Dear Friends at Catholic Exchange:
Can you help me know how to answer people who sometimes asked me about the wealth of the Catholic Church in the Vatican etc? Also, how do I respond to the comment, “all religions lead to God just all rivers lead to the sea”? Please help me be able to defend my faith.
A Warrior in Christ
Peace in Christ! I hope this response will adequately address your question.
Regarding wealth in the Catholic Church, some critics like to allege, for example, that the Church owns more real estate than any other individual or entity in the world. If that is, in fact, true, we should charitably tell them that the vast majority of this property, e.g., churches, schools and hospitals, etc., is specifically dedicated to the service of people, especially the poor. Further, the Church’s preferential option for the poor is expressed through her many charitable works at the parochial, diocesan, national and international levels.
The Vatican does have substantial holdings of art, jewels, etc., which she has acquired over the centuries. The Church could make a lot of money from selling these items, but she considers herself the guardian of these treasures for the whole world. She makes them available for pilgrims and tourists alike to enjoy when visiting such places as St. Peter’s Basilica, especially the Sistine Chapel, and the various Vatican museums. The Church has also allowed her art holdings to be used in tours to countries like the United States, for those who cannot visit Italy. Revenues obtained by displaying these items is then used to assist the needs of people everywhere.
Some critics have commented on the costly nature of sacred vessels, including, even diamond-encrusted chalices. Because sacred vessels involve the handling of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church has always used precious metals (e.g., gold) and other valuable items in their
construction. This tradition dates back to Old Testament times, when God ordered the use of precious metals and other fine furnishings in the construction of the ark of the covenant, the Temple and various Temple furnishings (see, e.g., Ex. 25-31). In giving our best to God, we are reminded that everything we have is a blessing from Him, and that we need to seek Him first and trust in Him (cf. Mt. 6:33), and not simply rely on our ourselves and our own plans.
In times of moral crisis, the Vatican has used her wealth to aid people, such as selling gold to stave off the extermination of many Jews during World War II.
If the Church did sell all of her various holdings, the poor would still exist and the Church would also be poor, without the resources to help those in need. The poor will continue to need the Church’s help because, as Christ tells us, the poor will always be with us (Mt. 26:11). The Church continues to be a world leader in addressing poverty, but she always emphasizes that spiritual wealth, not material wealth, is most important. Again, when we seek God first, He will provide (Mt. 6:33; cf. Mt. 16:26).
In response to your second question, one must question the basis of the claim that all religions equally lead to God. If a person wakes up one day and decides to go start a religion, does it join the company of equal ways to God? The mere fact of the existence of a religion is does not demonstrate that it can bring a person to God.
A more thorough reflection might lead one to reformulate the proposition. For example, it seems accurate to say that the world’s many religions indicate that man is religious by nature. That is, man is oriented to God. As Catholics we would affirm this, because we believe that man is created in God’s image. Even fallen man, though at enmity with God (cf. Rom. 5:10), is drawn toward Him. Ecclesiastes 3:10 tells us that God has put eternity in our minds, yet we do not know His work from beginning to end. Man is always searching for God. St. Paul acknowledges this in Acts 17, when referring to the altar of the unknown god, he says, “What, therefore, you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (v. 23).
While all religions are indicative of the fact that man knows there is a God and hungers after Him, no religion, as such, leads to God. The multiple variations in religions indicate that, though we wish to know God, we can’t. We can know that there is a God. We may accurately perceive certain of His attributes. We may even experience God in some way. Yet for all this, we do not know Him intimately. If we are to know Him from whom we are so vastly separated, who is “wholly Other,” it is He who must reveal Himself to us. The uniqueness of Christianity is that it is the only religion that notices that while we were wandering about looking for God, with no success, He came looking for us and did what was necessary (die for our sins) to reunite us to Himself (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, no. 6).
Following the documents of Vatican II, such as the Declaration on Religious Liberty or the Declaration on non-Christian Religions, we would affirm that all persons have the right to seek God without coercion. While the Church affirms her teaching that the “one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church,” she likewise acknowledges that if men are going to truly find God, they must be able to seek for Him freely. Such a freedom is an inherent right of man, based on the likewise inherent obligation to seek the truth. From this freedom, however, one cannot logically infer that his seeking is always indiscriminately right. As humans, we err on the journey and trust that the grace of God will supply our lack.
In answer to your third question, to accusations of violence by Catholics in times past we can only respond, “guilty!” The Church has never denied that her membership is made up of sinners. However, rarely is it the case that people who point out the sins of Catholics ever have a full grasp of the big picture, nor are they typically familiar with all of the historical circumstances or the historical facts. In fact, some of these same people who would charge the Church with inhumanity romanticize the Aztecs as “noble savages” and cultured, sweet, peace-loving people (when in fact, they brutally sacrificed even their own). Nonetheless, while it is true that Catholics have historically been guilty of atrocities against their fellow man, such things are not a “Catholic” problem, they are a human problem.
There are two points that will serve as a summary: (1) The Church has never denied that Catholics can be and have been guilty of violence. We do not justify it, but the only thing it proves is that Catholics are not exempt from the effects of being a part of the fallen human race. Such does not provide an argument against the authenticity of the Church. If committing sins is proof of the lack of authenticity, who then could be authentic? (2) A person would have to be in a state of denial not to acknowledge that all peoples, not just Catholics, are to some extent or another guilty of violence throughout history. Who else, however, but the Catholic Church has acknowledged their own sins and asked for forgiveness?
I hope this answers your questions. If you have further questions on this or would like more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please contact us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). Please keep us in your prayers as we endeavor to “support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.”
United in the Faith,
David E. Utsler
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
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