A few weeks ago I was speaking with a friend, who identifies himself as a devout Catholic, and asked him what parish he attended. “I don’t go to Mass” was his answer. “I keep the sabbath by spending time a home reading the Bible with friends.”
As good as it is to do that (we should all be reading the Bible and sharing Christian fellowship with others), it is not the same thing as Mass. I pointed out that the Catholic Church requires Catholics minimally to attend Mass weekly and on holy days of obligation.
“That’s just traditions of men. I don’t believe the Pope and the Church have the authority to make up rules like that. Jesus said ‘when two or three gather in my name I am there’ and that’s good enough”
And so, it turns out, he is not actually a devout Catholic but a devout non-denominational Protestant who calls himself a Catholic. I pointed that out to him, but I don’t think I made any points by doing it.
Another friend told me he’s a devout Catholic (he’s even the music minister at his parish) but he doesn’t believe in Confession. “If I confess my sins directly to God that’s enough,” he says. We had quite a few long talks about the requirements to confess sins, based on the Bible and Church teaching. In the end, he agreed that whether or not his sins are forgiven by God, he still needs to confess them.
In my own life, there was a time when I took teachings I didn’t like, such as the sinfulness of contraception, and said “the Catholic Church is just a hundred years behind the times. I’ll be vindicated in the end.” Of course I didn’t look into just why the Church held that position, and consider whether I was wrong or right. I assumed ScienceTM was above Church teaching.
The Catholic Church is fundamentally different from every other Church that has ever existed or will ever exist. We have a man, Jesus, who proved that He was God. We have historical evidence of Jesus’ life and miracles that overwhelmingly points to the reality that Jesus truly is God.
And God, in the person of Jesus, directly appointed representatives on Earth. Peter and the Apostles were given complete authority over the Church. In Matthew 16:17-19 Jesus says:
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
…and in Matthew 18:17-19 Jesus says:
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
…and in John 20:21-23 Jesus says:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
There are many more examples in the Bible. No Christian claims that Jesus didn’t say these words. So we have a Church which is does not get its teachings from its members (as Protestant Churches do) or from someone who claims an unsubstantiated private revelation (as Mormons do). The Catholic Church derives its teaching authority in a very verifiable way directly from God.
When you say “the Church is just behind the times on contraception” you are saying essentially “God could never have anticipated this.” When you says “Only God forgives sins” you are contradicting the words of Jesus, whom you say you believe to be God. And when you say “I don’t think the Pope has authority” again you are contradicting Jesus, who gave Peter that authority forever.
When we disagree with the Church on an issue of faith it is up to us as Catholics to not dismiss the Church, but to understand what the Church teaches and accept the fact that we can be wrong. Even if the Church were not God’s representative on Earth, the fact that the greatest minds of the last 2,000 years have contributed to its positions should make us consider what she teaches instead of stubbornly assuming we are the only source of truth.
So, are you “almost” Catholic too? Lent is a great time to work on it, and we’re here to help.
Copyright 2015, Michael Lindner