episcopalian. You want me to give up the whole religious endeavor. But I love the Church and her rituals. If you want me to give them up, you’re going to have to offer me something other than some vaguely-defined intellectual understanding of community. And you don’t have anything but that to offer.

I have other points I could make. But I’m sure others will make them for me on other blogs. I thank Fr. Christian for giving me space on his blog to speak.

Thanks to Margaret Grace for weighing in on this most recent attack upon Catholics. Let us continue to pray that the Gospel will enlighten all people, even those who find faults with the Church. 

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  • Lisa Graas

    I saw the ad and yesterday I tweeted Freedom from Religion on Twitter and asked them if they would be willing to drink a tall glass of ice cold lemonade…with a tiny bit of poop in it. Yes, it’s just a “little” pill…but it’s still poop and we’ll make ourselves sick if we drink of that cup. Thanks for the article. God bless you.

  • Anonymous

    Amen, Margaret Grace!  

  • Anonymous

    American Catholics are getting what they voted for in 2008 and 2010.  Elections have consequences.  Kathleen Sebelius is President Obama’s Secretary of Human Services.  He selected her for that position.  She was previously a Democrat Governor in the socially conservative state of Kansas.  She is Catholic.  Yet, she fights passionately for abortion rights and she has been the leader and the face of President Obama’s effort to force Catholic institutions to provide “free” contraception to their employees.  One might ask how she ever got elected Governor of Kansas.  That’s a good question.  You’d have to ask the conservative voters of Kansas to explain that. 

    It’s become pretty clear that this President and his administration do not respect religious freedom, especially when it pertains to the Catholic Church.  They believe it is more important for every American woman to have free contraception than it is to protect the freedom of religious institutions to operate under their core beliefs.  Women are not forced to work for Catholic institutions in America.  They become employees by their own choosing and they know the rules when they become an employee.  Now the President and his administration want to portray these women as victims of an oppressive Catholic regime because they aren’t being handed contraception for free.  By the way, nothing is ever free.  Drug companies aren’t going to make free contraception and insurance companies aren’t going to buy it from drug companies and issue it to women for free. The “free” contraception will be paid for by all employees of Catholic institutions through their insurance premiums.  Secretary Sebelius and President Obama seem to think that Catholics working for Catholic institutions will sleep better knowing that their insurance premiums are helping to fund “free” contraception for their coworkers.

    What is most concerning is that Secretary Sebelius and President Obama have attempted to create a completely new right under the Constitution.  Apparently there is now a basic human right to “free” contraception for all women.  What’s next?  How about a right to “free” Viagra for all men? 

    in 2008 a majority of American Catholic voters decided that they favored a national healthcare program and they got
    it.  And guess what?  Mandatory “free” contraception for all women is included in the package.  Ironically, Catholics enabled this veiled assault on their own religious freedom by their actions at the ballot box in 2008, and to a lesser degree in 2010 by enabling Senator Harry Reid to remain Senate majority leader.  The real question is whether Catholic voters will do the same again in 2012.  The fact is that Catholic voters have the power to stop this at the ballot box in November.  Will they?  If not, then they need to accept the consequences.

  • Theresa F

    That was…AWESOME : )

  • Ironiccatholic

    Good job!  Couldn’t agree more!

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    I love it when a plan comes together!

  • Colleen

    Amen. Thank you for this article.

  • Mark G.

    The FFR folks might have taken the name Freedom from Logical Reasoning.  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the incoherent rambling. If you want to convince someone of something, you should be as succinct & to-the-point as possible. It also helps to not sound like a 6th grader in a “Yo mamma so fat…” contest. 

    One of the things that helped to bring me back to the Church was the twinge of pain I felt whenever someone, thinking I would be sympathetic, would take a jab at the Church.  Even when I was away, I knew that the Church was right & that I needed to come home.

    Other than briefly pointing out its lunacies & moving on, the FFR piece needs to be completely ignored.  We need not be so aghast, but rather have pity on those who wrote & support it.  It may have the opposite effect of bringing some back.  

    Now that the Church is well on the way to getting her internal house in order, she appears to be entering a dark time of attack from her enemies without.  As the Master said, we should rejoice all the more that we have been counted worthy to suffer disgrace & hardship for His name.  Let’s focus our attention on what the Church does best – the worship of God, the sanctification of its people, & the corporal & spiritual works of mercy.  

    BTW, I disagree with Margaret on this point: I think secularism would be just fine for Catholics leaving to become Protestant, perhaps especially Episcopalian. See

  • Paul

    You don’t sound like a liberal. You actually want to accept the teachings of the Church. Welcome home by the way :) Paul

  • Margaretgrace

    Thank you for the welcome. It’s disheartening to see some of the discourse on other blogs regarding this, which can basically be summed up as “Good riddance, Liberals”. I do struggle with certain teachings…most of the ones you would expect. I probably always will to some degree. But I don’t want to leave. It was a long journey to get here, and I’m happy where I am. The Freedom From Religion folks seriously offended me with their letter…hence the snark.

  • Barbara Weeks

    Well said.

  • D_erford

    Thank you Margaretgrace.  I will be honest, my first reaction to the
    screed in the NYT was ‘Yes, please go’, because I am tired of the
    fighting amongst ourselves and the confusion that is spread by Catholics
    who profess something contrary to the Catholic faith they claim to
    follow.  Because of nominal Catholics, when I say I am Catholic, people
    no longer know what I mean.  Do I go to Mass every week?  Do I follow
    the teaching of the Magisterium?  Do I think abortion and contraception
    are morally permissible?  ‘Catholic’ has become a word that can mean
    anything, so in most people’s minds, it now means nothing.  And I think part of the issue is that in many conservative Catholics’ minds (including my own at times), a nominal Catholic and a liberal Catholic are the same thing.  I am slowly coming to realize that is not the case.

    At one time, I struggled with several of the Church’s teachings, until I
    realized that no individual or group of people is wiser than the
    Church’s teaching authority because IT was promised by Christ to be
    guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth.  It was pride in my own
    ‘intelligence’ and ‘spirituality’ that caused me to think I knew what
    was best.  So thank you so much for your example of humility in being
    willing to have your heart changed.  I pray that you will come to
    understand why the Church teaches what it does and that you will know
    the peace that comes from total trust in the Spirit working through our
    Church leaders regarding the teaching of faith and morals.

    God bless!


  • Jerry Rhino

    Like one man wrote, “If you are not getting flak, you are not over the target.”

  • Acotterell

    Thank you! You said everything that I have been thinking. God bless you!!

  • Brads

    It sounds as if you really enjoy the community and ritual. It also sounds as if you aren’t willing to give them up for the vague offerings of secularism.

    You are absolutely correct, the secular does not offer those benefits and does not claim to.

    It only offers the truth. I’m sorry that isn’t enough.

    Good luck to you!

  • Margaretgrace

    I’ve done secularism, and if I were convinced of the truth of it, I would certainly still be an agnostic, regardless of how I feel about the community that church offers. But I am not convinced of the truth of secularism. Quite the opposite. That was my whole point. And it is about more than just enjoying “the community and the ritual”, though those are certainly elements of it. It’s about faith and home and goodness and grace. It is also about truth. Those are all worthy things.

  • Lisa Parker

    what a beautiful article!!  thanks for writing it

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    Hi Dennis, 

    Thanks for commenting here. It seems to me that one of the primary ways that Satan works is to divide us. He is very good at making us see the worst parts of one another and then gets out of the way while we tear one another apart. 

    One thing that I hope can happen as a result of all American Catholics coming under attack is that we may find a greater sense of unity. Maybe we can actually start listening to one another rather simply judging. If we do that, we are likely to have some fights, but I think those fights will be worth it. 

    We also need to remember to be united when those who are against us want to take down our brothers and sisters. I recall well as a child being involved in a serious fight with one of my brothers, that is until someone else took my side of the fight against one of them. Then I immediately moved to the defense of my brother. 

    I hope we will remember that blood is thicker than water. 

  • Jeff

    Problem w/ Secularism is what’s cool today isn’t cool tomorrow.  Catholic Church doesn’t offer the easy road salvation, but with Christ’s love anything is possible to overcome.  Thanks for the encouraging words Margaret and Father.  Thumbs up.

  • D_erford

     Hello, Father.

    First let me apologize for all of the air quotes I am about to use :-)

    I agree with your comments, and think Satan is really enjoying (as much as he is able) the pain we cause each other.  I think part of the issue is that ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ struggle to see each other as brothers and sisters.  For example, it is difficult to view as a brother a ‘liberal’ Catholic who claims our bishops and pope are out-of-touch women-haters or that the Church is wrong on a doctrinal issue, for they are attacking my Holy Mother Church, my Holy Father, and their authority.  On the other hand, some ‘conservative’ Catholics spitefully over-react when a ‘liberal’ proposes something not contrary to Church doctrine but to Church discipline or small ‘t’ tradition.

    So my question to everyone: Besides prayer and fasting, what practical things can be done to help us see each other as adopted sons and daughters of Christ instead of secret agents for the enemy?

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    This is not meant to be snarky, and it is sad that I have to say so. In addition to prayer and fasting, I would add almsgiving. I think that too often we make Christianity more complicated than it is meant to be. We also underestimate how difficult the simple things are. 

    Just my two cents.

  • D_erford

    Thank you for reminding me about almsgiving.  I apologize if I gave the impression that we must come up with ‘other’ things because prayer and fasting are not really efficacious because they are ‘simple’.  They are not simple, and they are powerful.  I guess I am wondering how they will play out in my life to help change my habits and frame of mind.  Perhaps I will not know until I focus on doing them more than I am.

    By the way, I like the connection between you bringing up almsgiving and giving your ‘two cents’.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, this was truly excellent. Hey, two of my children share your names!

  • Alexander

     Spot on. In fact, the very mission, nature and essence of the devil is to divide. His name Satan as chief comes from the Greek to accuse or the slanderer. Demon coming from diao rendered to diabolos is to divide.

    Division causes weakness and confusion. Circular logic and arguments separate rather than a sincere intent and desire to be one.

  • Margaretgrace

    I’m glad you liked the post. Margaret Grace is actually a pen name, but it does have meaning for me.

  • lome



    Many non-Catholics, especially, fundamentalist and
    protestant, argue against the caricature of the Catholic teachings by
    imagining, wrongly that the Catholic Church claims that she herself made this
    book canonical. This is not True.

    The Catholic Church was the recipient of God’s about which
    books were inspired and which weren’t.

    And because God revealed this truth, It is the necessary
    part of the deposit of faith, a

    Tradition that comes from God and not from men. It falls
    squarely into the realm of teaching that St. Paul said; in Thessalonians.


    2Th 2:15;”.Therefore, brethren, stand fast: and
    hold the traditions, which you have learned, whether by word or by our

    This Tradition of the canon
    of the New Testament was revealed by God It was received and understood by the
    Church, codified and made formal, and it was passed down in the Church for the
    last nineteen centuries thought oral Traditions

    Every “Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons, Iglesias, Protestant
    bible Christians”, defends upon this vital Catholic Traditions or he would not
    have a bible.



  • BradS

    Thank you again for your thoughtful reply.  I reread your article as I do not want to misrepresent you.  I do believe the article does give the impression that your attraction to the church finds primacy in its more material aspects, ”
    I joined the Catholic Church because I was in love with the mass, because I felt comforted by Mary and the saints, because I was moved by its care for the sick and the destitute. I joined the Catholic Church for these reasons and a hundred more.”  Perhaps the truth of the teaching is to be found within the “hundred more.” I thank you for that clarification.

    I understand the official Church stance on artificial contraception as fairly straightforward;  Artificial contraception is considered intrinsically evil,  As study after study shows, the majority of Catholic women continue to use birth control.  It seems cognitive dissonance would be required for them to actively participate in an organization that considers their premeditated, willful, daily acts intrinsically evil.  Perhaps bringing that contradiction home will take differing methods with different women.Did the FFRF ad go over the top? Yes, of course it did – I suspect the real agenda is a little bigger than simply de-converting a few liberal women.  Along with causing folk to take pause, I suspicion they were hoping for some cyberspace reaction such as this and the Bill Donahue tirade.  And more importantly, there is a real movement afoot to make the whisper that is currently atheism more vocal.  We “new atheists” can disagree on methods but the fact remains; a real contradiction between Catholic doctrine and practice exists.  You seem to have found reconciliation within the Church, over time, many will not.I suppose this means I won’t be seeing you at the Reason Rally.  :)Thank you again for your thoughtful comments!

  • Fr. Christian Mathis


    Thanks for you comments here, and most of all, thank you for keeping them respectful. As I am sure you are aware, it is common to find threads of comments on both blogs and newspapers that are simply full of people trading insults. 

    I have been thinking about your comments today and they match up with ones I hear from many others, that being that there is “a real contradiction between Catholic doctrine and practice”. On this point, you and are in agreement. The practice of Catholic moral teachings always falls short due to sin. In the same way that many women fail to practice their faith through the use of artificial birth control (as well as men I might add), many men fail to practice it through the viewing of pornography and masturbation. Many Catholics also fail to match practice with doctrine by not always telling the truth, by treating others with disrespect and by being jealous of those who have things that they do not. 

    Many would probably argue that those things are not the same thing as they are not, “premeditated, willful (and) daily”, but our Church would disagree. The basic definition of sin is for someone to know something is sinful, for it to actually be sinful, and for the person to freely choose the sin. When honest, most of us would admit to daily engaging in acts that lead us to be lesser versions of ourselves or in failing to do the good we are capable of doing in ways that are premeditated and willingly chosen.

    My own unwillingness to completely embrace everything taught by Catholic doctrine as expressed by my actions doesn’t lead me to leaving the Church, but rather to attempting to become a better person by remaining close to the teaching of the Church which have consistently produced saints. The saints are considered even by many non-Christians as models of how to live. 

    Perhaps one other way to approach this is to look at other situations where many of us don’t fully believe in everything that an organization puts forward. I cannot say that I agree with everything put forward in the laws established by our government, and frankly I don’t know too many people who can say that. It doesn’t necessarily follow that since I disagree in a few areas that I should denounce my citizenship. 

    It would seem from your comments that we are unlikely to come to agreement, but I did want to share some more thoughts. We Christians are not opposed to reason, but also wish to embrace faith. 

    Thanks again for adding your voice to the dialogue here and for the way in which you have entered into it with respect for others.

  • Margaretgrace

    Thank you for the kind reply. Fr. Christian pointed this out in his reply (and I agree with what he said), but I’ll respond as well, though a little differently: what may look to others like hypocrisy (professing to believe in the Catholic Church but failing to follow all of its teachings) is really just people being human. Yes, there is some cognitive dissonance involved in knowing what the doctrines are and yet doing something else instead, if you want to call it that. (I think getting up and going to work in the morning involves cognitive dissonance!) But this is just the human condition writ large. The Catholic Church is not afraid of this. In fact, the Christian faith anticipates this and welcomes it, even as it challenges us to become better people. I will never be a saint…that I am sure of. But I love being in the company of them. Living and dead, they challenge me to be a better person.

    Mary, the saints, the mass, etc. are not purely material aspects for me, and I don’t think of them as such. And yet, I am human and I take bodily form, therefore I cannot experience anything in this life apart from materiality. Furthermore, the Church would reject any attempt to divorce the spiritual from the material. Faith begins with the material. It has to.

    No, you won’t be seeing me at the Reason Rally. :) And I will just say for the record that atheists don’t own the corner on reason. Many of the greatest intellectuals in history have been Catholic, and the earliest centers of learning in the Western world were sponsored by the Catholic Church. Catholicism is not hostile to reason. But Catholicism does not hold that reason is the highest of man’s faculties. And pure reason, untethered by morality, can be a dangerous thing.

  • Anonymous

    Father Mathis:

    I am an atheist, but I doubt I work for Satan.   Unlike FFRF, I’m not particularly interested in recruiting for the atheist cause.  It’s a matter of courtesy and respect for others’ beliefs.

    But at the same time, I’m curious about something.  In spite of this writer’s statement, I am still puzzled about why so many people stay with the Catholic Church despite what seem to be rather fundamental disagreements.  Take birth control, for example.  The Catholic Church is firmly against contraception, yet I see survey after survey that indicates a majority of individual Catholics either approve of birth control or use it regularly.  

    if this is an important branch of Catholic doctrine (and I assume it is, considering the fuss raised about the topic lately), why would somebody continue to claim membership in the church?  

    I understand birth control is a relatively small star in the galaxy that is Catholic doctrine, but I can see so many ways in which individual Catholics might disagree strongly with the church, yet remain members and even celebrate that church.  Why is this so?  How does one resolve this dissonance?

    Again, Father, please understand I ask these questions out of curiosity.  I am not trying to divide you.  I do not demand, or even particularly desire, that any person here abandon his faith.  I am just honestly curious about the mindset.  

  • Fr. Christian Mathis


    Thank you for commenting here. I am a Christian and I know that through my sins I at least work with Satan. My comment was not meant to suggest that those who disagree with Catholics are working for Satan, but rather to point out to fellow Catholics that Satan’s work is always to divide. 

    As to your question, I can only tell you why I have chosen to stay in the Church. I stay because I feel the Church reveals to me the truth about God, myself and the world. When we as Catholics are faithful to what has been taught to us by Christ and handed on through tradition, I believe we become better people and have witnessed this in those who truly embrace the teachings of the faith. 

    My observation is that many people struggle to live lives of holiness due to giving in to temptations and as a result sometimes can end up becoming worse persons. But I have only seen this happen through abandoning the teachings of the Church. 

    I have never seen particular growth in the Christian faith when people try to bend the Church to them, and nor would I expect a person who simply wants to stay the same to grow. I know many people within the Church, however, who truly want to follow the teachings of the Church, but struggle to understand some of them. Contraception is one of those that is frequently cited. 

    When it comes to me, I eventually came to the conclusion that when it comes to a teaching I am not completely sold on that it is much more likely that 2,000 years of holy men and women are more likely to be correct than I am. It seems more likely that I am not seeing something correctly than it does to me that the long line of those before me somehow got it wrong. Is it possible that I am correct? Sure. But less likely in my mind. 

    I suppose I don’t see the point in leaving the Church over a few points of disagreement (unless of course it were something very central like not believing in Christ Himself), in the same way I don’t feel obligated to renounce my citizenship as an American because I don’t agree with every law. 

    The reason I hear from Catholics, even those who disagree with the Church’s position on contraception, is that they understand this truly is the moral position of the Church (whether they agree or not), that it is no secret, and this being the case, the government should respect this belief with regards to the First Amendment.

    I have probably said more than I need to, but I thank you for the comment. 

  • Margaretgrace

    Fr. Christian earlier made the point about disagreements within a family. And I think this is a bit of what that’s like for any Catholic who disagrees with a Church teaching but who wishes to remain within the Church. When I was a teenager, I fought often with my mother. But she was always my mother and I loved her deeply, even as we disagreed. I would never have wanted to stop being her daughter. I think a lot of Catholics who disagree with the Church over things like birth control feel this way. The Church is like a family to them, and leaving would be as hard as walking away from a parent or sibling.

    Faith is about more than an assent to a collection of doctrines, though I would argue that there are doctrines that define the Christian faith so fundamentally that they cannot be disowned without placing one outside of the faith. Every Sunday, I pledge my assent to the major, defining doctrines of the faith when I recite the Nicene Creed, and I am able to do that freely. The things I disagree with I knew about before I became a Catholic, and yet I wanted to join anyway because I believed Catholicism to be the true faith. Maybe with time, my stubbornness will be worn away and I will finally be able to fully embrace every Catholic teaching. I no longer argue with my mother, so maybe miracles are possible.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the reply.  The analogy to family is particularly enlightening.

  • norma

    Well stated. Faith for me is personal and I practice my faith through the Catholic church.

  • EyesWideOpen

    I believe that your Church may be better perceived when it becomes more honest and stricter with itself with regard to child-abuse by clergy. If your Heaven is to be populated by christians and catholics, then I suspect that I would not care to go there!

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    There is no doubt that the Catholic Church did a poor job of holding priests accountable for a very long time. For the past ten years we have become much more accountable when it comes to doing all we can to protect children from abusers, as well as removing priests who are credibly abused. Of course this doesn’t get the same press as mistakes. I also know that it will take far longer than ten years for perceptions to change. Thanks for your comment.

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