While I was still undergoing the conversion process I had a lot of questions about particular doctrines, which I wasn’t sure I agreed with because I wasn’t sure I understood. So I would make appointments with the local pastor to hash them out.
One day I made an appointment and said, “You know I’m pretty much convinced that the Church is the true one. The only thing still holding me back is the Marian doctrines. [I had a Protestant roommate at the time, who you might say was pulling me in another direction.] Now if you could just explain this and this to my satisfaction I might be ready to join …”
The pastor interrupted me and said basically, “You know, I could spend weeks trying to answer all your difficulties. But the decision to become a Catholic isn’t based on the Church’s having satisfactory answers to a thousand individual questions. The decision is based on a single, core belief: That the Catholic Church was founded by Christ to preach the Gospel and to administer the sacraments in his name. Once you believe that, you have satisfactory grounds for believing everything that it teaches: You believe based on its authority, which in turn is based on your faith in Christ.
“You are trying to find a way to believe in the Church’s doctrines before assenting to the authority of the Church that teaches them, as if belief in the Church’s teachings came before belief in its authority. This is backwards: We believe because we are taught by God (through the Church), who can neither deceive nor be deceived; we don’t believe the Church’s doctrines apart from faith in its authority to teach. If you were to enter the Church with that attitude, your beliefs would never be settled because they would be based not on faith but on your own reason.”
Or as St. Augustine said, we don’t understand that we may believe, we believe that we may understand.
It was on this understanding that I made the decision to become Catholic. So yes, there have been teachings of the Church that didn’t make sense to me at one time. And even now, if left to my own devices, I might not draw the conclusion that birth control, for example, is immoral. But since I made the act of the will by which I placed my faith in the Church’s authority to teach in Christ’s name, I have not had any difficulty giving my full assent to the Church’s formal magisterial teachings.
Here is a passage of Cardinal Newman’s that I think is apropos:
[A] child’s mother might teach him to repeat a passage of Shakespeare, and when he asked the meaning of a particular line, such as ‘The quality of mercy is not strained,’ or ‘Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,’ she might answer him, that he was too young to understand it yet, but that it had a beautiful meaning, as he would one day know: and he, in faith on her word, might give his assent to such a proposition,-not, that is, to the line itself which he had got by heart, and which would be beyond him, but to its being true, beautiful, and good [based on his mother’s telling him so].
[U]nless he did assent without any reserve to the proposition [told him by his mother] that lucern was food for cattle, or to the accuracy of the botanical name and description of it, he would not be giving an unreserved assent to his mother’s word ….
It is indeed plain, that, though the child assents to his mother’s veracity, without perhaps being conscious of his own act, nevertheless that particular assent of his has a force and life in it which the other assents have not, insomuch as he apprehends the proposition, which is the subject of it, with greater keenness and energy than belongs to his apprehension of the others. Her veracity and authority is to him no abstract truth or item of general knowledge, but is bound up with that image and love of her person which is part of himself, and makes a direct claim on him for his summary assent to her general teachings.
So: Is the Church your mother, or not?