Meaning of Life
There a God?
"Why should I be Catholic? Can't I be a Christian just by believing in the Bible?
For the first thousand years after Christ, there was only one Church that believed in Him. If you were a Christian, you were a member of the church that was founded by Him and whose leaders were the direct successors to St. Peter. The word "catholic" means "all inclusive" or "universal."
The New Testament of the Bible was written by early members of the Church. The Church officially approved their writings, and affirmed that God kept these men from error in matters of faith. [Many hundreds of writings were judged not to be the Truth. A few of these survive today, including the now famous one about Judas, translated by a Gnostic monk and sounding very much like Gnosticism.] This Bible, as it was called, is the history of the early Catholic Church. Many copies were sent all over the known world.
During the early years, the Church did many things, drawing its authority to do so from the words of Christ at the founding: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:17-20)
It defined doctrine, it specified the exact ritual for the Mass and various other services, and it also decided that there were seven special and extremely important occasions in our lives that would be better if they were made more of a solemn occasion with special grace. This is common in other areas. The coronations of kings are attended by huge pomp and circumstance, so that everyone will know that something momentous and important is taking place. It could be done in private, and in fact the laws of a country usually provide for automatic succession upon death, but people just seem to require an outward show of verification.
These seven are called the sacraments, and the special events are Baptism, Marriage, Holy Orders (when a priest is ordained), Confirmation (the "rite of passing into adulthood" similar to the Jewish Bar Mitzvah), Confession (the official cleansing of our sins), Communion, and Extreme Unction (final preparation of our soul prior to imminent death). All seven confer an extraordinary amount of God's grace upon the recipient.
Marriage and baptism of course already were human rituals. The other five were inaugurated by the Church.
In the years following 1517, various groups of Catholics officially broke away from the Church, refusing to recognize its authority and doctrine. The Church had to place them outside the benefits of Church grace and sacraments.
Recently, however, it has been argued that since many of these protesting, or "Protestant" groups had one or more originally Catholic bishops in their group that the subsequent ordination of priests and their subsequent power to prepare and administer the Eucharist may in fact be still in effect. This is now being considered by more liberal theologians in the Church.
It is our sincere wish that the Catholic Church may one day again be truly "catholic," and embrace everyone in Christ.
Religion, after all, is not about a set of rules to follow, or splitting doctrinal hairs. It is about experiencing God's love. We have to deeply believe that He loves us as selflessly as a parent, as passionately as a lover. It may be that the whole of humankind can become one family and live together in peace and affection. This is the story that Christ told us; this is the vision and faith that keeps us Catholic.
The Church emphasizes that God is infinitely merciful and compassionate and fair, and gives everyone who has ever lived enough grace to reach heaven, whether or not they ever heard of Christ's sacrifice before God offers them this knowledge (in His infinite goodness) in the last timeless instant of their lives.
”I don’t see where in the Bible many of the traditions and beliefs of the Catholic Church are found.”
Let's establish a time-line here.
First, while Christ was on teaching on earth, He established a Church with St. Peter as the founding head. He gave this Church absolute authority not specifically over the Bible, which had not yet been written or even thought of, but over all things and all matters spiritual. I did not say this, the Bible says this, in no uncertain terms, in Matthew 16: 17-20.
Then, the Apostles and Disciples of Christ started spreading His Church by going out all over the known world preaching. This was all oral teaching, as was the practice of the day. What they knew of Christ and His teaching were passed word of mouth from person to person. Soon, there were many different spoken versions of what Christ meant, and details of things that people were curious about but which no one could remember Christ saying anything about were naturally being "filled in" by well intentioned converts. Soon it was a mishmash of conflicting ideas.
Church leaders met, and studied various writings and oral traditions; and decided what was the Truth and what was not. They had—remember--the authority to do this. At the time, everything that they thought was right was collected, in written form, into the Bible and was officially approved. Many writings whose beliefs that were held in high regard by some members of the Christian community were rejected by the Church as not being the Truth.
The authority of the Church in spiritual matters does not start and stop with interpretation of the Bible, which did not even exist when this authority was given. In the same way, the totality of Truth about God and our relationship with Him does not start and stop with the Bible. The Bible is a great font of Truth, but if there is a question about prayer or heaven or morality that is not clearly covered, it is the responsibility of the Church to make the answer to that question clear. For the answer, the Church always relies heavily on what she thinks everything in the Bible points to—but whatever the official proclamation is, that is what God has promised in the Bible would be bound as the Truth in heaven and earth, whether each individual person agrees with it or not.
It was about 1500 years before the first person (Martin Luther) publicly questioned the authority of the Church.
"I am looking for help about becoming a Catholic. Bur first, I want to find out much more about it."
We strongly encourage you to become a Catholic. The sources of grace that you will receive from the Sacraments cannot be found elsewhere.
But it is not something to be undertaken lightly by an adult. It is a lifelong commitment to God's will. You will have to learn many things about the Catholic faith, and your responsibilities, before a priest can baptize you.
Any priest from any parish can do this. The Church is universal and you are always free to attend the church of your choice, even if that is only a portable altar in a foxhole in Korea.
Every Catholic parish has a discussion group, and it is always called RCIA, which stands for Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults. The groups are friendly, and all your questions will be answered in person. The priest in charge will baptize you if that is what you decide you want. Just call the phone number listed in your local phone book in the yellow pages under "Churches, Roman Catholic" and ask about the RCIA program. If you do not know which parish you are in, call the main diocese number. If you do not see it, call any number for any Catholic church and explain where you live and ask about RCIA and they will take it from there.
The best book I know is called "Catholicism for Dummies" from the famous series, but I hate to recommend it because the title might insult someone. But it's good.
"Why do many Catholics become lukewarm in their beliefs?"
There are quite a few people who have drifted away from the Church, and from many other churches as well. This may be mostly due to the fact that when we grow up, we realize that we believe certain things just because we were told they were true by people we trust, and not because we ever thought about them at all. This makes us uneasy, and we start looking in other places for beliefs that we can call our own.
But there is, after all, one and only one Truth; and being a child of God, you have the ability to recognize it. Life is generally long, and a good person will learn more about herself and more about God every day. This is all very human and very natural. Since God knows absolutely everything (a difficult enough concept on its own), He knows that this will happen, and gives us the grace to find our way back. All you have to do is to accept that grace.
" I was raised Catholic, but had trouble with some supernatural elements and no longer practice. But I want to return so I can raise my son in the Church. Does it matter if I am still dubious on the creed? Does it matter if I am afraid of Confession? I don't even remember how to do it.”
You do not have to completely understand all the beliefs and mysteries stated in the Creed, but you must be willing to subjugate your doubts to the will of God. This does not mean that you will not continue to try to figure things out, or that you will be comfortable in your acceptance. It just tells God that you realize that He is God, after all, and if that's how He wants it, then you are not going to continue to tell Him He is wrong. That's all I do about a lot of things.
Any pastor would welcome you to his church. A shepherd is complacent about the hundred sheep that never stray. He will be overjoyed to find and return to the flock the one sheep that wanders off. You don't get quizzed at the door.
As far as Confession goes, and details as to how you strayed off the path, they have heard it all a thousand times. Point out that you are willing to "officially" believe all the doctrines of the Church simply on their authority (that will be necessary to receive the Sacraments), but that you cannot help the rational roadblocks that come up in your mind. Tell him that in the event that God considers that a sin, you are confessing it now.
Confession is not quite the same as when you went as a little boy, that is true. There is often no more grille. That can be a shock. But otherwise it is still just the familiar "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been 35 years since my last confession," and the priest will take it from there and lead you step by step. And even 50 or 60 years is not anywhere near a record either, I am told. At the end, the "For these and all my other sins I am heartily sorry" can cover a lot of forgotten ground.
Holy Mother Church is like any loving mom. No matter what we have done, no matter how long we have been away, she will always welcome us back home with tears of joy and unconditional love.
Sketch portrait of our new Pope Benedictus, by the translator of our Spanish language pages, Fernando O. Rivera.
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