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Why Be Catholic? A Pocket Primer

“You approach the Church in the way of reason, you enter it in the light of the Spirit.” John Henry Cardinal Newman.

“There are not a hundred people in the world who hate the Catholic Church, but there are thousands who hate what they mistakenly believe the Catholic Church to be.” Bishop Fulton Sheen.

Pop quiz:

1) Does the Catholic Church teach that God wishes the salvation of all? Yes

2) Does the Catholic Church teach that salvation was made possible for the world through the cross of Jesus Christ? Yes

3) Does the Catholic Church believe that there is salvation for those who do not know Jesus Christ? Yes

4) Does the Catholic Church believe that the salvation of those who do not know Christ is somehow made possible by Christ, whether or not those saved have ever heard of him? Yes

5) Does the Catholic Church believe that this puts all those saved in some relationship to the Catholic Church? Yes

So, why be Catholic?

 

  • The Roman Catholic Church has remained focused and united on the lordship of Jesus Christ since it was founded by Christ almost 2000 years ago. She entails the wisdom of the Apostles; She encompasses the teachings of the Early Church Fathers; and She wraps herself around the Scriptures-which She handed to the world.

 

This is where it all began. Divine Incarnation. Divine Salvation. Divine Love. The Trinity. These Christian verities originated in the Church. Jesus founded the Church on St. Peter, and the Roman Catholic Church is still the church of St. Peter.

Catholicism is not merely a checklist of rules. Catholicism is Christianity. Catholicism is His-tory. Catholicism seeks to bring all to salvation. Catholicism strives to teach and reach all souls. For in the end, Jesus is the point where time and eternity meet. It is the Church’s mission to see that the Kingdom of God is fostered, encouraged, and nurtured.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” Cardinal Newman

 

  • The Catholic view is a world view. “Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statutes and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are mere hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility which inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation. As Catholics, we find our houses and our world haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of grace.” Andrew Greeley.
  • The Catholic view is communitarian-not individualistic. It is not “me and Jesus”, but rather it is “Jesus and our community”.
  • Catholics are optimists. Catholics do not believe that man is evil. Catholics believe that men sin, and that we are sinful, but that we were made in the image of God and thus we are inclined to the Good which is by definition God. We cannot be Good without God’s grace, but we have the free-will to readily accept or reject his offer of Grace. This spills over into how we see everything. Catholics see God in all; in nature and in man, God is in all. “Man is God, is the popular mode of speech; God is man, is the Catholic.” Cardinal Newman
  • The Catholic Church is a sacramental church. Its expresses its worship and relationship to God through God’s creations: bread, wine, water, oil, incense, bells, and gestures. It expresses the mysterious, the unknown, and the transcendental through the reality of nature. Additionally, there different sacraments at certain important times in our lives. Flannery O’Connor, the great Southern author, when asked to defend the Catholic belief that Christ is truly present in the bread and wine during the Eucharist, and not just a symbol as most Protestants (and lamentably some Catholics) believe, said the following: ‘”Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.” “The sacraments sanctify through themselves, and not through men.” St. Augustine
  • The Church expresses itself through Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. The Bible was written by the Church for the Church. The Church existed before the Bible; she made the Bible; she selected its books, and she preserved it. “I would not believe the Gospel, did not the authority of the Church move me.” St. Augustine The Catholic does not come to Christ through scripture alone (sola scriptura), but through both his/her sacramental and personal incorporation in the living Church and through the study of Sacred Scripture.
  • The Church is a doctrinal church. She has a set of beliefs. You know where She stands. She is proudly dogmatic-She stands resolute by Her orthodoxy. She believes-as She always has– that there must be a final authority on the Word made flesh. While acknowledging that God loves all people and grants them the possibility of being saved (cf Timothy 2.4), the Church believes that God has established Christ as the one mediator and that she herself has been established as the universal sacrament of salvation…It is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for salvation. Both of these truths help us understand the one mystery of salvation, so that we can come to know God’s mercy and our own responsibilityJohn Paul II (the Great), Redemptoris Missio.
  • The Church is authoritative, not authoritarian. The Church teaches us to think with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia). We think for ourselves not to come up with our own teaching but to make the Church teaching our own. St. Augustine expressed the authentic Catholic spirit regarding sentire cum ecclesiawhen he said: No one believes anything unless one first thought it believable. Everything that is believed is believed after being preceded by thought. Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking. And Father John Neuhaus put it quite nice when he said: “The Church begins with thinking. Faithful assent is not a matter of standing to attention, clicking one’s heel, and saluting the appearance of every document from Rome. Rather, it is a matter of thinking for oneself so that I can think with the Church, the prior assumption being that the Church possesses a teaching charism and authority that warrants my assent.” Yes, there will be difficulties in understanding what the Church teaches-especially in our postmodern society. But as John Henry Cardinal Newman said: “Ten thousand difficulties do not add up to doubt.” “Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the wall of the playground.” G.K. Chesterton
  • The Church is hierarchical. “The Church is from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God.” Tertullian, 2nd Century Church Father.
  • The Church believes in the divine importance of the Mother of God-Mary.
  • The Church cherishes spirituality, mysticism, and all manner of diverse religiosity. The Church is a big tent. “The Catholic Church is ever so much bigger from the inside than from the inside.” G.K.Chesterton The Church is a rainbow filled with many different–yet beautiful in their own way-Christian individuals. “Catholic” meant universal when it was first applied to the Church back in the second century. A wonderful aspect of the Church is its heterogeneity—black, white, brown, and all colors in between compose the Church and at any given moment you may be worshiping beside them.

 

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