Tag Archives: Theology

“I Love You, But I’m Not In Love With You.” (Marriage and Eucharist)

“I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”  I can’t count the number of times I have heard that phrase in my counseling office.  When someone says this to a spouse it typically means, “I no longer have those honeymoon feelings I used to have.”  There are occasions when a person is experiencing a genuine state of clinical depression and has lost the ability to experience feelings of happiness and appreciation.  However, more often these individuals are idolizing the god of subjectivity and have allowed feelings to become their master.  They have reduced the objective reality of their marriage to a subjective state.  They may not “feel” married, but they are still married.

The Church is the Bride of Christ and, as such, is married to the Bridegroom, Jesus.  The Eucharist is the marriage supper.  Hence, receiving Holy Communion is a joining together of Bride and Groom in an objective way.  It is a very real union that is not dependant on subjective feelings.  The fact that two people might “feel” married to each other does not make them objectively married.  Conversely, marriage is an objective reality regardless of the subjective feelings.  The Eucharist is not real because it “feels” real.  It is real.

Dr. Peter Kreeft points out that to regard the Lord’s Supper as merely symbolic is to reduce the relationship of a marriage to the level of a friendship.  Although a healthy marriage will include friendship between spouses (Jesus called His disciples friends), it is not the friendship that makes the relationship a marriage.  The marriage is created by the unique union of the body and soul of the bride and the groom.  That is the objective reality.  When the Eucharist is reduced to only the symbolic, all that remains is the subjective feeling.  In other words, when people receive the Lord’s Supper in non-Catholic churches, they may experience feelings about their relationship with Jesus, but there is no actual union taking place between Bride and Groom.  The relationship is subjective.  Communion becomes all about remembering what Jesus did and how believers “feel” about what He did.  The Catholic Eucharist includes the subjective remembering as well as the objective uniting of married partners.  Jesus is in our hearts, but He is also really united with our bodies and souls, like a bride and groom.

Think about how a vaccine works.  It is not a placebo.  It is not dependant on how the patient feels about receiving it, although the patient may be very happy and grateful.  The vaccine works by a very real process of interacting with the body of the patient.  It is an objective reality, not a subjective reality.  The Eucharist is not a placebo (nor are the other Sacraments).  It “works” by the power of Christ interacting with spirit and matter, not by the feelings of those receiving it.

The union of the Bride and the Groom is not dependant on “honeymoon” feelings, although such feelings may certainly be present.  Any experienced married couple will testify to the fact that honeymoon feelings do not sustain a healthy marriage.  Unless the honeymoon feelings grow into something much deeper, the marriage will suffer.  In counseling, the goal is not to take a couple back to their honeymoon days.  The goal is to bring the honeymoon forward to a deeper place.  Similarly, Dr. Kreeft says, “God does not want us to have a spiritual sweet tooth.”  God wants us objectively united with Him in the Eucharist, not just going by our feelings.  Feelings can become an idol of worship.  Feelings often become the cake instead of the icing on the cake (especially in America).

Moses did not feel good about God calling him to lead Israel.  Jonah did not feel good about preaching to Nineveh.  Jesus did not feel good about going to the cross.  Children do not feel good about getting the Polio vaccine or eating vegetables.  Married people do not always feel good about their spouses.  Catholics do not always feel their hearts “strangely warmed” or a “burning in the bosom” when receiving the Eucharist.  When it comes to love and obedience, feelings are not important.  Feelings come and go.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He invites us to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Will we come and dine out of love and obedience, or will we let our feelings be our god?  “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:57)  “This is my body…this is my blood…” (Matt 26:26-28)  Jesus never asked the “therapist” question, “How does that make you feel?”  He simply said, “Take and eat.”

Is Catholicism A Cult?

“The word cult has three definitions. First of all, it can simply be a group that loves something. When people refer to an “Elvis cult” or “The O.C. cult,” they mean really devoted fans.

The second definition is that of a religion whose beliefs differ from the majority around them. In the Roman Empire, Christians were sometimes considered a cult because they worshiped Jesus rather than the Roman gods.

The third, and most commonly used definition, refers to a religious group that is:

1) Exclusive. They may say, “We’re the only ones with the truth; everyone else is wrong; and if you leave our group your salvation is in danger.”

2) Secretive. Certain teachings are not available to outsiders or they’re presented only to certain members, sometimes after taking vows of confidentiality.

3) Authoritarian. A human leader expects total loyalty and unquestioned obedience.”

— From Christianity Today website

 

So, are Catholics members of a cult?

According to definition number one we are.  We are “really devoted fans” of Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

According to the second definition, we might be, depending on the time and the place.  The Catholic Church is the Church Jesus established.  Hence, the early Christians considered by the Roman Empire to be a cult were Catholics.  America was discovered by a Catholic, but the U.S. was colonized predominantly by Protestants.  In the 1800s, when large groups of Catholics came to the U.S., they were not welcomed.  They were not wanted.  They were considered “papists,” or “Romanists,” something other than Christian, even though “Christianity” and “Catholicism” had been synonymous for 1500 years before Protestantism even appeared.  To the early American Protestants (and some modern day Protestants), Catholics were considered cult members.  Ironically, Protestants could also be considered cult members according to their respective founders such as the cult of Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Calvin, King Henry VIII, etc.

The third definition does not describe Catholicism.  We are “exclusive” in the sense that we believe Jesus meant it when He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by me.”  We also believe Jesus established one Church, gave His authority to that Church, and, as King, made Peter His first Prime Minister.  Catholics believe that all Christians are part of the Church, although many, either willingly, or, through no fault of their own, have been cut off from many of the graces available through the Church.  They have been deprived of these graces due to the Protestant movement and/or heretical teachings.  Those who obstinately resist those graces do indeed place their salvation in jeopardy.  But this is as much as saying that those who obstinately reject Christ place their salvation in jeopardy.  The Church and Jesus Christ go together.  They cannot be compartmentalized.  This is why, when Jesus confronted Saul (Paul) of Tarsus on the road to Damascus He asked him, “Why do you persecute me,” not “Why do you persecute my Church?”

The beliefs of Catholicism are not secretive or confidential.  Anyone can read the Catholic Catechism either in book form or on the internet.  There are no “confidentiality” requirements to becoming Catholic.  In fact, we are supposed to tell people about the Faith so they know where to find the Church that Jesus established.

The Catholic Church is not “authoritarian” it is “authoritative.”  The authority she possesses was not claimed by her or taken by her but given directly to her by Christ.  Jesus said, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  He told his apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  He also gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven (like an Old Testament king appointing his Prime Minister).

The Catholic Church expects obedience because Jesus Christ expects obedience.  Christ is the Head and the Church is His body.  Where the head goes the body goes as one unit, not as many parts in various directions.  The obedience is not “unquestioned obedience.”  Catholics must have doubts and questions in order to learn.  “Seek and you shall find” includes asking questions and growing in understanding of the Faith.  The obedience of the Catholic is what Paul described as “the obedience of the Faith.”  It is obedience out of love.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Catholics are not dumb animals without brains.  As Pope John Paul II said, “Faith and reason are the two wings on which the soul takes flight.”  Catholics are supposed to think with their brains and love with their hearts, not just have a “blind obedience.”

People who accuse Catholics of being in a “cult” usually use the term in a pejorative way to attack the Church with misconceptions.  These people do not want Christ’s Church to have authority.  They want to cling to their own authority.  They suppose that, since Catholics have a pope, we must be following a man instead of Christ.  In reality, we are all following Christ in a grand, 2000 year old parade.  The pope is simply the man Christ placed first in line behind Him.  Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 3:17 to “be followers of me.”  As an apostle, Paul was a leader the Christians were supposed to follow.  By doing so, they were following Christ.  Catholics do the same thing when we follow the bishops, the successors of the apostles.  The pope is simply the head bishop.

If Catholics are members of a cult, it is simply the cult of Jesus Christ.  There is nothing wrong with being a follower of Jesus.  I’m not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I’m a really devoted fan of His!

Why A Crucifix? Why Not An Empty Cross?

I have often heard complaints about the Catholic use of the crucifix.  The typical remark is something similar to, “Jesus rose from the dead and is alive.  Why do you keep Him on the cross?  We use an empty cross because Jesus is alive!”  There are also people who think that the crucifix demonstrates that Catholics believe in “re-killing” Jesus at every Mass, which is a misunderstanding of the Mass.

Catholics know very well that Jesus is alive, and we do not “re-kill” Him in the Mass.  In fact, for the six weeks of Easter, the crucifix in my parish church is replaced by an image of the risen Christ.  Throughout the year, every weekend is a “little Easter” as we are expected to acknowledge the soberness of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter Sunday.  Catholics do not minimize Christ’s resurrection.  After all, it is His resurrected, glorified body we partake of at every Mass.

The Romans put crucified people on display to frighten the population into submission.  Catholics put the crucified Christ on display to say, “We’re not afraid of death or of you.”  In his Catholicism television series, Fr. Baron points out that holding up the crucifix is actually a kind of “taunt.”  It’s an “in your face” way of saying, “Christ has conquered death.  Do your worst to us and we will still overcome because Christ has overcome.”

We can also point to the Apostle Paul’s statement that “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1Cor 1:23).  The crucifix is a visual aid for preaching the Gospel.  It stands in stark contrast to worldly expectations of what power and leadership are about.  But, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1Cor 1:25).  The Romans crucified thousands of people, but only Jesus conquered death.  Only Jesus was crucified willingly and for our sake.  His “foolishness” and “weakness” show God’s true power and leadership.  Catholics are showing the world, not just any cross, but the cross of Jesus.  That’s the one cross that changes everything.  Like Paul, Catholics “preach Christ crucified.”

When we look upon the crucifix, we also see more than the cross of Jesus.  We are also reminded that we are not yet finished with our own crosses.  Jesus has risen, but we still have a cross to bear in this life.  The servant is not above the Master.  The servant follows the Master.  The crucifix is a daily reminder that Jesus does not remove all of our suffering in this life.  In this life, we are called to embrace whatever suffering comes our way for His sake.  The crucifix indicates that Christians are still called to follow His lead to the cross.  The empty cross is a bit too sanitized and easy to look upon.  Christ calls us to life as it is here and now.  Life is messy.

Catholics absolutely rejoice in Christ’s resurrection and we await the day when we can join Him in that blessed hope.  Yet, we also realize that we must presently be about the business of carrying our crosses.  We, like our Master, must die to self before we can live with Him.  So, we look upon the crucifix now and place our future hope in the resurrection.  We’re not finished yet.  We’re still running the race and fighting the good fight.  The crucifix reminds us.

The Bible? Yep, There’s An App For That. But…

We have reached a point in history where the Bible is available to practically everyone.  We can even carry it around on our smart phones if we want to.  We have access to all sorts of information about the Bible with a few clicks of a mouse or the slide of a finger.  Things have changed drastically since the days when there were only a few Bibles copied by hand.  And yet, some things have not changed at all.  The meaning of Scripture has not changed.  The truth contained in Scripture has not changed.  The ability to properly discern the meaning of the text still resides with the Holy Spirit, not human technology.  Our technology cannot match God.

Consider the account of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:31.  The Apostle Phillip saw him reading from the prophet Esaias.  So, Phillip, guided by the Spirit, approached the man and asked him if he understood what he was reading.  The man replied, “How can I unless some man guides me?”  So, Phillip explained (preached) to the man how the Scriptures pointed to Jesus Christ.  The eunuch then asked to be baptized.  He became a Christian, not because he read and understood the copy of the Scriptures he possessed, but because a Spirit-led, authoritative interpreter of that Scripture preached to him.  That Ethiopian eunuch might as well have been sitting there Googling the Scripture on his iPhone.  He still would have needed the apostolic authority guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible contains, among other things, Paul’s letters to various churches regarding many different topics such as salvation, end times, proper behavior of Christians, the Lord’s Supper, etc.  Peter (the first pope and head of the apostles) also wrote some letters.  In 2Peter 3:16, Peter mentions the letters of Paul.  Peter writes that Paul’s letters contain information that is “hard to understand.”  Not only are the letters hard to understand, but there are a lot of people twisting the truth of those letters “to their own destruction.”  In other words, interpreting the Bible is difficult and dangerous.  Peter then warns the Christians not to be led astray by people that are improperly interpreting Paul’s letters.

Having a laptop with fancy Bible software or a smart phone has not made it safer to interpret Scripture.  In fact, it has probably increased the danger.  We now live in a world of relativism, the antithesis of truth.  People generally no longer believe in absolute truth.  “You have your truth and I have my truth.”  “You have your Bible interpretation and I have my Bible interpretation.”  “You follow your Jesus and I’ll follow my Jesus.”  This is partly the result of many Bibles with little or no guidance from apostolic authority.  Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Pontius Pilot says, “What is truth?” and then washes his hands of it and crucifies Truth.  Such is our world of mass information and relativistic mindset.

Can’t people become Christian in any church?  Isn’t it even possible for people to pick up a Bible, read it, learn about Jesus and become Christian?  Of course.  But becoming Christian is only the beginning.  Disciples must learn how to remain Christians, grow as Christians and conduct themselves as Christians.  Just as we do not leave newborn babies to fend for themselves, The Master did not set us adrift on the winds of conflicting doctrines.  Jesus did not leave us alone with only our Bibles.  He left us a Church for guidance.  When we ignore or abandon the apostolic guidance of that Church, we place ourselves in peril.  When we act as if we know better than the Church that Jesus established and gave His own authority to, we place ourselves in peril.  When we have devotion to the Bible but not to Christ’s Church, we place ourselves in peril.  It is not the Bible that divides Christians; it is the issue of authority.

The question of authority extends even beyond the interpretation of Scripture.  The Bible does not explicitly address certain issues facing modern Christians.  While technology has given us smart phones, it has also enhanced our ability to “play God,” particularly in the beginning and ending stages of life.  Science promises great power and ingenuity, but it does not promise morality or spiritual truth.  If Christians are divided over moral issues that are addressed in the Bible, how much more will they be divided on issues where the Bible is silent?  There has to be an authority to interpret Scripture and to address contemporary moral issues.

Keep your Bible on your phone, your Kindle, your laptop, your desktop or in a drawer by your bed if you wish.  It matters not.  What matters is the authority by which we discern the Bible.  There are now literally thousands of conflicting interpretations and various lifestyles all claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit and all using the name “Christian.”  It’s confusing.  God is not the author of confusion (1Cor 14:33).  We still need the apostolic, Spirit-led authority that unlocked the Scriptures for the Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t need more technology or Bibles, and we don’t need just any church or just any preacher; we need the Church preaching apostolic truth.

Why Don’t Catholics Carry Bibles To Church?

If you watched the History Channel’s The Bible series, you might not have noticed that there was something missing in the last episode.  The Apostles were spreading the Gospel far and wide even as they encountered much persecution and opposition.  The number of Christians was growing substantially.  Paul of Tarsus was shown disrupting Christians as they participated in The Lord’s Supper (Mass), and inciting the crowds to murder Saint Steven.  After his conversion, Paul was shown visiting various parts of the world and preaching to them.  What was not shown were Christians carrying Bibles around.  That’s because the Bible did not yet exist (only Old Testament scrolls existed).  Nevertheless, the Gospel was being preached and people were being converted.

It is ironic that, when people start new churches and make attempts to recreate the environment of the first Christians, they bring their Bibles with them.  The first Christians had no Bibles and most could not even read.  “Faith came by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).  The Word of God was preached by the Apostles and the men they appointed.  One did not need a Bible.  All that was needed were ears to hear.

Eventually, some things were written down and letters were sent to various Christians.  Over time the Church gathered up quite a bit of written material.  But even then, people did not generally know how to read.  And the written materials were not handed out for everyone to bring to the service with them.  People still had to be read to and come to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The Church carried on in this manner for about 400 years until it was decided that the inspired writings needed to be compiled into one collection of books.  The Bible is a collection of writings, a library (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, tà biblía, “the books”).  The Catholic Church had to decide which writings were inspired by God, and which ones were not.  They did this through the authority given by Christ 400 years earlier and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Hence, we were given the Bible.

However, Christians still were not carrying Bibles to services with them.  They still could not read.  There were only a limited number of copies of the Bible.  The Bible was copied by hand over centuries.  Were it not for Catholic monks bending over tables in monasteries and protecting the copies we might not have Bibles today.  A congregation was blessed to have even one copy of the Bible.  It was so valuable it had to be protected from theft and damage.  Still, the people came to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The invention of the printing press made it possible for more folks to have Bibles.  Even then, it took years before Bibles were household possessions.  It was a mixed blessing.  More people had Bibles, but there was more confusion about what was in the Bible.  Suddenly, everyone that could read became a Bible interpreter.  Rather than being good for the Church, this phenomenon fragmented the Church.  People began to think they knew better than the Church that had written, compiled and preserved the writings for hundreds of years.  Today we have a Bible in every hand, but we also have 30,000+ ways of interpreting the Bible.  The Church is weakened in her mission to the world by such division.  People took the Bible away from the Church and started thousands of other “churches.”  This is not the Christian unity that Jesus and His Apostles had in mind.  People hijacked the Bible from the Church and coopted the name “Christian.”

Today Catholics are still listening to the Word of God being read to them (although they can certainly read along from their Bibles or the Catholic Missal if they want to).  If a Catholic goes to daily Mass, he/she will hear nearly the entire Bible over a three year period.  Literate Catholics are also encouraged, even exhorted, to read and learn the Bible outside of the Mass.  We are offered Bible studies and have access to all sorts of educational materials about the Bible.  We can even interpret the Bible as we read it, as long as we don’t come up with ideas that contradict the apostolic teaching of the Church.

The Catholic Mass is divided into sections.  One section is the Liturgy of The Word.  This is where we hold up the Bible (literally hold it up to honor and reverence it), read from it, and preach about it.  However, The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the high point of the Mass.  This is where we do what Jesus told us to do in remembrance of Him.  Even throughout the entire Mass there are words from Scripture integrated into the service.  For most Bible-Christian churches, the high point of the service is typically singing, the reading of the Bible and preaching.  Catholics also do these things, but we have preserved Christ’s emphasis on the Eucharist, His life-giving flesh and blood.

Most Bible churches have communion, but it tends to be a lesser emphasis and is only symbolic in nature.  Some churches only have communion once a quarter.  Mostly they focus on the Bible and preaching.  The Apostles would not recognize such services.  They would be looking for the Eucharist, not the Bible.  Churches that emphasize the “Bible alone” are a relatively new phenomenon, but most people are not aware of the history.  They just assume that Christianity has always been based on the Bible.  But, the reverse is true.  It is more accurate to say that the Bible is based on the Church.  The Church did not always have the Bible.  The Church came first.

So, Catholics don’t usually carry Bibles to church with them, even though the Bible is actually a Catholic book.  It’s not that we don’t believe or teach from the Bible.  For 2000 years our Faith has come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God whether written down or not.  Catholicism is original, authentic Christianity in its fullness.  We love the Bible.  We teach and preach from the Bible.  We read and listen to the Bible.  It is a Catholic book.  It is part of us.  We carry it in our hearts wherever we go.

The Red Flags Of Religion And Tradition

There were two, main concerns expressed to me by Bible Christians when they heard that I was Catholic.  First, they were afraid that I lacked a personal relationship with Jesus.  Second, my “religion” and its “traditions” were what prevented me from having that personal relationship with Jesus.  In other words, religion and tradition are bad, relationship is good.  Whenever you hear someone make this point, red flags should begin to frantically wave.

If someone tells you that Jesus is anti-religion or anti-tradition, don’t believe a word of it.  Jesus was anti-hypocrisy.  He told His fellow Jews, “Do what the scribes and Pharisees tell you to do, because they sit on the seat of Moses.  Just don’t act the way they act” (Matt 23:1-3).  In other words, “Your religion and tradition is good, but your religious leaders are behaving badly.”

Jesus confronted the scribes and Pharisees and called them hypocrites.  Jesus also pointed out that they had piled on man-made traditions that were ruining the good, God-given religion and Sacred Tradition.  Jesus never said, “Get rid of the religion.”  He essentially said, “Stop ruining the religion that God gave you.”

Jesus took the religion that God had given the people and made it better.  He fulfilled the religion and brought it forward; He did not abolish or destroy religion.  Jesus continued the religion given by God. Jesus established His Church, placed certain men in charge of the Church, gave those men His own authority and commissioned them to spread the religion.  The religion is called Christianity.

Like Judaism, Christianity contains Sacred Tradition (Tradition with a capital “T”).  Catholics know this as “The Deposit of Faith.”  This is handed down by apostolic authority, the authority given by Christ.  For example, the Apostle’s Creed, the seven Sacraments and even the Bible are part of Sacred Tradition.  When people condemn “tradition” they are unwittingly condemning the Bible.  The Bible was given to us through the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church.  Paul said, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess 2:15).  Here we can see that both oral and written traditions are important and are given by apostolic authority.  Catholicism contains both the written and the oral Sacred Tradition.

Catholicism also has traditions (tradition with a lower case “t”) that are disciplinary, pastoral or cultural in nature.  These are not the same thing as Sacred Tradition.  However, that does not mean that these traditions impede a personal relationship with Jesus.  These are outgrowths of a personal relationship with Jesus.  Imagine, for example, a mother and a daughter making cookies together every year for Christmas.  That is a family tradition that grew out of a relationship that already existed.  Making cookies does not “replace” the relationship between the mother and the daughter.  So it is with many Catholic, lower case “t” traditions.  Catholicism does not interfere with a personal relationship with Jesus.  Catholicism is all about a personal relationship with Jesus.

There are occasions when people abuse Catholicism and/or fail to make the connection between the religion and the relationship.  This has always been the case.  That is why Jesus warned us about it.  Jesus knew that the abuses in Judaism could also happen in His Church.  Nevertheless, He established His Church and promised that it would endure by His power, not by man’s power.  It has endured.  2000 years later, the Catholic Church is still going, still spreading the Gospel, and is the largest charitable organization in the world.  After all, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).  In other words, religion should promote charity (love) and holiness.  Such is the goal of authentic Catholicism, the religion of Jesus Christ.  Those who believe otherwise simply misunderstand authentic Catholicism.

So, Catholics, when someone wants to tell you that your religion is preventing you from having a personal relationship with Jesus, red flags should begin to fly about.  Tell them that quite the opposite is true.  Your religion is a personal relationship with Jesus.  It was given to us personally by Jesus.  The more you learn The Faith the more you will know this to be true.

The Bible Is Not A Pastor

The election of Pope Francis has triggered some discussion with my non-Catholic friends.  Such conversations often reveal misconceptions about Christianity, Catholicism and the Papacy in particular.  I’ll try to make a few things more clear in “layman’s terms.”

There is a slogan that is used by many non-Catholic Christians, especially those from Fundamentalist backgrounds.  The slogan is, “No hope in the Pope!”  The meaning being that Christians should place their eternal hope in Jesus Christ, not in an imperfect man.  As a devout Roman Catholic, I agree with their premise.

The misconception is that Catholics follow the Pope instead of Christ, or that the Pope trumps the Word of God in some way.  Many non-Catholics believe that the Pope can make up whatever rules he wants, even if they contradict biblical principles.  They often think that “infallible” means “impeccable.”  Infallible is not the same as impeccable.  In other words, Catholics do not believe that the Pope is totally free from error or that he is free from mistakes.  Even Peter, the first Pope, made mistakes.  He also made some infallible statements and decisions when God gave them to him.  For example, when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter who gave the infallible answer, “You are the Christ.”

Most of my non-Catholic, Christian friends go to church somewhere.  Those churches have pastors.  The people in those churches generally trust God to speak to them through the preaching/teaching of their pastors.  If they have questions about the Bible and its meaning, they typically ask their pastors for an interpretation.  Or, they read the Bible and make their own interpretations, or they ask a friend for an opinion.  If the preaching or teaching of the pastor is deemed incorrect, there are other pastors in other churches to choose from.  The trick is to determine whether or not the preaching and teaching of the pastor is properly aligned with the “final authority” of the Bible.  There are many pastors teaching many opposing things about the Bible while all claiming to be “led by the Holy Spirit.”  So, how can they know who is right?  Checking the Bible does not solve differences of opinion about the Bible.

The Bible is not a pastor.  The Bible cannot lead the people in the way that a shepherd leads a flock.  Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”  Jesus gave Peter (and his fellow apostles) a specific office of authority that included “binding and loosing” of things here on earth and in Heaven.  He also gave Peter the “keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.”  By giving Peter this unique office, Jesus mirrored the Old Testament tradition of a king appointing his prime minister.  Peter’s office also needed to be filled upon his death, just as the empty office of Judas had been filled.  This is why we have a 2000 year succession of Popes and apostolic authority in the Church.

The Catholic bishops are the successors of the apostles.  There are more than twelve of them now because the Church is so large and global.  Yet, there still is only one head of the apostles.  There needs to be a “go to guy,” a pastor that all the Church is accountable to.  The Bible alone cannot fill this role.  There are too many varying opinions about how to discern and interpret the Bible.  Incidentally, no one even knew what books and letters to officially include in the Bible before the Catholic Church made that decision nearly 400 years after Christ.  The Bible is actually part of the Sacred Tradition handed down to us from the leadership of the Catholic Church.  Part of the Pope’s role (along with his fellow bishops) is to protect this Sacred Tradition (aka “The Deposit of Faith”) which includes the Bible.

Jesus, of course, is The Good Shepherd.  He is the Head of the Church.  Catholics worship Jesus and strive to follow Jesus.  Part of following Jesus includes following the earthly pastor appointed by The Holy Spirit.  Jesus promised that The Holy Spirit would guide His Church.  The Pope is simply an instrument of The Holy Spirit.  I have a pastor in my local Church, but he also is answerable to the highest, earthly pastor.  In this way, we heed the words of the apostle Paul “that there be no divisions among you.”  (1Cor 1:10)  When disagreements arise, as is often the case with human beings, the Church authority is there for direction and discipline (Matt 18:17).  Without that 2000 year old Church authority, Christians have no rudder to steer them on the drifting waves of conflicting opinions and divided denominations.

Infallibility means that God protects the office of the Pope from teaching error in faith and morals.  It does not mean that everything the Pope says is infallible.  Nor does it mean that the Pope is sinless or free from mistakes.  Infallibility is given to the Christ-established office of the Pope.  The man himself, like Peter, is just a man.  The Pope cannot contradict Sacred Tradition, including Scripture.  The Pope cannot add to or subtract from Scripture.  Catholics believe that God is powerful enough to protect the office of the Pope, just as God is powerful enough to protect the inerrant, inspired Bible that the Catholic Church compiled.  He gives us His Word and a pastor to guide us all.  Jesus is The King, and the Pope is His earthly Prime Minister.  What an awesome God we serve!