Before we can pursue union with God as Catholic women, we must first answer a few basic, fundamental questions. First, why pursue Christ as a Catholic? And second,what sets Catholicism apart from all other Christian denominations?
Although Pentecost is widely recognized as the birthday of the Catholic Church, the manger at Bethlehem is where it all began, with the birth of Christ. When”the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Through Christ’s ministry on earth and his eleven faithful apostles, the Catholic Church was instituted. The apostles were”filled with the Holy Spirit” and “the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:4) the Gospel and Christ’s message of salvation to all nations and peoples. Many of us never connect the dots when we learn about our faith. We fail to realize that Jesus Christ, God the Son, was the founder of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the church Jesus Christ instituted upon this earth. Conversely, our Protestant brothers and sisters’ churches were founded by individuals in ‘protest’ (hence the term Protest-ant; defined as “one who enters or makes a protest” by Merriam Webster) against the Catholic Church or other Protestant denominations. This website puts this in visual perspective http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_den1.htm.
All this established, however, we as Catholics have much to learn from our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ; particularly when it comes to their diligent study and meditation on The Holy Bible. I am instantly humbled whenever I enter a discussion with my Protestant friends about The Bible and the gospels. Their intimate knowledge and love for it is awe-inspiring. Sadly and unjustifiably, Bible-rusty Catholics like me in the world convince Protestants and others that the Catholic Church itself disregards, is unfamiliar with, and deviates from The Bible and Christ’s ministry and teachings in the gospels. Unbeknown to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike, nothing could be further from the truth.
As Catholics we are all well aware of the countless church teachings and “rules” outlined in the daunting, extensive Catechism of the Catholic Church. And many of us, whether disinterested or reserved at the fear that its pages will reveal our endeavors as some form of mortal sin and wreath with guilt, have never read nor cracked the bindings of this incredible work. This Catholic reference text promulgated by the beloved Pope John Paul II, correlates nearly every dogma of the church to The Holy Bible. In effect most teachings and traditions of the church do in fact have a meaning and a divine purpose outlined in Holy Scripture! The Catholic faith, its teachings, its sacraments, and its mass are based on a literal translation of The Bible itself! How incredible! So that when Jesus “took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to his disciples and said ‘this is My body, which will be given up for you; do this in memory of Me…”(Luke 22:19), Catholics take Christ’s words at their value. Their literal translation and thus celebrate the Eucharist and firmly believe that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Our Lord through transubstantiation! How then can this misconception persist; that the Catholic Church deviates from Christ’s teachings in the New Testament?! The argument is completely false and unfounded.
But what about the sacraments? The Bible makes no mention of crushing chrism oil over the forehead of a babe or telling a priest your sins behind a curtain…right? First we must establish what the sacraments accomplish. More specifically, what is the goal behind receiving a sacrament? The goal is sanctification… gaining heaven; achieving our human purpose. In the words of St.Augustine, “sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification…”
In the gospels, Christ gives very distinct guidance on how to gain salvation. First, he says “he who believes and is baptized will be saved…”(Mark 16:16); thus we baptize. Second, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish”(Luke 13:5); hence we have confession. Lastly, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…”(John 6:54); here we as Catholics receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ through the Eucharist which Christ.
Alright you say, a literal translation of The Bible clearly explains both Baptism and Communion, what about Confession? The Catholic sacrament of Confession, also called Reconciliation, is perhaps most difficult to explain via a literal translation of The Bible at least in the eyes of the Catholic faithful and our Christian brethren. Granted, Jesus does not outline exactly how people should ‘repent’ and doesn’t demand that faithful grovel on their knees in front of a screen whispering their sins into a priest’s ear. After His resurrection, however, he left his disciples with a clear command,”as the Father has sent me, so I send you’…he breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained…'” (John 20:21-22). In the first part of the verse, Christ commands his apostles to forgive the sins of the repentant as He forgave sins during his earthly ministry. Then, Jesus states those whose sins the apostles did not forgive…their sins would be retained, in other words not forgiven. Thus priests, as the successors of Christ’s original 12 apostles, began hearing the ‘confessions’ of early Christians and granted the faithful absolution, forgiveness from their sins, through the power invested in them by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John. Contrary to popular belief, Catholics do not believe that priests have the power to forgive sins; this power is reserved for God alone. God alone can forgive sins. However, through the Sacrament of Confession, Christ exercises absolution for sins through the priest; the priest is the representative of Christ and Christ himself works through the priest to impart forgiveness.
If all these things are true, then how do so many of us loose our way? How is it that someone who was raised in Catholic, the church of Jesus Christ, can falter, evade, and even loath Catholicism? If it truly is the church established by Christ rooted in scripture and truth, why would any Catholic fall away, convert to Protestantism, or loose faith in God altogether?! The answer is quite simple; “faith seeks understanding…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Without context… without knowing the why and how…the meaning and substance behind Catholic teachings, doctrines, and ‘rules;’ the Church seems restrictive, controlling, appears as a boorish, looming obstacle to ultimate happiness and comfortability. When we Catholics mature from our childlike innocence and obedience of attending mass every Sunday and abstaining from meat on Fridays, our faith is starved; it has no roots. When we develop as adults, if we don’t seek the why and how and reason behind our faith and traditions, they are empty and we feel caged, seeking refuge in a lively and more free-bridled religion. But following Christ and earning heaven is not molded to suit our particular lifestyles or preference; its not about us, but about Jesus Christ and the salvation of mankind.
So, whats the solution? How can I restore and grow my Catholic faith? In the words of St. Augustine, the solution is simple; “I believe in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe…” Understanding is believing. When the doubts and frustrations haunt you, seek answers. Be not afraid of what you will find. “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7). Be critical, curious, inquisitive and your faith will grow, your chains unbound and the truth will set you free.