Does one become a Catholic because one ‘longs for certainty’ and is ‘uncomfortable with ambiguity’? This is the charge often leveled at Catholics from the liberal Protestant wing.

Certainly there are some people who cling to Catholicism because if offers them ‘certainty’. They love dogma and legalism because it makes them feel secure. But then again, I can think of plenty of Protestants who also cling to ‘certainty’ and ‘moral absolutes’ in an unhealthy way. Likewise, there are liberal types who follow the way of no dogma and no moral absolutes out of another kind of weakness.

Let us put all of them on one side–both the legalistic addicts to ‘certainty’ and the libertines who are equally comfortable with no dogma and moral strictures.

Instead what is the real relationship between certainty and uncertainty? Perhaps a little parable will do. There was a boy who liked to lay on the hillside at night and gaze at the stars and dream of being an astronaut. “If only” he thought, “I could one day fly up to the stars and dwell in those vast regions of beyond!” He dreamed of being an astronaut, but he never took the step. He resisted the discipline and daring that was required to be an astronaut. So he remained on earth and gazed at the stars and wrote beautiful science fiction stories about other worlds and star travelers and he wrote poems of great beauty about the gem like stars and the dark, unknown mysterious realms beyond his earth.

Then there was a second boy who also dreamed of being an astronaut. He worked hard at school and learned everything he could about physics and astronomy and rocketry and aeronautics. He worked hard and got a scholarship into the Air Force Academy and trained as a fighter pilot. He beat out all the competition and rose to the top of his class because he knew that only the very brightest and best were chosen as astronauts. Finally he was chosen, and then the real training began. He had to study even more technology and astrophysics. He had to be physically fit. He had to sacrifice much to fulfill his dream of being an astronaut. He struggled with hard realities. He learned how all the practical things ad difficult things and seemingly irrelevant things he had learned would help him ascend to the stars.

Finally the second boy sat in the rocket module and was launched into the great beyond. Off he flew into the dark, mysterious realms beyond all imagination.

This is it: the ‘certainty’ the dogma and the moral certitudes are not an end in themselves. They are a means to an end. They are the hard facts and rules and certainties that are in place to help us ascend to the stars. We need them not as the climb, but as the ladder we climb on. The certainties, if you like, are only there to launch us, like the rocket, into the uncertainties that are the dark and dazzling mystery of God. This is the true reason why Catholics need certainties–because they provide the map for the journey and the machine by which we fly.

Without them we remain on earth dreaming about the vast realms beyond and perhaps making up beautiful stories about it and maybe even flapping our arms like wings, but much more than that, without the certain certainties we cannot do.