by Stephen Spiteri
A few years ago, before I started this blog and before I seriously started getting into apologetics, I trekked cyberspace for an online Christian community to discuss all matters pertaining to faith. I came across one particular Christian forum (which shall remain nameless) and before learning that is was very, very anti-Catholic and filled with rabid-mouthed fundamentalists, I read their forum disclaimer and the administrators had something to say about Catholicism in particular. Apart from claiming that they believed Catholicism was not Christian, their disclaimer read something like this:
“… we are Christians who believe in the biblical message of Christ and that a personal relationship with Christ is the only way to get to Heaven. We don’t ‘practice’ our faith; we believe that your relationship with Christ is not something that has a set of rules, rituals or is something that is formulaic. We live our faith, preach it and desire others to come to the full biblical truth of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ …”
It’s the middle part that really caught my attention and got me thinking. Up until recently I’ve never really thought about what it truly means to be a “practicing Catholic” and dare I say there would have been a point in my life even as a Catholic that I would have agreed that being “practicing Catholic” meant going to church, receiving the sacraments, and more or less going just through the motions; attending, being present, and ticking boxes. How wrong I would have been; how wrong these fundamentalists are.
You could define “practicing” in terms of doing something frequently or habitually, true, but one someone describes themselves as a “practicing Catholic” without knowing it, they are professing sound deeply profound. I play the guitar and I have played the guitar since I was 12 going on 13 years old, and while the practice has slowed down these days, for years and years I practiced playing the guitar. Why did I practice? Because I wanted to get better.
When a Catholic says they’re a “practicing Catholic” what they really say is that they’re trying to become more like Christ; to be a better Catholic-Christian.
Being a “practicing Catholic” means putting your faith into action. When the priest says to the congregation at the end of Mass, “Go forth, the Mass has ended”, “Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord” or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life” he is indeed exhorting you to go out and be a practicing Catholic; to put your faith into action. We are not called to be Catholic-Christians once every week on the Lord’s day, but every day and in every moment in our lives.
We know that “faith without works is dead faith” (James 2:26), so in order for our faith to grow, as exercise strengthens muscles and improves our fitness, faith must be put into action and we must allow ourselves to be led by God’s grace.
Christ himself tell us “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and becoming more Christ-like and Christ to other requires practice. And this we all know, practice makes perfect.
I think it is important for all Catholics to realize that all Christians believe this as well. However, it is more important to know in your heart that you are a forgiven human being, made in the image and likeness of God, forgiven by Christ who alone can give you the graces to be a practicing Catholic, Christian, or even an unbeliever or atheist who can forgive others. Not every Catholic will buy what Pope Francis is doing or saying today, but I do. Church rules can change, but God’s love never does.
I find the meaning here unclear. Could you clarify your last thought?
> Joyce>>If Evangelicals who rue the idea of religion hold that there are no rules…etc., and yet live by Biblical teachings of Christ, the Apostles, and the Hebrew Scriptures, then their claim to not live by rules, etc, makes them disingenuous. It is a bait and switch ploy. However, my Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian friends says that is not what it means. They say that not being religious means a Church that teaches salvation by works–of which the prime example is the Roman Catholic Church. They assert that we do not preach salvation through Christ alone, through Faith Alone and that the Bible is the only Authoritative source from which we can know how to live. This set of assertions is also disingenuous in that there are many things–including their “program of services” which are rather like a ritual, and their man-made rules of quarterly communion, etc., as well as the unbiblical assertions that Catholics sacrifice babies, worship statues (yada yada) are set creeds that cross denominational boundaries. Of course, we Catholics know that none of these accusations are true. However, for them to accept that might mean that they would have to study history, as Cardinal Newman said, and become Catholics.. 😉
How interesting that your name is Malin and the first priest I met was Fr. Mallen, a Redemptorist. The story of my “conversion” is in a book I wrote entitled “In the Arms of the Shepherd” now out of print.
Fr. Charlie and a Catholic family befriended me when I was about 19 or 20 and through their example, I received the gift of faith. I do understand about grace and works and only wanted to say that since none of my relatives or family raised me Catholic because they were Protestants of different denominations, I did not learn about Christ except through their example. They did not preach to me or read the Bible, nor share their faith with me. When I was hungry, they fed me, gave me clothes when my parents had no money, drink when I was thirsty, visited me when I was sick and followed all that Jesus said to do when he said “go and do likewise.” That is why when I first heard the word, it all was very clear to me that I had to follow Christ through the RCC. However, God works in mysterious ways, and now I believe all Christians are loved by God regardless of their denomination. Even Pope Francis said atheists can also go to heaven!
I believe that is why I am a Christian today. I know that faith was a gift and that all the works I did after that as a Catholic were through the grace of God and his work, not mine. I was the recipient and he was the initiator. (Pope John Paul II).
Peace be with you.
Pope Francis did not say that, not precisely. His comments were related to redemption, not salvation.
I’ll leave that up to God.
You’ll leave what Pope Francis said and did not say up to God?
To be Catholic is to live your life in such a Christ-like way that you draw others to your light. “That which you do to the least of my brothers, so too do you do to me” is the very foundation and soul of our faith.
So long as you keep in mind that we need words.
“How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his Body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.
Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.” (CCC 846-848)
Important points to take away from this excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1. The ordinary means of salvation is through the Catholic Church, meaning that all who know and understand that the Church was founded by Jesus Christ as the way to salvation have the moral obligation to accept the truth in order to be saved.
2. If a person is ignorant of Jesus Christ or his Church, they may be able to have eternal salvation by seeking God with a sincere heart and following their natural conscience.
There are over 38,000 different Christian denominations in the world today, not including the Muslims and others who are not Christian. Do you believe, as a practicing Catholic, that all of these have to belong to the Roman Catholic Church to be saved and that Jesus Christ did not die for ALL? I am not sure that is what the RCC teaches in the catechism, nor in the Bible.
Good morning Joyce. I hope you are doing well. You bring up many good questions. 🙂
The quote I got from the Catechism iterates the truth (based on scripture and supported by history) that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ who commissioned the apostles to make disciples of all nations; and, through apostolic succession, the Church continues to teach the faithful. Now as the Catechism says “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his Body which is the Church.” The Church believes that non-Catholic Christians who understand that the Church is the only one founded directly by Christ and that its teachings are the fullness of the truth have a moral obligation to come into full communion with the Church—choosing a church cannot be a matter of personal preference or family tradition. This is not to say that the Church presumes to judge whether individual souls are saved (i.e. make it to heaven) or not: we wholly agree that this is up to God (1 Cor 4: 1-5). However we must also distinguish between redemption and salvation to have a meaningful conversation on this matter. This is what the Catholic apologetics website, Catholic Answers, had to say: “Every person, Christian or non-Christian, is redeemed because he is a member of the human race. Salvation is the application of redemption to individuals. A person can choose to reject the graces won for him by Christ even though he has been redeemed. (http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/what-is-the-difference-between-being-redeemed-and-being-saved)” In other words, Jesus opened for us the gates of salvation through his death on the cross, which redeemed all people, but gives us the freedom to choose whether or not to walk in through them. Whether it is a Catholic Christian or a Christian of another denomination, the Bible (and the Church) exhorts us to work towards salvation during our whole lives: “the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:12-13). Just because we make a one-time confession of faith in Jesus and are baptized does not guarantee our salvation, we must live out our faith and work towards growth in holiness. Again Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” So we must all put feet to our faith and accompany words with actions. Sadly many Muslims living in countries like Saudi Arabia do not enjoy the freedom of religion that we do and either out of ignorance of the Gospel or fear of being punished for apostasy (converting to another religion) never get the chance to know and follow Jesus Christ. Still, a person who does not have the fullness of truth because of circumstances out of his/her own control can be saved by striving to do God’s will in their life. I praise the Lord that He has bestowed greater understanding and wisdom on other Catholics and I only speak from youthful inexperience; I would humbly recommend that you look into Catholic Answers (Catholic.com) and explore the Catholic Church through the work of their theologians. I still have a lot to learn myself! Also, whenever you have a question about Catholic teaching turn to the catechism! I find it a great resource and the best part is that you can easily find what you are looking for by using the index which goes by keywords. Here is a link to a free online catechism: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm
If I can clarify anything else, please let me know and I will definitely look into it. Stay strong in the faith sister! 😉
Bella, I am 81. I taught in a parochial school for seven years after becoming a Catholic. Then I worked for the Archdiocese in Florida for 30 more years. At the time of my “conversion” we were required to memorize the catechism. Today one could not do that because it is so large! My background is that my mother was one of seven children, and my father one of 14, each of whom practiced a different “faith.” That is often the result of Protestantism when one can leave and found a new church which the Catholic Church does not do (or at least as often.) I enjoyed the experience of “oneness” when I joined the RCC.
However, working for the hierarchy was challenging. It seemed that all of my relatives were not in the right church, or so I thought, until after Vatican II corrected much of my thinking on redemption and salvation, and my relatives were welcomed back in my mind. A reconciliation took place in my heart – the two were one again.
At this time l believe God is in control of my life and I seek to do the will of God, but I am not a practicing Catholic because I made a choice to marry an Episcopalian who was divorced, and God has given me peace and the ability now to help my family through his kindness and generosity. I do not believe in annulment. God has to be the one who joins two people together and I believe we are one. When God acts again in my life, I will accept it as his will for me. My latest book (I am an author) is “but then, Face to Face.” I am sure he will accept me as I am. I have no fear that he will condemn me. Peace be with you and all who are searching for true faith.
Thank you for sharing your personal life experiences. I can identify with some of them; my father has never really practiced the faith and is closer to agnostic in belief than Catholic Christian. At times I have felt a poignant fear for his soul and sorrowful despair. But then I remember God’s great mercy and the powerful conversion stories like that of St. Augustine, who was aided by his mother’s constant prayers and I clasp on to my faith and keep on praying. I have confidence that God will lead my father to the truth in His own time. What is most important in my Catholic faith is not the homilies the priest gives on Sundays or the beautiful design of Catholic churches, but the Sacraments. Jesus has provided us with visible signs of his love through the seven sacraments. I have especially felt Jesus’s love through Confession and Holy Communion. After hearing Dr. Scott Hahn’s explanation of the mass in “The Lamb’s Supper ” I have come to realize the divine nature of the mass: each time we celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass we are present at the feast of our Lord in heaven as He manifests all His glory hidden under the sacramental veil. I pray that you will allow Jesus to embrace you in his arms in the Blessed Sacrament. Who is it that waits for us in the Eucharist, longing for our love? It is our Lord who walked on the earth, forgiving sins, giving sight to the blind, and revealing the Kingdom of God to all who would listen. It is the same Jesus who gave up his life for all on the cross, even those who would reject him.
The church that I attend now is an Episcopal Church. I receive communion along with my husband. The pastor is a former Catholic priest and all baptized persons are welcome to receive communion. It is interesting that Pope Francis recently spoke of Catholics who were divorced and remarried and said it was time for mercy. He said they could not begin to handle all the thousands of annulments and the fact that those awaiting them for years were not allowed to receive communion. From his words he seems to want to change that! Surprised?
Anyway, I have to say that I have met so many people from other churches who are doing God’s will who have joined my life journey that I am positive they will be in heaven as one in Christ along with the Catholics. This is God’s will for me. I have met women priests who have inspired me, priests who left the RCC to marry and are raising families, giving good example to married couples, and still are able to carry on their priestly ministry. It has removed so many problems for the priests to be allowed to marry if they are not called to celibacy.
I met my husband when I was 16, but we did not marry. I joined the RCC and married a former Catholic monk. He died after 30 years of marriage, and I met my second husband again after many years. It seemed that God wanted me to have a new life with joy in it after being married to an alcoholic and suffering for so many years as an enabler. There is joy and peace and love in my life now and God is definitely the major part of it. We serve God together in a mission in Africa and in our parish. Yes, I will always be a Catholic, but I can’t live by their rules, so I live by the mercy of God. I know he loves me.
Peace be with you and with your spirit.
A story to consider: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/the-splendor-of-truth-brings-an-episcopalian-minister-and-his-flock-home
I was not sure about the Catholic Church’s stance on Anglican/Episcopalian priests so I researched it:
Oh Joyce! I just came across this awesome video that explains Catholic teaching about salvation very well. Please check it out everyone:
According to my research, Episcopal/Anglican Orders are valid, but not legal. Anglican priests are becoming Catholic for their own reasons and Catholics are becoming Episcopalians/Anglicans. Both are leaving and forming their own dioceses, etc. Today one has to follow his/her conscience I guess.
May I respectfully share the fruits of my thoughts while contemplating a woman at the altar in an effort to express what, as a Catholic, I have long believed to be missing from liturgical and Eucharistic celebrations of the past. When I see a woman priest on the altar taking great care to hold the different items used in the consecration, I am reminded of Mary serving not only Christ, but members of his Body. Her presence reminds me that it was a woman chosen to hold the elements of a divine and human presence together in her body. As she pours the wine into the chalice, and the water into the wine, it is a symbol to me of the union of the human and divine in one person. A woman can bring that symbolism to me in a very effective way, just as it was a woman who first held the body and blood of Christ in her womb, in her arms at birth, presented him to the Father at the Presentation and served him her entire life in humility and love.
Christ is being born in each one of us daily. As a woman stands below the cross above the altar and looks out at the Body of Christ, she and I are reminded of the words of Christ to his mother: “Woman, behold your son…” and she sees Christ in us.
I beg you to consider the meaning proclaimed to the world by ordaining women to the priesthood. We are all called to the priesthood of the laity and some to become leaders. A woman priest is an outstanding example of what that means. God is both mother and father with the attributes of both. She inspires trust, humility, service and dedication to the entire community, the same as a man. Without women, the Mass to me is not the same. Her humble, yet effective manner of offering herself in service and we in receiving Christ from her should not be aborted, but completed as she brings the body of Christ to birth.
Congregations will be served better by her character, qualities as a woman and priestly functions. Please prayerfully consider if the Holy Spirit is calling her to a higher role in the Roman Catholic Church, and allow her to complete her journey to ordination and Christ to be born in us.
I sent this to the Holy Father. Thank you for your patience and love in sharing your thoughts with me.
Anglican orders are neither valid nor licit.
Yes, I listened to it. I remember what my first experience with a Catholic Redemptorist priest was before I joined the RCC. He said, “Joyce, I don’t care what faith you join, but you will have to join one or you will not make it in life.” He did not tell me which one to join, but I replied to him, “I will never be anything but a Catholic.” This was spoken without forethought. It was because a Catholic family befriended me and introduced me to the Catholic church and to this priest and I responded to the initiative of Christ through them.
The Bible tells us plainly that to hear the Word we must have a messenger, and that was the first time that anyone had
come out of their “box” (as the Pope said) to teach me about Christ. None of my relatives were Catholic. It was not through rules, doctrine, preaching, but through their example. We not only have to hear, but to do what Christ did. …and maybe that is to speak out, to say what we think and believe and not only speak, but to be an example of faith. Unfortunately, not all will experience this in their lifetime, but God knew you before you were conceived and has a plan for your life.
“God knew you before you were conceived and has a plan for your life.” Amen! 🙂
Well, Benjamin, when the RCC allowed priests to leave to marry and become laicized, they were able to remain in the church, receive communion and the sacraments. They could not perform their “priestly” functions. Unfortunately, those following the requirements of laicization at the time were suddenly out of luck when the RCC changed and no longer allowed them that privilege! So what do you think those caught in the mix could do? They were genuinely following the “rules” and then punished for it! My pastor is one of those priests and he stated (and I found) there is confusion on this. He states his orders are valid (he was an ordained Catholic priest) but not legal. That’s enough for me. It was certainly unfair to a priest who was following the rules of the Catholic Church and then dropped when they changed. Church rules can change but there are consequences to people if they are changed in the course of one’s life in the process of making the changes. Fortunately, it seems the present pope is more concerned with mercy and compassion than formerly. I welcome this change.
I only meant to say that had he gone through an Anglican “ordination”, nothing would have happened. This priest you refer to does not have Anglican orders but Catholic orders. In this sense, he does have valid orders which were at the time licit. Now, his orders remain valid, but the operation of his duties are not licit.
Then the question becomes this: Why are you comfortable with “illegal” orders?
…because they are valid. Why did Christ have a problem with the legality of the Jewish leaders at the time…? God led me to explore the faith of other denominations (all my relatives were Protestant) so that I could experience the church as one…I am the only Catholic. I experienced the love and care of Protestants until I was 22 and was introduced to the Catholic church. I did not join it for “legality” but for love. Pope Francis may someday allow me to receive communion in the Catholic Church again, but until then, I go with my husband. Peace be with you. Catholics have told me I am going to hell, but the New American Catholic Bible does not have the word “hell” in it. Like my mom did, I seek the truth and will until I die.
If you believe that the Church in communion with Rome really is the true Church — and you know what that means — and you deliberately, obstinately refuse to join in communion right up until the moment of your death, then you are going to Hell, no ifs ands or buts.
As I said, the Catholic New American Bible does not use the word “hell” and you are not my judge, nor is the Roman Catholic Church, but God is and he will judge everyone according to his deeds. Peace be with you.
Gehenna, translated into English, means “Hell.”
In any case, I am not condemning you to Hell. This conditional statement refers to the clearest example of final impenitence the Church can think of. Final impenitence is the only unforgivable sin. I simply thought you should know.
After all, if someone willfully disobeys God with full knowledge and consent on a serious matter like entering the Church that person knows to be true, what kind of judgment would God possibly make?
What you don’t seem to believe is that God is in control of each life, and if he brings someone out of the Roman Catholic Church, it is for a reason, and most likely it is for something he/she needs to learn. What I needed to learn was that God loved me before, during and after he called me into a church that I believed contained all Christians. He loved and saved all my Protestant relatives as well. The RCC believes that it contains all truth and that every other denomination has only part of the truth. I believe that God cannot be divided as he is one. He prayed, ….that they all may be one as the Father and I are one. I believe the church is made up of all and that we are his temple and the body of Christ made up of many members, each having their function in the body. I believe ALL will see God. That is biblical. If they see God, they will believe. God will judge each according to scripture by his “works” or his deeds. He did not die for Roman Catholics, but for sinners.
I don’t know how old you are, where you came from, how you got there, but I do know that God loves you and you will be with him in eternity, so peace be with you. Judge not that you may not be judged, for with what judgment you judge, you will be judged. I do not judge you, nor do I judge myself. This is my last comment.
Not my last comment I guess. Gehenna does not mean hell. It was a place where they burned bodies and still exists today as a park. “Hell” is a translated word not in the Greek. We all have a lot to learn. The King James Bible has the word “hell” over 50 times. Your bible, the New American Bible, which is Catholic, does not have the word at all. No one knows what the final judgment will be on each individual. God corrects, chastises, guides, disciplines us in this life, sometimes severely with consequences, but he does not condemn us. Thank God that Pope Francis is dedicated to being merciful, compassionate and will bring many souls to God, one way or another.
Wow! What an exchange!
Benjamin, I think you are just a little too abrasive in your comments. You sound like a young man so I think that can be excused. Experience will help. Your heart is in the right place and your faith will carry you through.
Bella, our church is in good hands with a young person like yourself. Please keep up the good work. We need to step out in faith and challenge myths that are built up around our church. With both yourself and Benjamin on the case, the true word of God will be heard.
Joyce, in my humble opinion I think your views are very dangerous to young people.
You seem like a lovely person who has a true love of God and that’s where the danger lies. Most people will read your statements and think.. What’s wrong with that?
Everything you say sounds so reasonable and said with love yet, it is all just fantasy. Your life, by your own admission, hasn’t been always happy and you made mistakes early on which put you on a path which made it impossible for you to worship in the one true church. You appear to have built your life in such a way that God now “Fits in”.
At your age I suppose that makes you feel comfortable and you have found your niche. However comfortable you may feel, it is not the true way. I would hate for young people reading your remarks to believe there is other ways to keep God happy. He went to a lot of trouble to give us the truth and it is made very clear in that Holy Book how we should do it.
So beware that by your words you are not harming others by confusing what you do with what God actually wants you to do.
I am ten years your junior and I have not had an easy life. Mostly because I didn’t listen to God’s message. I made mistakes but I have no intention of compounding those mistakes by choosing how I will serve God from now on. He left me clear instructions and I can’t argue with that.
I could take the path that makes me feel good but I’m not sure that would lead to eternal life.
My tip for any young people reading this… Stick to following true scripture. It may not make you feel good all the time but “Forever” is a much longer time.
Joyce, I wish you well and may our Great God bless you.
Benjamin and Bella, thanks, it’s good to know you are out there. May God bless you both and may he protect you always.
I apologize for seeming abrasive.
Peace be with you, Michael. I don’t know who you are, but I have to live my life according to what was revealed to me when I was 16, had no knowledge of God,no church, and I prayed to God and asked him what my purpose in life was: God revealed to me …”you will help your family.” I was reading a novel at the time entitled “The Big Fisherman” not the Bible. That is my goal and he has given me the graces to do so. Fortunately, my family consist of those who are both Catholic and those who are not, equally loved by God. I would be very foolish to believe that God could love me more than my mother, father and family who were not Catholic. I am a very happy person and always have been. Difficulties do not make one unhappy but stronger and more dependent on God. We all come to God at different times and in different ways.
Don’t worry, Benjamin. I have heard this before from others. No offense taken.
Bella, you were very kind to share with me. I appreciate it very much. As I grow spiritually, I am happy to know people who are compassionate and non-judgmental.