I was speaking with a Catholic today and was shocked by something. His faith was ugly. No, I did not say that the Catholic faith was ugly, I said that this man's faith was ugly. He believed in a God Who was stingy and tight-fisted. He believed in a Church that was confused about its own history. He believed in a communion of the saints that is isolated and schismatic. This is an ugly faith, and it is not the beautiful faith of our forefathers.
This can be compared with another Catholic that I met years ago. He also had an ugly faith, but his was of the opposite extreme. He believed in a God Who was so confused that He could not tell the difference between His own children and those of the world. He also believed in a Church that did not care about the well being of her own, because she threw off all restraints and allowed her children to run wild; sinning like the world, and having no need to repent of it. Both of these faiths are ugly, but it is the first that is the more problematic. This is because it is more easily mistaken for the true faith (and is thus more deceptive).
If you meet two Catholics and one says, "I want to retain the faith" and the other says "I want to be liberated from the past faith and move into a new form of the faith", then the former appears to be the one who is faithful. This is not always so. Personally, I desire to be liberated from the mistaken application of Vatican II that is so prevalent today, and move into that form of our faith that was intended by our forefathers. Additionally, those who claim that they want to "retain" the faith, may very well be trying to retain a slice of the faith as it appeared in a limited period of history (rather than the fullness of the faith which can engage with every period of history).
"Do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil" (Rom 14:16). We all have causes that we consider important. Yet, the manner in which we present those to others can either make that cause beautiful or ugly. When our own foibles get in the way of the truth, we turn that which could be loved into something that is often hated by others. This becomes even worse when we take these causes and allow them to cloud the essential truths of the gospel itself. It is often our own weaknesses that hinder the preaching of the gospel. The end result, unfortunately, is that we prevent many from giving proper consideration to the gospel itself because it is hidden by various "add-ons".
Admittedly, there are many Catholics who hold dearly to numerous confusions about the Catholic faith. Many of these people were brought to this position by poorly trained pastors and some by priests and teachers who are genuinely incapable of teaching the faith in an accurate manner. Yet, there are some whose misunderstandings are not merely innocent mistakes that have been foisted upon them by others. These are the people who willingly have pursued certain errors and have chosen to uphold those errors despite the fact that they have been shown to be wrong.
Whatever the reason for our mistakes, we can take the beautiful truths of God and display them in a manner that is cranky and unpleasant. I recall, once, seeing a picture of a Hollywood actress without makeup, and I was shocked to realize that she was more attractive (in my opinion) without the makeup than with it. It is completely possible to "decorate" something which is beautiful and make it ugly. The Catholic faith is a beautiful thing that can draw both pagan and Protestant to it equally as powerfully. Why is it, then, that so many today reject the awesome faith that has been handed down to us? What is it that gets in the way of something so powerful? Is it possible that we are the biggest hindrance to the world accepting the truth of the Catholic faith?
When we present the faith, in its simplicity, it can devour the greatest arguments and ideas that mankind can conjure up. When we add to it, however, and paste our own ideas on the top of it, then we "uglify" the faith and make it repulsive to lost souls that are in search of spiritual nourishment. Even something that is true, but is tangential to the faith, can cause great confusion, and end up deterring many from considering the wonders and beauties of the historic Christian faith.
I, myself, was driven away from the Catholic Church for many years due largely to the misrepresentation of Catholic dogma. I recall a dear friend (who is also now a Catholic) asking me one time: "why don't more Catholics convert and become Protestant?" My response was, "because they don't understand the Protestant faith." His answer was simple but profound: "if Catholics can misunderstand what you are saying, is it possible that you misunderstand what Catholics are saying?" It is hard enough to make the faith clear when it is not clouded, and thus we must make sure that we do nothing that further complicates the evangelistic efforts of the Church.
The gospel does not need defending any more than does a lion. All you have to do is let it out of the cage and it will devour its enemies. Bringing our personal causes and ideas into the mix is like putting a chain on the lion. As we seek to submit ourselves to the admonition, "do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil", we must also remember that it is "truth" that shall set men and women free. Not "truth-plus-our-latest-cause", but simply truth. Let us each find that truth, know that truth, love that truth, and show it to all the world.