While browsing through the comments on a non-Catholic, Christian friend’s blog, I noticed the following comment:
“My husband and I accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Savior 6 years ago. Before that we were catholic. I am grateful that I have an infallible source, God’s Word.”
Her comment made me cringe for several reasons. First, it sounded like something I would have said several years ago as an uninformed, fallen away Catholic. Secondly, it demonstrates how misunderstood Catholicism is, even by its own members. Thirdly, it shows how unprepared Catholics are to defend their own Faith and share it with others. It also shows a common misunderstanding of authority. Lastly, it suggests that Catholics do not have personal relationships with Jesus Christ and are therefore not Christians.
I know where this person is coming from, because I used to have some of the same misconceptions. So, my goal is not to criticize or belittle this person in any way. Finding a relationship with Christ is awesome, and I’m happy for her and her husband. At the same time, I’m sad for her because she did not need to leave Catholicism to have a personal relationship with Christ. In fact, there is no better way to draw close to Christ than through authentic Catholicism. I stress authentic Catholicism because there are lots of caricatures and misconceptions about Catholicism floating around.
For the past fifty years or so, the Catholic Church has not done a great job of catechizing the faithful. Hence, most Catholics are ill prepared to “give an answer for the hope” that lies within them (1Peter 3:15). But, the failure to catechize does not make Catholicism untrue. It just means that Catholics are not prepared to explain why it is true to those who have questions or who seek to lure them away from the Church. They are “easy prey.” Hopefully, this is improving with the explosion of Catholic apologetics and the New Evangelization being promoted. The new Pope also will be an essential element in addressing many issues, as will the new crop of younger priests.
The woman in the comment has bought into the (relatively speaking) new Protestant idea of Sola Scriptura. In other words, only the Bible is her infallible authority. She apparently has rejected the biblical principle of Church authority that was established by Christ, taught by the apostles, written into Scripture and handed down as part of the deposit of faith. She is glad to “have an infallible source, God’s Word.” She had that same Bible in the Catholic Church, but she now has no infallible interpreter of that Bible. She has knocked a leg off of what was a solid, three legged stool. She has entered the world of thousands of conflicting interpretations of The Word. She has no way of knowing who is right about the Bible. She has discarded the system established by Christ. She has replaced the Catholic Pope, Peter’s successor, with some other pope, even if that pope is herself, her husband or her minister. She is likely making the all-too-common mistake of equating Papal infallibility with impeccability. Even Peter was not impeccable.
Finally, Catholicism provides more than ample opportunity for people to have a personal relationship with Christ. Catholics that don’t know this are simply not listening, not hearing or not understanding. Everything about authentic Catholicism points back to Christ. Frankly, I don’t know how Christ can get more personal than to give us His very flesh and blood and allow us to join with Him physically, even on a daily basis if we so choose. Catholics pray the “sinner’s prayer” when they go to confession. It’s called the Act of Contrition. But only Catholics that actually practice their Faith as they are called to do would recognize this fact. We hear Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures at every Mass, throughout the entire Mass. We are given a chance to confirm our Faith in the Sacrament of Confirmation. We openly renew our baptisms and our profession of faith. From before conception to deathbed and beyond, Jesus is personally active in the life of a Catholic, and the Catholic has every opportunity to choose Christ. Jesus is there the entire time, waiting for us to reciprocate and love Him back.
No one needs to leave Catholicism to have a personal relationship with Christ and be a Christian. Catholics that leave Catholicism simply do not understand what they are leaving behind, or they would not go. They are leaving behind the very vehicle by which Christ makes Himself personally available to us. They are leaving behind the fullness of the Faith. There really are no “former Catholics.” There are simply fallen away Catholics that have lost sight of what was given to them and confirmed in them. They have lost sight of home.
Not only are Catholics Christians, they are the original Christians. No other church has a succession of authority that can be historically traced directly to the apostles and Christ. Many Protestant denominations only began within the past century or even decades. Catholicism is not simply one of many Christian denominations. Calling Catholicism a denomination is a bit like calling the trunk of a tree a branch. Even the Bible was assembled and validated by Catholic Church authority. This is not a statement of pride, arrogance or one-upmanship. It is simply a fact that Catholics themselves often fail to consider with sober reverence and gratitude. No one is deserving of what Christ has given. All of it is by grace. But to whom much is given, much will be required. When Catholics learn their Faith, and stop taking for granted what God has given them, fewer will find reasons to leave and more and more Christians will make the journey home.