I had the great privilege of being raised in a devout Catholic home. I experienced Catholic prayers and devotions in the family, received the sacraments often, and became a Mass server.
However, looking back now, I see how I was merely following rules and customs of the Church that others exemplified to me. I embraced the ways of the faith simply because I just believed that was what devout Catholics did. In short, I never really owned my faith then. I never really asked myself why I should remain Catholic or what it even meant to be Catholic.
My conversion process began in college far away from home. It began with me getting tired of the routinary prayers I was saying. I started asking myself the question, “Who is this Jesus Christ that I am trying to contemplate in the mysteries of the Holy Rosary?” I started to be drawn to Jesus more as I prayed the Holy Rosary. This led me to start reading the Scriptures, experiencing His love, and speaking to Him from my heart. I had a strong desire to know and love the One that I was contemplating in the Holy Rosary.
The more that I knew and loved Jesus Christ, the more I began to actually love the Catholic Church and my Catholic faith. Sacramental confession was no longer something I received because my mother told me to do so. I now went to confession on my own because I wanted to hear the consoling words of absolution from Jesus through the mouth of a human priest. I started attending daily Mass because I needed deep communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ. There was a deep hunger for communion with Him that merely reading the bible could not satiate. Actually, scripture reading was pointing me to the Eucharist for true communion with Jesus.
I also embraced the challenging and countercultural moral teaching of the Church because I believe completely that those were the very teaching of Christ in His Church and the only way that leads to true peace in this life and in the next. I loved the fact that I belong to the communion of saints, in fellowship with the triumphant saints in heaven, the pilgrim souls here on earth, and the suffering souls in Purgatory. I looked with reverence on those men whom God had placed in positions of authority in the Church’s hierarchical structure as popes, bishops, priests, and deacons.
I believe and I am convinced that when we actually begin to know and love Jesus Christ personally as we should, He reveals to us the beauty and power in the only Church that He founded – the Catholic Church. Only Jesus Christ reveals to us the mystery of the Church.
We see this is the powerful dialogue between Jesus and the disciples in Casarea Philippi （Cf Mt 16:13-20) Jesus asked His disciples a question, “Who do you say that I am?” As long as there was confusion or silence about His true identity, Jesus did not mention a single word about the Church. It is only when Peter, inspired by the Father answered correctly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” that Jesus began to reveal the mystery of the Church.
Jesus reveals the Church as a hierarchical society made of persons of equal dignity but graded in both office and function. Peter is clearly placed at the top of this hierarchical ladder, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” The Pope and the college of bishops are Peter’s rightful successors.
Jesus reveals the divine presence and action in the Church. Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, is always present and active to build up His mystical body by uniting each and every one of us more closely to Him. The body of the Church is never separated from Jesus her divine head.
Jesus reveals the human aspect of the Church. The Church will be a communion of weak and sinful men and women. This human society, no matter how sinful and broken, remains an instrument of the divine in the world in every time and place. God, whose ways are “inscrutable and unsearchable,” (Rom 11:33) forever chooses weak human beings as His collaborators in human redemption.
Jesus reveals the authority of the Church to teach saving truth and to forbid error, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The Church has received divine authority to forbid and permit certain things that pertain to Christian living now and heavenly glory.
Jesus reveals the divine guarantee of final victory that He has bequeathed to the Church, “The gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.” There will be an ongoing and relentless struggle with evil within and outside the Church but the Church will ultimately triumph over the forces of sin and death. We believe in this guarantee because Jesus makes present only in the Church the complete arsenal that we need to triumph over darkness and evil.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there are so many things we see and hear today that can take away our that love that we should have for the Catholic Church and our Catholic faith. Many of our relatives and friends have abandoned the Catholic faith for so many reasons. Many also hate and despise the Church for a myriad of reasons. We have unthinkable sexual scandals and wicked coverup that can leave us both confused and discouraged. We hear of members in the hierarchy who even show disdain for the Church, her teachings, and sacraments. Many in our egalitarian times want to do away with the hierarchical structure of the Church and build one through endless dialogue and listening sessions. Young men are reluctant to give up all and to become Catholic priests. For many, relevance of the Church to the world has taken the place of her loyalty to Christ in the world.
All these stems from one thing – a lack of true knowledge and love for Jesus Christ and an unwillingness to make Him known and loved by more people. We may claim to love Him, but we actually love ourselves more than we love Him. How can we know Him when we now listen more to the world than to Jesus Himself? Only when the incomparable Savior is known and loved as He ought to be can we also love the incomparable Church that He has founded on Peter.
This is the time for us to get the whole truth about the Church from Jesus Himself. We cannot grasp anything about the mystery of the Church from the mass media. We can no longer limit our Catholicism to following Church rules and customs. We must seek communion with Jesus and not settle for mere formalistic prayers. We must also not be satisfied with only hearing about Jesus from homilies from priests or reading about Jesus from the life of the saints. This is the time for each of us to also seek to know Jesus personally as He reveals Himself to us in Scripture, Tradition and in the Church’s Magisterium.
I recently came across a powerful and true quote attributed to Pope Pius XII, “The Lord Jesus gave to Peter the keys of His kingdom; but to His Mother Mary He gave the keys to His very heart.” It is no wonder then that Mary is both Queen of all hearts and the Mother of the Church. No one knows and loves Jesus like Mary. No one too can help us to love Jesus and His Church like Mary. Let us approach her with childlike trust and she will help us in this regard.
Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, comes to us in each Eucharist. There is no greater intimate knowledge we can have of Jesus on this earth than in the Eucharist, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:56） Let us hear Him ask each of us this question personally, “Who do you say that I am?” If we still cannot answer this question correctly, we do not know Him as well as we should. Then there is no way that we can have an enduring and self-sacrificing love for the Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ.
Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!