A Guide for Catholics and Non-Catholics
There is a lot of talk today about misinformation. This is an understandable concern, as it would be tragic for an entire cohort of people to be misinformed about a serious topic that could have implications for life and death. Indeed, it would be devastating for any group of people to be misled or deceived about information that could save their lives.
Enter, the Catholic Church, which has been tragically misrepresented since the Protestant Reformation, some 500 years ago.
The Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen famously said, “There are not one hundred people who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Millions who have been subjected to misinformation about the Catholic Church for generations. This is, by my estimation, the most devastating case of misinformation the world has ever seen, as the implications are eternal.
The Papal Encyclical, Exsurge Domine, was the official response from Pope Leo X to Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis in 1520. The Pope’s response addressed 41 topics of concern raised by Luther. Topics in question were addressed, and have since been ratified by the Church. The separation brought about by Martin Luther was unnecessary. The repercussions have been a constantly dividing Christian world (to the tune of over 40,000 Christian denominations today).
“I pray they all will be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21) Jesus prays that we all might be one, and He gives us a vehicle for this universal unity: the Catholic Church.
With an effort to dispel the confusion, I offer the following seven common topics of misinformation that concern the Catholic Church, and I pray that open hearts and minds may be receptive to this divinely established Church: that we may all be one.
1. The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ
The Church is the Bride of Christ, established by a Divine Person, who gave His authority to the apostles and their successors to shepherd the faithful into all Truth. Indeed, the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Jesus changes the apostle Simon’s name to Peter, which means, “rock.” He says, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18)
And this Church must be visible: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14-15; see also Luke 8:16,11:33) Jesus sends His apostles to all nations to “teach and obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20) If this Church of Christ is no longer visible, then Jesus would have been preaching an inconsistency.
2. The earliest Christians were Catholic
Ignatius of Antioch writes in 107 AD: “You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles; reverence the deacons as you would God’s [own] commandment. Let no one do anything touching the Church apart from the bishop… Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (Second Letter to the Philadelphians).
Early catechetical documents like the Didache (90 AD) and apologetic letters from early philosophers like St. Justin Martyr show a visibly active Church praying, fasting, worshipping on Sundays, giving sermons, and receiving the Holy Eucharist. It was important for the early Christians to follow the apostles and bishops who were appointed. Tertullian of Carthage states in 240 AD: “If the Lord Jesus Christ sent the Apostles to preach, no others ought to be received except those appointed by Christ: For no one knows the Father except the Son.”
3. The Bible is a Catholic book
The bible, and all its books, were not “dropped from the heavens” in one complete (and printed) volume. The Sacred Scriptures took 1,500 years to complete. No author begins to write the New Testament until 45 A.D. The complete bible was not officially canonized until 397 A.D. Stephen Langdon, Archbishop of Canterbury, did not designate chapter numbers until about circa 1080, and printed bibles were not available until 1,400 years after Christ. The “table of contents” for the bible was chosen by the Catholic Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Christian world has the Holy Spirit and the Catholic Church to thank for the canonization and preservation of the Holy Bible.
4. The Eucharist is not a symbol. It’s Jesus Christ himself.
The founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, believed in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist: “There is no life, but death alone, apart from His flesh and blood if these are neglected or despised. How is it possible to distort this?” (Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: 6-8, 1532)
Thomas Cranmer, a protestant reformer in the Church of England, affirms the theology of the Real Presence this way:
“My meaning is that the force, the grace, the virtue and benefit of Christ’s body that was crucified for us, and of his blood that was shed for us, be really and effectually present with all of them that duly receive the sacrament.”Writings and Disputations of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr, 1556
God’s plan of salvation is presented to us through food. The first sin is committed through the consumption of food (Genesis 3:6), the Passover meal was complete upon consuming the spotless Lamb (Exodus 12), the Israelites were fed in the desert by bread manna from heaven (Exodus 16:4), Jesus is born into a feeding trough in Bethlehem, which means, “City of Bread” (Luke 2:6).
Jesus himself says,
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never hunger, and whoever believes in Me will never thirst… I am the bread that came down out of heaven… Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh… Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day… For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink” (John 6:41-58).
The Jews quarreled among themselves and left. Many disciples walked away from this “hard saying.” The Apostles stayed and proclaimed, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Jesus Christ is calling you to receive Him in the Eucharist, which is only made present in the Catholic Church. “Does this shock you?” -Jesus (John 6:61)
5. Catholics do not worship Mary
The Doctrines on Mary are some of the most difficult for non-Catholics (and some Catholics). Mary was the first Christian—the first follower of Jesus. The scriptures tell us that “all generations will call her blessed” (Luke 1:48). The Angel Gabriel kneels before her and says, “Hail Mary, full of grace!” (Luke 1:28).
The bible designates Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. The Ark of the Old Covenant held (1) The Word of God in stone, (2) the rod of Aaron, our ancestral priest, (3) the Bread manna from heaven. Mary holds within her womb (1) The word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, (2) the High Priest, Jesus Christ, (3) The Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.
King David takes the Ark of the Old Covenant into the hill country for safekeeping. David arose and went to take the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:2); David says, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam 6:9); David dances for joy in the presence of the Ark (2 Sam 6:14-15); the Ark remains in the hill country for 3 months (2 Sam 6:11). Similarly, Mary arose and went to visit her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39); Upon Mary’s arrival, Elizabeth says, “How is it that the mother of the Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43); Elizabeth’s unborn child, John the Baptist, leaps for joy in the presence of Mary (Luke 1:41); Mary stays with Elizabeth for 3 months (Luke 1:56).
Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, is then seen in heaven, clothed with the sun, with a crown of 12 stars, to represent the 12 tribes united by Jesus Christ, from the line of David (Revelation 12:1). The Israelites didn’t worship the Ark, rather they worshiped the contents of God within the Ark.
Catholics do not worship Mary. Rather, they follow the historical model of Christianity—they honor her (Exodus 20:12), and they ask for her prayers. They ask Mary to be their prayer partner. How righteous those prayers must be (James 5:16)! The founder of Protestantism speaks of Mary: “Mary is the highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough.”(Martin Luther, 1531)
6. Catholics do not worship saints or pray to dead people
Catholics believe that death is not the end. Those who enter heaven are alive through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:5). As we run the race here on earth, the saints in heaven are cheering us on as a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). The scriptures show the saints offering prayers with incense rising up before God (Revelation 8:4). Jesus himself speaks with the righteous dead during His glorious transfiguration with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:2).
Catholics venerate statues and images of saints to remember their Christian lives and living witness. God commands the construction of two large cherubim statues of gold to be constructed on the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18). Just as you might kiss the pictures of your loved ones, and not worship the paper they are printed on, so Catholics honor the memory of the saints using images and statues without worshiping the stone material.
7. Saved? Catholics follow the biblical way of salvation
Catholics follow the biblical understanding of “getting saved” and being “born again.” There are four major elements for salvation, as described in scripture:
- 1. Faith. “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
- 2. Baptism. “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5) “Baptism saves you.” (1 Peter 3:21)
- 3. Eucharist. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)
- 4. Doing the Father’s Will. Catholics do not believe that salvation can be earned. However, fruitful works are an appropriate demonstration of the Christian life. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) “We are justified by our works, not by faith alone.” (James 2:24)
With countless news sources, media outlets, scientific journals, and fact-checkers working tirelessly to corroborate reliable and trustworthy information, it is useful to do personal research concerning the spiritual life and religious authenticity. The Catholic Church makes a bold claim to be the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ. If this claim is true, I think it is only fair to give her a fair shake and find out the facts. Here are some excellent books from Catholics that highlight conversions, testimonies, and Church teaching:
- What Catholics Really Believe by Karl Keating
- Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
- Surprised by Truth by Patrick Madrid
Misinformation is deadly. With the health and wellbeing of our souls at risk, take the time to be informed. Pope Francis tells us that “the Catholic Church is a hospital for sinners.” It is the Bride of Christ that can heal us. Run to her.
image: St Peter’s dome with sunlight rays by Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock.com