Why I am Catholic
Growing up in the Church of Christ, I could never have imagined I would become Catholic. In fact, for the first twenty years of my life, I considered Catholics to be pseudo-Christians, deluded by an excess of manmade traditions derived from the influence of Roman paganism. It would not be inaccurate to say I was anti-Catholic.
The Church of Christ I attended considers itself to be the closest model of the Church from Acts (a New Testament book). This isn’t exactly a conversion story so I won’t go into all the details. However, to give the reader a sense of why I am Catholic, you should know it took ten years of study about Catholicism, gut-wrenching prayer, and ferocious battles with friends and family before I finally "crossed the Tiber" and came "home to Rome”. Therefore it is with humility and gratitude that I embark to explain why I am Catholic.
It is a rich irony that I have been asked to write an essay providing what I believe to be authoritative answers about the Catholic/Christian faith, for authority was the precise question that propelled me on this journey in the beginning.
I woke up one morning in the midst of my search for God and His religion and realized all Christian denominations available had one thing in common. Each one said you could know what to believe about God by simply reading the Bible and interpreting it on your own. The authoritative interpreter of the Bible was the individual. All I could think was, "How could this be God’s plan for revealing himself to man?" How could the creator of the universe, vastly greater than the human mind can comprehend, give man a book and tell him to figure it out for himself? This is the God that became man, suffered, and subjected Himself to a horrendous death for man's sake. For a God so intimately involved with His people, it just struck me as improbable.
As I sought an answer to the question of authority, it came to my attention that the Bible as we know it today did not exist for the first 400 years of the Christian faith. Additionally, the printing press did not appear for another 1100 years. And beyond that, the masses were widely illiterate. In other words, the early Christian, unlike me, did not have the ability to retire into his office, pull out his Bible, and determine the faith for himself.
Furthermore, the effect of each person claiming their interpretation of the Bible as authoritative has actually created chaos and even more uncertainty. It was pointed out to me, at this time, that there were 30,000 different Christian denominations all claiming to have the right doctrine based solely on the Bible. This doesn’t seem like the plan of an orderly God. If God intended to communicate divine revelation to the Christians of the early Church in a way other than by private interpretation of the Scripture, I was entirely ignorant of this other way.
Thus, I turned to history to see what the early Christians believed. Who did they claim spoke for God? Who did the first disciples look to for the true faith? Surely if anybody knew the true faith, it was those who sat at the feet of the Apostles and listened to their preaching.
The results of my historical studies were shocking and horrifying! The first Christians worshipped and believed things which eerily resembled the Catholic Church of today. I have come to know and appreciate many things about Catholicism which I will discuss below, but church history is undoubtedly the primary reason I am Catholic today.
The Catholic Church is the Church which Jesus Christ established when He said, "You are Peter (rock), and on this rock I will build my Church" (Mt 16:18). There were many steps along the way and many obstacles to overcome, but once I realized the divine origin of the Catholic Church I knew only time and preparation could separate me from Her. In the end God’s Truth won the day and I humbly and joyfully became Catholic on April 7, 2007.
Below are five areas which convicted me of the truth claims of the Catholic Church:
1. The reasonableness of what the Church believes and claims
2. The way in which she worship
3. The way in which her members live out that faith
4. The history of the Church
5. The many miracles that have accompanied the Church
Each one of these topics in its own right could take up multiple volumes but much will need to be omitted for brevity’s sake. I encourage anyone who wants to know the Church in Her own words to read a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
I am Catholic because of what the Church believes and claims. It must be stated from the outset that the Catholic Church believes She possesses the fullness of truth. The Church says this with no arrogance or presumption. It is simply what she believes. But what does “the fullness of truth” mean? Simply put it means that everything God wished to reveal to man He has done through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. The Church still carries out Jesus’ mission by proclaiming all truth in matters of faith and morals. In this realm (faith and morals), she is perfect because her head, Jesus Christ, is perfect. By the power of His Holy Spirit He keeps the Church from teaching error in matters of doctrine and morality. This is a bold statement and I freely admit it, but this is what we believe. Here are some specific doctrines that the Church claims to be revealed truth, the foundation upon which so many more truths are built.
- There is one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The central tenet of the Christian faith is that of the Blessed Trinity. All of our theology begins at this point and is derived from our understanding of God as three distinct persons in one nature.
- Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father. Jesus Christ is co-eternal with the Father. In the fullness of time, He came down from heaven to save men from the consequence of sin which is eternal death (Hell).
- esus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.
- Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully divine. Christ had two natures united in one person.
- Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross as a propitiatory sacrifice for all of mankind. Through His perfect obedience to the Father and by His most precious blood He made atonement for the sins of fallen man.
- Christ truly died in the flesh, was buried, and raised on the third day destroying death.
- Christ ascended to Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.
- He sent the Holy Spirit to be the Advocate for all believers.
- The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Most Blessed Trinity. There was never a time when He was not. He is coeternal with the Father and the Son and proceeds from them both.
- Christ established a church to continue His salvific mission.
- He established Peter as the first shepherd of His church and the other apostles as shepherds in union with Peter as their head. They have passed on this authority and responsibility to their successors, the bishops.
- Christ established seven sacraments to be the visible means by which He communicates His graces to all men; they are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Confession, and Anointing of the Sick.
- There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
- The Eucharist is truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of the Holy Mass re-presents and makes present the one time sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary.
- The Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived (she was not touched by original sin or its effects) and remained sinless all of her life by the singular grace of her most blessed son Jesus. Since Christ is God, she is rightly called the Mother of God (Not Mother of the Trinity, but rather Mother of the Second Person of the Trinity who is God). She remained a virgin all of her life. She was bodily assumed into heaven and makes intercession before her blessed son for all of her spiritual children (i.e. those who believe in her son).
- At the end of time all people who have ever lived will be bodily resurrected. There will be a final judgment in which all shall be judged based upon their deeds. Those who have accepted the grace offered them by Jesus Christ and lived a life in His friendship shall inherit eternal life in Heaven (being with God and seeing Him face to face for all of eternity). Those who refused His grace will go to eternal damnation which is Hell (being eternally separated from God).
- The Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. Nothing in it is false. There are no contradictions. All truth is not contained in Sacred Scripture but all that is contained in it is truth. Along with Sacred Tradition it comprises one of two rivers of revelation that flow from the same divine well spring. It is the responsibility of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church to guard, protect, and rightly interpret this most sacred gift from God. The Church is her servant, but it is only in the Church that the Scriptures are properly understood.
I am Catholic because of the way in which the Church worships. Each and every Catholic is to make their entire lives an act of worship to God. The way we live and conduct ourselves everyday is to be offered to God as worship. There is a notable distinction between personal and formal, corporate worship. The worship of the Catholic Church reaches its highest point in the sacrifice of the Holy Mass. When Catholics come together to worship we enter into the sacrifice Jesus Christ made at Calvary nearly 2000 years ago. It is in this act of worship that we offer to God the Father the only perfect sacrifice which is completely pleasing to Him, that of His beloved Son Jesus Christ.
The Mass is comprised of two parts. The first is the Liturgy of the Word. The second is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word consists of Scripture readings. Generally the Church selects one from the Old Testament, a reading from the Psalms in which the congregation participates in by singing a response. Following the responsorial Psalm is a reading from the New Testament. The readings are concluded with one of the Gospels. These daily readings are the same throughout all Catholic Churches in the world. Next, the homily is preached either by the priest or an ordained deacon. Immediately following the homily the “prayers of the faithful” are made to God the Father and then begins the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the memorial celebration of the Lord’s death. Using the words of institution that Christ said at the Last Supper, the priest consecrates normal bread and wine changing its very substance into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who have been baptized into Christ and are not in mortal sin receive our Lord in Holy Communion. A final prayer is said and all are dismissed to go and serve the Lord and one another.
St. John Damascene said, "In former times God, who is without form or body, could never be depicted. But now, when God is seen in the flesh conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter. I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake and has deigned to dwell in matter and carry out my salvation through matter. I will never cease because of this to venerate the matter through which salvation has come to me.”
Thus, Catholics have a very elevated view of God’s creation and thus ritual, because we understand the human is both a corporeal and spiritual being. Ritual then is a beautiful truth about how God the Father descends to meet His children where they are. He has given us physical representations of spiritual realities. Or to put it another way, He has given us outward signs that communicate actual inward graces. Our religion is rich with many rituals, sacraments, sacramentals, and symbols.
It is essential to avoid falling into the trap of mere ritualism, though it does happen with many Catholics. The heart must be present. The spirit must be behind the actions. Following are a few of the most important rituals, symbols, and sacraments of the Catholic Church.
- The Seven Sacraments
a. Baptism – entrance into the family of God
b. Eucharist – the scared meal in which the God of the universe makes Himself present to us in the form of food that we eat so that we may be one with Him
c. Confirmation – the further indwelling of the Holy Spirit in which the gifts of the Spirit are given to member s of the Church for its building up
d. Confession – the means by which God imparts His forgiveness to repentant sinners
e. Holy Matrimony – the covenant by which man and woman enter into to become one for the bringing up of children and the sanctification of each other
f. Holy Orders – the grace bestowed upon those that are called to a life of service to Christ and His Church
g. Anointing of the Sick – The means by which God imparts both physical and spiritual healing to those in need
a. Crucifix – the portrayal of the salvific act of Jesus Christ for mankind
b. Chi Rho – the first two letters of the Greek spelling of Christ. It was this symbol that Constantine saw in the sky before his conquest of Rome
c. Alpha and Omega – Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end
d. Fish – this was ancient symbol used to represent Christ. The Greek word for fish is ICHTUS. This was also an acronym that spelled out Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.
e. Bread and Wine – the body and blood of Jesus
f. Incense – represents holiness and prayers (see the book of Rev)
g. Altar – the table upon which the Eucharist is consecrated
h. Water – new birth and purification
3. All the rituals of the Catholic Church involve one or more of the above mentioned elements along with many more that I did not include.
I am Catholic because of the people. Every Christian, by virtue of His baptism into Christ, is called to be a priest, prophet, and king. How each Catholic lives out this high calling daily is as unique and diverse as the Church herself. Catholic simply means “universal” and so She is. The Catholic Church exists in all parts of the world and her people represent an untold number of cultures and ethnicities. There are so many differences and yet one body, professing one faith and sharing one bread.
Because the Church is diverse, there are many different expressions of the one faith. For example, many different types of spiritualities exist including Carmelite, Cistercian, Ignatian, Franciscan, and Benedictine to name a few. They all believe the one faith yet live out that faith in various styles. But all of us are called to be holy, set apart; in the world and yet not of the world.
What about the many Catholics who do not live out their faith? When this happens it causes the sin of scandal and brings untold hurt and pain to the Body of Christ. It has often been said that the greatest obstacles to evangelizing non-Christians are Christians themselves. I believe it! I have seen my fair share of hypocrites and people who profess to be Christians living in a different manner. In fact, I have been that person at times in my life. I want encourage all to avoid judging the Church by Her unfaithful members. Rather, judge Her by the members who live by Her standards, since this is where we see the true effect of Her teachings.
There have been millions of Catholics throughout history who have lived simple, pious lives seeking only to love God, care for their families, and in some small way try to leave the world a better place than the way they found it. Her people are called to participate in secular society, yet bring a spirituality that transcends it. Then there are those who stand out in a substantial way which we will address later (the canonized Saints).
I am Catholic because of the Church’s history. Pope Benedict XVI is our 265th Pope in an unbroken lineage going back to St. Peter. The office of the Bishop of Rome has lasted longer, in an unbroken line, than any other human institution that I am aware of.
When I took an honest look at ecclesial history I was left with only two possibilities; 1) Either the Church of the first few centuries had already strayed from the true teachings of Christ and His Apostles, or 2) Christ’s Church of then was the Catholic Church of today. There is no middle ground on this one. And since I believe Jesus’ promise that that “the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church” (Mt 16:18), I accept the latter of these two.
A few other reasons I became convinced: 1) Catholics pray the same prayers today that were prayed in the first centuries. 2) The liturgical worship has the same order. 3) Catholics still recite the same ancient creeds at every Mass. 4) Every Catholic bishop can trace his lineage directly to one of the original twelve apostles. 5) The early Church testifies to the same doctrine including the authority of the Church, the Eucharist, Baptism, and many others. 6) In two thousand years the Church has never changed nor contradicted herself on matters of faith and morals. This last one was huge for me in accepting the Catholic Church was Christ’s Church. Two thousand years of not contradicting yourself on matters of faith and morals could only happen by God’s guiding hand.
Through questioning and researching I found she is more than capable of withstanding the closest scrutiny. Yes I was aware of her checkered history but this was to be expected. Was not Christ betrayed by one of His hand picked disciples? Did not Christ promise us there would be “weeds amongst the wheat” (Mt 13:25) or “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Mt 7:15)? Thus, despite the individuals who Jesus prophesied would misrepresent the faith, or actively seek to destroy the faith from within, the Church had to be tested based on Her truth claims and those who followed them. This is the history of the Catholic Church, stretching back to the Apostles themselves. Though the Church has developed, clarified, and deepened its understanding of the faith She has not changed. I mean that in the sense that when a mustard seed is planted, it eventually grows into a tree. Yet, the tree is of the same nature and origin of the seed. (Mt 13:31-32).
I am Catholic because of the countless number of miracles that have been associated with the Church and her people. The Saints have been the greatest proof to me that the promise of the Gospel has the power to transform lives. Their love for Christ and His people compelled them to live exemplary lives in the service of others. Through the closeness they shared with their Master they performed untold numbers of miracles.
The saints have performed miraculous healings, some could bi-locate, others manifested the stigmata (the wounds of Christ), some went without food for years, some needed little if any sleep and would spend all night in prayer. They could understand and communicate in languages that they had never heard before. Some could levitate. Some possessed bioluminescence, while others would have a sweet aroma that followed them wherever they went. Many saw visions and could prophecy. Others could communicate with angels. There are so many other things that could be said about the saints but I do not ask you to take my word for it. Read a book on the lives of the saints and judge for yourself.
I have read eye witness testimonies, even in our modern age, of the wonderful deeds of these friends of Christ. Then there are the “
”Incorruptibles” (bodies of saints that resist decay) which are a profound testimony in my mind. And finally, there are the Eucharistic miracles. The reason I mention these miracles is twofold; 1) Because they are unique to Catholicism and 2) Because they have been attested to by countless witnesses throughout the history of the Church, both Catholic and non-Catholic.
Catholics believe the bread and wine once consecrated become the flesh and blood of Jesus. This is a very difficult teaching (John 6). Many Christians and even Catholics struggle with it. But God has given us such wonderful proofs of this teaching by providing Eucharistic miracles. These miracles involve hosts that bleed, wine that turns to blood, levitating hosts, hosts that have survived hundreds of years without decay while unconsecrated hosts next to it have completely turned to dust or even consecrated hosts that have become real flesh. Here is a brief description of one particular occurrence of this type of miracle. (taken from http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/lanciano.html)
I hope this brief essay has given you, a glimpse into what the Catholic Church believes, how She lives out those beliefs, what it means to be Catholic, and why I am Catholic. All these “proofs” are not proofs for the existence of God, or proofs that Jesus is His son, or even that the Catholic Church is Jesus’ true Church. Rather this is a testimony to what the Church believes and teaches. It is my belief that anyone who will do an honest and objective inquiry into the Catholic faith, will see that it takes much more faith not to believe in God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Catholic Church than to believe in them. May God bless you on your journey to seek the Truth!