Monday, November 12, 2007

Why Catholic?

I guess the best way to start out is to explain to some degree, my reasoning in choosing the Catholic Church upon returning to a life of Faith. Many, if not all of the various Protestant denominations boast a "close personal relationship with Jesus Christ". Indeed, many very devout people have found a spiritual home in one of the many Protestant Churches. In my early twenties I actually attended some Assemblies of God services. I had the "Born Again" experience, but it never really took. Please understand, I am by no means knocking Born Again Christians. I just think that the seed planted by my very devout Roman Catholic parents was germinating at this point. Even tho I was still years away from coming back for real.

I honestly have to say that the main reason that nothing fit except the Catholic Church (in my understanding of the spiritual life) is the Grace which I received in Baptism (which I received as an infant) was at work. Even when I was the farthest from the Church. I must elaborate here on just what Baptism means to Catholics. As, Catholics we believe that Baptism is first of all a Sacrament. A Sacrament is a sense perceptible sign that affects what it signifies, in other words it is far more than just symbolism. The water symbolizes cleansing and it also is cleansing, from original sin. Secondly, in Baptism we die to our sinful selves in order to rise with Christ. Baptism is one of the Sacraments of initiation along with First Communion and Confirmation. All of these Sacraments bestow Grace upon the one receiving them.

With that said, I must interject here that all of this was at work without my cooperation, or even my knowledge. I was, for the most part totally ignorant about what the Catholic Church taught. Sadly, there are many Catholics who are ignorant about their Faith. A very fitting axiom which can explain why this is, goes something like this; those who inherit much will often take it for granted, and you don't really appreciate what you have until you no longer have it. Just think about the many blessing that we have in our everyday life, which we take for granted. Our eyesight for example, but if we lose it then it becomes apparent how very blessed we were to have had it. I think that many converts to the Catholic Faith put us cradle-Catholics to shame. Precisely because they do not take the great richness and beauty of Catholicism for granted. Many converts sacrifice their careers, friends and even families in some cases to enter into the Catholic Church.

Well, back to my reasoning. Sacraments, they were what was missing from other Faiths. I can't say that I made a conscious decision that this was what the Catholic Church offered and no other did. I had a lot to learn, and I am still learning. Authority was another big issue for me. A Church without some visible authority, a head, one final say in Faith and Morals is bound to suffer from inconsistency and division. You need only look at the countless Protestant denominations and their teachings on important social issues, to see just how divided they really are. Only one Church has stood firm since the days Christ walked this earth. Only the Catholic Church has never yielded to public opinion on matters of Faith and Morals. If God is perfect, and He is, He admits to no change, for change is indicative of growth. Growth toward perfection. God is already there, so He is unchanging. He is the same today as He was yesterday as He will be for all eternity. Which brings us to the next point. God is eternal, He exists outside of time and space. If God is eternal and He does not change, then the Truth which He reveals also does not change. The moral law does not change with the times. People and customs may very well change, but Truth does not.

In my previous post entitled "Just getting started", I stated that I would be recommending some reading material. I think this is a good time to suggest a fantastic book by an author named Rod Bennett. It is called "Four Witnesses". It is published by Ignatius Press. The main subject matter is an examination of the Church in the centuries immediately following the Apostles. It examines four early Church Fathers, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons. Mr. Bennett skillfully unfolds the early Church as it is presented from ancient writings by both early Church fathers as well as early historians and writers of the day. The reader gets an intimate and comprehensive picture of the early Church and her struggles against heresies and persecution. The reason that I mention this is, that this book illustrates brilliantly just how Catholic this early church was. Many Protestants would have us believe that the Church founded by Christ fell into apostasy sometime following the death of the last Apostle. Mr. Bennett's' book dispels this fallacy quite artfully.

There are of course, many more issues which separate the Catholic faith from all others. A few which draw the ire of so many Protestants are our devotion for Mary the Mother of God, and our honoring of the Saints in Heaven. Protestants call this polytheism or the worship of multiple gods. They quote from the Commandments "Thou shalt put no strange gods before me". The true fact is that Catholics don't worship Mary or the Saints. There are a few Greek words for the different forms of honor that I feel can shed some light on this matter. The Greek language is a much richer one than the English language, it has many words for what English has but one. The Greek language deals in degrees, as there are different degrees of honor, love, pain or whatever. The Greek word dulia means to honor as you would honor a great achiever. Someone worthy of great respect. That is what we give the Saints, dulia. The next degree of honor is higher than dulia, it is greater respect and devotion it is called hyper-dulia. Hyper-dulia is what we honor Mary with. It is not worship, but the highest honor given to one who is not God. Which brings us to the highest degree of honor latria. This is indeed worship, and it is reserved for God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In later reflection, after I had returned to the Catholic Church I also came across another big difference between Catholicism and the various Protestant faiths. That difference was the issue of Sola Scriptora or Scripture alone. Protestants believe that Scripture alone is the sole guide to discerning the clear path to holiness. They leave it up to the individual believer to interpret Sacred Scripture, ie The Bible. This mode of operation has led to a very wide spectrum of teachings on moral theology among the various Protestant denominations. The fact is, that Sacred Scripture was never intended to be taken as the sole guide. The canon of Scripture, the books of today's Bible were compiled by the Catholic Church. The Church, in her wisdom chose these books to be used in conjunction with oral Tradition and authoritative interpretation of the Bishop of Rome, ie the Pope and the other Bishops united with him. Again, I hearken back to the early church just after the time of the Apostles. Time and again the early Church fathers, in their writings call for their congregations to be obedient and submit to their Bishops and Presbyters. Here we see the issue of authority played out. The Catholic Church also stresses in her catechism, that Sacred Scripture should never be taken out of context, but rather should always be taken as a whole. We can see what happens when we selectively pick isolated lines from Scripture and use them to justify our beliefs. Many great evils have been committed with the scripture taken out of context as justification.

In closing, I would like to say, that these are but a few of the reasons that I chose, or rather God chose the Catholic Church for me. Again, I must state that I am not knocking Protestantism. Their love of the Gospel and Jesus Christ is authentic. They are some of the most virtuous people. With that said, I will stand by my belief that The Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ upon Peter the rock.

May God bless you and may the peace and joy of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with each of you. Amen.

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