Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Another Relevant Essay

 

Scandals

by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Every now and then people come across a counterfeit bill, but I never knew anyone who, because of it, argued that the United States currency was worthless. Astronomers have seen spots on the sun, but I have yet to hear of one who denied that the sun is the light of the world. But I know many who pick out the failings and sins of a few Catholics and then say: “But, my dear, they don’t tell you everything! The Church is really the work of the devil.”

This extreme point of view starts with a fact: There are scandals. For example, some Catholic husbands and wives are unfaithful; some Catholic politicians are more crooked than those who have no religion; some Catholic boys steal; some Catholic girls worship the same saints as pagan girls: movie heroes or band leaders; some Catholic industrialists are selfish and hardhearted and totally indifferent to the rights of workers; some Catholic labor leaders are more interested in keeping their leadership by annual strikes than in cooperating for social justice. Then in the Papacy, there is Alexander VI.

What does all this prove, but that Our Dear Lord has espoused humanity as it is, rather than as we would like it to be! He never expected His Mystical Body the Church to be without scandals because He Himself was the first scandal. It was a terrible scandal for those who knew Him to be God to see Him crucified and go down to seeming defeat, at the moment His enemies challenged Him to prove His Divinity by coming down from the Cross. No wonder He had to beg His followers not to be scandalized by Him. If the human nature of Our Lord could suffer physical defeat and be a scandal, why should there not be scandals in Our Lord’s Mystical Body made up of poor mortals such as we? If He permitted thirst, pain and a death sentence to affect His Physical Body, why should He not permit mystical and moral weaknesses such as loss of faith, sin, scandals, heresies, schisms, and sacrileges to affect His Mystical Body? When these things do happen, it does not prove that the Mystical Body the Church is not Divine in its inmost nature, any more than the Crucifixion of Our Lord proved He is not Divine. Because our hands are dirty, the whole body is not polluted. The scandals of the Mystical Body the Church no more destroy its substantial holiness than the Crucifixion destroyed the substantial wholeness of Christ’s Physical Body. The Old Testament prophecy fulfilled on Calvary was that not a bone of His Body would be broken. His flesh would hang like purple rags about Him, wounds like poor dumb mouths would speak their pain with blood, pierced hands and feet would open up torrents of redemptive life – but His substance, his bones, they would be sound. So with His Mystical Body. Not a bone of it shall ever be broken; the substance of Her doctrines will always be pure, though the flesh of some of her doctors fail; the substance of Her discipline will be sound, though the passion of some of her disciples rebel; the substance of Her faith will always be Divine though the flesh of some of her faithful will be so carnal. Her wounds will never be mortal, for Her Soul is Holy and Immortal, with the Immortality of Love Divine that came to Her Body on the Day of Pentecost as tongues of living fire.

Coming to one of the major scandals, let it be asked: “How could a wicked man like Alexander VI be the infallible Vicar of Christ and head of His Mystical Body the Church?” For an answer, go to the Gospel text where Our Lord changes the name of Simon to Rock, and then made Him the Rock on which He built what He called “My Church.” Our Lord on that very occasion made a distinction very few ever think of: He distinguished between infallibility or immunity from error, and impeccability or immunity from sin. Infallibility is inability to teach what is wrong; impeccability is inability to do wrong. Our Lord made the Rock infallible, but not impeccable.

Immediately after assuring Peter that he had the keys of Heaven and authority to bind and loose, Our Blessed Lord tells His Apostles that He “must go up to Jerusalem,” and “must be put to death” (Matthew 16:21). Poor, weak, human Peter, proud of his authority as the Rock draws Our Lord to his side, and begins rebuking Him, saying: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to You” (Matthew 16:22). On hearing these words Our Lord “turned around and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an obstacle to Me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Matthew 16:23).

A moment before Peter was called the Rock; now he is called Satan! In so many words Our Lord was telling him: “As a Rock upon which I build My Church, whenever you speak with the assistance of Heaven, you shall be preserved from error; but as Simon, son of Jonah, as a man, you are so frail, so carnal, so apt to be sinful, that you can become even like unto Satan. In your office you, as Peter, are infallible; but as man, Simon, you are peccable. The Power you have as Peter is My Making; the want of morals you have as Simon, is of your making.” Is this distinction between a person and his function hard to grasp? If a policeman directing traffic held up his hand and ordered you to stop, you would do so, even though you knew he beat his wife. And why? Because you make a distinction between his function as a representative of law and his person. I am sure that Our Lord permitted the fall of Peter immediately after the gift of Primacy to remind him and all his successors that infallibility would belong necessarily to his office, but virtue would have to be acquired by his own striving with the help of God’s grace. Whether the voice be sweet, or dull and grating, whether it be spoken with an accent or a flaw in grammar, we consider not the tone but the message. “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:9).

It is generally safe to say that those who know everything about the few bad successors of Peter, know nothing at all about the very many good ones. The wickedness of one man in authority is allowed to obscure a million saints. How many who dwell on the Vicars of Christ during the brief period of the Renaissance, ever dwell on their history for the other 1900 years? How many of those who exploit the bad few ever admit that of the first thirty-three successors of Peter, thirty were martyrs for their Faith, and the other three exiled for it? How many of those who concentrate on the bad example of a few know, or ever admit, that of the two hundred and sixty-one successors of St. Peter, eighty-three have been canonized for their heroic virtue, and that over fifty were chosen over the protest of their own unworthiness for such a high office, and that few can match in humility, wisdom and learning our present Holy Father, Pius XII? Anyone who attacks such a long line of martyrs, saints, and scholars must be certain of his own sinlessness to lay his hand on the few who revealed the human side of their office. If the revilers themselves are holy, pure and undefiled, let them pick up their stones. Our Lord said that it is the privilege only of those who are without sin to cast the first stone. But if they are not without sin, then let them leave the judgment to God. If they are without sin, they belong to a different race from you and me, for from deep down in our hearts a cry comes to our lips: “Be merciful to me a sinner.”

Turning to the scandal of bad Catholics, it must be remembered that Our Lord no more expected to have every member of His Church perfect than He expected to have perfect Apostles. That is why He said that on the last day He would throw the bad fish out of His net. Some Catholics may be bad, but that does not prove the Mystical Body is wicked, any more than because a few Americans who sell themselves to Russia, proves that America is a race of traitors. Our Faith increases responsibility, but it does not force obedience; it increases blame but it does not prevent sin. If some Catholics are bad, it is not because they are members of Christ’s Mystical Body, but rather because they are not living up to its Lights and Grace.

The psychology of those who are scandalized as bad Catholics is interesting. It means that they expected something better; if people who themselves are wicked, rejoice in the scandal, it is because they think they have greater authority for sinning than anyone else who fell. One never hears it said: “He is a bad Relativist,” or he is a “scandalous Humanist” or an “adulterous Ethicist,” because they never really expected anything better from them in the beginning. The horror that one feels at those who fall, is the measure of the height of virtue to which they expected to stand. We are grateful for the compliment of their being scandalized at our weak members, and for being intolerant with us about the very things they tolerate in others. They know that there are no other new lights possible if the sun fails! It is intellectually stultifying and morally easy to be a Communist; it is intellectually refreshing and morally hard to be a Catholic.

No ideal is more difficult of attainment. When anyone falls away from a Sun Cult he never has very far to tumble. But when a Catholic falls away, he is apt to be far worse than anyone else. The greater the height from which he falls, the greater the splash. “The corruption of the best is the worst.” No flowers smell worse than the rotted lily.

May we ask those who are scandalized with the failings of the Church, how perfect the Church would have to be before they would become incorporated into it as a living cell? If it were as perfect as they wanted it to be, do they realize that there would be no room for them? Just suppose for a moment, that Christ’s Mystical Body had no moral weaknesses; suppose that no monk ever broke his priestly vows to marry a nun and start a new religion – and this really happened; suppose that no bishop was ever just a business administrator and no priest ever disedifying and no monk ever fat, and no sister ever cross to children, and sanctity was as automatic as a parking meter; and suppose no one ever gave scandal to those who are on the outside to justify the way they were living. Would such a Church be the kind that Our Lord envisaged Who told us that cockle would be sowed with wheat, and that some of the children of the Kingdom would be cast out? If the Mystical Body were as perfect as the scandalized would have it, would not Her very perfection accuse and condemn us who are not saintly? Too high an ideal often repels rather than attracts. She would be so saintly that She would no longer allure ordinary mortals. She might even appear to the struggling souls as terribly Puritan, easily scandalized at our failings, and might even shrink from having Her garments touched by sinners like ourselves. Gone then would be the hope for those who are unholy or in sin. NO! The Mystical Body with none but perfect members would be a stumbling block. Then, instead of us being scandalized by Her, She would be scandalized by us, which would be far worse.

If the life of the Mystical Body had been one triumphant, blazing transfiguration on a mountain top, apart from the woes and ills of man, She would never have been the comforter of the afflicted and the refuge of sinners. She has been called like Her Divine Head, to be a redemptress, lifting men from the shadows of sin to be the tabernacles of grace where saints are made. She is not a far-off, abstract idea, but a Mother, and though She has been stained with dust in Her long journey through the centuries, and though some of her children have nailed Her Body and saddened Her Soul, yet there is joy in her Heart because of the children She has nourished; there is gladness in Her eyes, because of the faith She has preserved; there is understanding in Her soul, for She has understood the frailty of our flesh, and knows how to nourish it back to life. And in these qualities one divines the reason why Our Lord chose, not a saintly man like John, but a weak, fallen man like Peter as His First Vicar, in order that through his weakness he, and the Church of which he is the head, might sympathize with the weakness of his brethren, be their apostle of mercy and, in the truest sense of the term, the vicar of the Savior and the Redeemer of the world, Who came not to save the just but me, a sinner.

Our Lord often punishes His Mystical Body from time to time, by permitting some of the members or cells of that Body to separate themselves from it, but He punishes them still more. On the whole the world is right! We Catholics are not all we ought to be! The world is the way it is, because we Catholics are the way we are. Our Lord said: “If salt loses its taste, what is there left to give taste to it?” (Matthew 5:13). It is not the world we have failed, but Christ, and in failing Christ, we failed the world. But we beg those of you who see our failings to remember how hard it is for us to be everything Our Lord wants us to be. It is so easy to be a Democrat or a Republican or a “Cosmic Unifier,” but it is very hard to be a Catholic! Judge us not by our failings, as you judge not art by the feeble scribbling of a child. Look rather to our artistic masterpieces: the saints, and there are countless armies of them in the world. We have hurt you by our failings, and we beg your pardon, but we hurt Our Dear Lord more, and we shall do penance.

There are many of you who are scandalized by us, who, if you had the same Infallible Truth to guide you, the same Divine Eucharist to nourish you daily, would be a thousand times better than we are. We ought to be better than we are. And here I touch on the only unhappiness that comes to us as Catholics, and believe me, it is very real! We are unhappy because we are not saints. Will you therefore pray for us? Thanks!

God love you!

A Parable of Catholic Penance and Indulgence

Catholic Church Saint Ulrich in Bollschweil (B...

In order to understand the Catholic Teaching on Penance and Indulgences let us use a practical example from ordinary life to illustrate what is taking place. One might call this a parable of sorts:

 We have a family (a husband, wife and child) that live together on a small farm. The husband is called away by his Father for an extended visit, leaving the wife and child to run the household in his absence.

 The husband issues some instructions before his departure. To the wife he says: “You will be in charge during my absence. Do as I have taught you. Whatever decisions you make will be honored by me.”

 To the child he says: “Your mother will be in charge while I am gone. Do as she says and obey these simple rules that I will now give you in the presence of your mother.”

 Let us say that among these rules is a forbiddance to drive his tractor. Some time later, the child, knowingly violates that rule. The child drives the tractor into a ravine and breaks the axle. The mother is told of this occurrence and because of the tears and sobbing of the child, forgives the child for the disobedience. However, to make things right, justice needs also to be served. Therefore, the mother (fully aware of the husband’s sense of justice and his unprecedented mercy) wisely tells the child to get a job at a neighbor’s farm in order to pay back the price of the broken axle. The child would then have the tractor restored to the original condition as soon as practicable.

 The child, showing remorse and the best of intentions, begins working in order to save the money necessary for the repairs. However, the mother, in her mercy, sees that the child is working as hard as possible and may get discouraged by the task. Therefore, exercising her mercy (knowing full-well the mercy that her husband would show), relieves the child of the duty of working at the neighbor’s farm and instead gives the child a few simple chores around their own home instead.

 The mother then goes to the bank and withdraws a sum of money from the family’s savings. This is comprised mostly of the money that her husband has earned but partly from the inheritance of relatives that had passed away. This money is mercifully used to repair the tractor and to restore the child to the condition that the child was in before the unfortunate mishap. But the child must accomplish the few menial chores around the house as specified to receive the benefit.

 Now the husband, in the above story represents Christ while His Spouse, the Wife, is the Church as established before Christ’s departure from our midst. The child is, of course, the members of the Church. Since Christ told his Apostles that whatever they bind and whatever they loose would be bound and loosed in heaven[1], the Church has the right, as did the wife, to exercise this power in the absence of her Spouse. She first, exacted a fair penance for the misdeed in accordance to the justice that was due. Secondly, she exacted mercy, in the name of her husband, to lighten the burden on the child while applying the merit (money in this case) as accumulated by her husband and those close relatives who left their money to the estate. Now the Church too has an estate and can use the merits gained by Christ and the saints (His brothers and sisters)[2] to be applied to souls for their aid and comfort.

 


[1] “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” __ Matthew 18:18

[2] “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” __ Matthew 12:50

Who are the Meek?

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

We have heard or read this word countless times in our lives but do we really understand what it is? In the Old Testament it is usually used regarding the poor, the humble and the afflicted. But that does not get completely to the heart of the meekness that Christ speaks of in the New Testament.

The Sermon on the Mount uses the word in Christ’s second example:Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.”[1] The word in the New Testament Greek is praus which expands the OT understanding to: that disposition of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and therefore without disputing or resisting it. It is not unlike the virtue of long-suffering which allows us to bear patiently with ills knowing that God’s will is being done. There is the hope and understanding that God is accomplishing something for the Good though we cannot see it or understand it at the moment. So we bear with it patiently.

When I was younger I used to think of meekness as being humble but somehow construed to mean apathetic as well. So when Christ says to the Apostles that they should “learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart,”[2] it always made the words of Christ seem a bit too contrived or a bit prideful (though He is God with every right to boast of His virtues). Maybe that was just me. But it did strike me as being a bit different from the usual statements I was used to hearing from Christ.

However, when I look back to the Book of Wisdom I find the following: “Let us see then if his words be true, and let us prove what shall happen to him, and we shall know what his end shall be. For if he be the true son of God, he will defend him, and will deliver him from the hands of his enemies. Let us examine him by outrages and tortures, that we may know his meekness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a most shameful death: for there shall be respect had unto him by his words.”[3]

Now that passage seems to foretell the meekness that our Lord was talking about. For He was going to His death on the cross without a whimper, without crying out for mercy or declaring His innocence for the crime He was sentenced. No, He went as meekly as a Lamb to the slaughter.[4]

Now this is not apathy. For if apathy were a virtue, this country in its present age would be a utopia overrun with saints. But meekness is not a virtue you find very much of in this country or in any developed country. It resides mostly in the Third World.

I wonder if we are too far along in our belief in Utilitarianism to ever find meekness as a positive virtue to be practiced. Perhaps, as we continue our slide into the ocean of oblivion which swallows our wealth, freedom and pride, leaving us with shackles and chains of debt to eat the scraps that our lords throw us, we can once again find that God will respect His promise and return the land to the meek.


[1] Matthew 5:4

[2] Matthew 11:29

[3] Wisdom 2:17-20

[4] Isaiah 53:7 He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth: he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth.

A Letter to My Friend’s Uncle Who Warned Him Against the Dangers of the Catholic Church

MY REPLY TO THIS AVID ANTI-CATHOLIC

 of St. Michael and the

Satan is a liar and it is he who, quite often, might confuse our thoughts. Thus my initial decision, to give you no answer, may have been tainted by his urging: for he despises Truth and wants desperately that we not spread it. But Christian charity or love moved by Grace, should not allow me or anyone else to keep the Truth hidden, though it seems probable that you have no intention of listening to it: for you opened your correspondence with the words, “no matter what you send me it will still be of the devil,” which seemingly closes all avenues of approach. But I cannot rely on my assessment of your state of mind or heart. I must instead rely on the Grace of God to move your heart and your mind. Should I fail God in my poor explanations and my inept use of the Grace already bestowed on this unworthy vessel, it is certain that He shall not fail us. He is always the one who moves our hearts and minds to Him and also to His eternal Truth. Indeed, each and every conversion is effected solely by God’s Grace, though it may be facilitated by simple things and by simple people as well. For God can use any of us as instruments in order to accomplish His Divine Will: including me, I suppose.

Let me start by saying that deplorable satanic cults abound in this modern world and have certainly grown in number and strength these past 50 years. I have always found it fascinating that these cults have a particular hatred for the Catholic Church. This I witnessed and recognized even as a Protestant. I am sure that you have heard of their practice known as the Black Mass. This diabolic ceremony is described as a ‘travesty of the Roman Catholic Mass’ that must be performed with a Consecrated Host (bread that has been changed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ during a Catholic Mass). In order that they might obtain this Manifestation of our Lord and desecrate Him, the satanic cult members will risk both life and limb to break into a Catholic Church, force open the tabernacle, and steal this Most Precious Sacrament of the Church. Now whether or not you believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not the point of this story. It is merely to show that if Satan were indeed in-league with the Catholic Church, he would surely not attack Her or Her beliefs. “. . . if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself: how then shall his kingdom stand?” _ Matthew 12:26.

Again, I am sure that you recognize that there is no other Church on the face of the planet that concerns Herself more with the release of souls from the clutches of Satan. By this I mean that only the Catholic Church has ancient rites for the exorcism of demons that are practiced to this day. The Catholic Exorcist is a priest that has been chosen for reasons of his personal holiness, maturity of faith, and deep prayer life. Each diocese (every Bishop) is to have at least one on staff. Further to this idea, the vows that each Christian soul takes during the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation require that the person state that he or she “renounces Satan and all his lies.” The point, once again, is not to have you approve of our practice or belief at this time, but instead to open your eyes to a possible inconsistency in your allegation: i.e. that “the Catholic Church is of the Devil.” Once again I would cite Matthew 12:26 in this regard.

            A little further down we see in Matthew 12:30:  “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth.”  Logic dictates that the same would hold true of Satan. I would propose to your intellect that it is highly unlikely that Satan is opposing and desecrating the Catholic Church if She is indeed aChurch ofSatan. Of what benefit is it for Satan to scatter his own flock?

Matthew 12:33  “Either make the tree good and its fruit good: or make the tree evil, and its fruit evil. For by the fruit the tree is known.” Matthew 12:37  “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Christ, it seems, has given us, in the Gospel of Matthew, a two-fold way to discern whether the person or institution is good or evil: by their fruits and by their words. Is the fruit of the Catholic Faith evil? Is the caring for the poor, the homeless, the widows and orphans, the imprisoned etc. evil? Is the Catholic Church’s proclamation of Christ’s Gospel evil? What are the words of the Catholic Church? They are the words of the Holy Scriptures, which She Herself preserved and canonized into the Sacred Depository known as The Holy Bible. They are also the words of the apostles as given us through constant oral teaching. Might She therefore be, as the Scripture above says, justified? Hopefully, you might at least entertain the possibility that the Catholic Church is, at the very least, another Christian denomination, though you might eye Her with uncertainty regarding Her practices.

Now it is apparent that you have problems with much of what you have seen, or heard of the Catholic Church. To you, our Protestant brothers and sisters in faith, who have been separated for these 450 years, little remains of our traditions and beliefs that we once shared. Isolated, as it were, from the Church these past 4½ centuries, many rumors and myths have grown up about our beliefs. Most have no validity whatever, while others are merely taken out of the context in which we practice them. By interpreting as best I can your actual concerns regarding the Catholic Church, I will now try to answer these in the most forthright manner I can, though I am but a novice in this regard.

Catholics claim to have received an oral tradition from the apostles of Christ and I gather that you find this somehow offensive. I would propose that you too, have an oral tradition, though of a much shorter duration, leading back to the Protestant Reformation and your religious leaders. By your insistence on the use of the King James Bible (circa 1600’s) you have limited your resources and your understanding of Scripture by a ‘traditional’ bias that you have inherited from your own denomination. Traditions are the most used ‘authorities’ for what each of us holds as truth. Our family tradition allows us to believe in our heritage. Our national tradition allows us to embrace concepts of freedom and liberty, and develop patriotism and nationalism etc. So it is not that you do not have a religious tradition, the same as we do, it is rather that you do not accept ours.

We do not believe our tradition blindly, as some might believe, but we have Biblical, historical, archaeological, theological, and logical ‘proofs’ for its legitimacy. You have limited our explanation of these to only one realm, which certainly limits a full explanation of the subject. It is much like limiting the knowledge of your family heritage to a great aunt and to no one else. You have further made the task more difficult by limiting our proofs from Holy Scripture to that of the King James Version, which might be likened to listening to your great aunt only between the hours of 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM on a Sunday. It is an undisputed fact that the King James Version omits, or at least relegates to the status of apocryphal, a number of books from the Holy Canon of Scripture that the Catholic Church gave to the world in and about the year A.D. 400. It is also a fact that this version relies on the Jamnian or Palestinian Canon of Old Testament Scripture rather than the Septuagint (circa 100~200 B.C.), which history verifies was used by our Lord Himself and read by Him in the Synagogue – for the Jamnian Canon of Old Testament Scripture dates from shortly after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (circa A.D. 70) and therefore at least 35 years after Christ’s atoning death. There have also been many new rewrites of the King James Version that have seemingly tried to rid the text of some of its more obvious errors, such as the copying of Martin Luther’s “saved by faith alone” sentence, which all modern Protestant scholars admit as erroneous. I do not know which version you use, so I will quote my own Douay-Rheims Bible and you can look up the differences in your own version of the King James. Most often we will have similar translations, as the language of the Douay is also Victorian. At times (though you have said you will believe nothing except what is in your King James Bible) I will include passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). This is because, regardless of your bias, nothing can best characterize someone’s beliefs like their own words. So if Christ has said that by our words we will be justified or condemned (see above), it is only proper and fair to let the Church speak for Herself. I also want to reserve the right to quote the early fathers of the Church who have left historical written records of their faith. For if I cannot present any evidence in defense, this would be much like convicting a defendant without letting the defending attorney call any witnesses.

To begin, I would like to take you to two definitive statements in the New Testament. If the Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), as this scripture says, and if the early Christians were urged to hold on to the “traditions, which you have learned, whether by word (oral tradition) or by our epistle (written tradition)” (2 Thessalonians 2:14), why will you not accept that there is to this day a Church that claims to fully reveal the Truths of the Christian faith and adhere to both an oral and written tradition? Didn’t Christ assure His early Church that He would not leave them “orphans” (John 14:18) and that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)? Therefore, the Church that Christ started should still be with us and should still be ruled by the traditions of both the words (living memories) and epistles (written records) that She received from Christ’s apostles.

I would also propose that the Church that Christ founded would likely be one that:

  1. Has members who at times cause scandal (Matthew 18:7)
  2. Is hated by the world and all men (Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:9,10; John 17:14)
  3. Recognizes the sins of all men including her own members and hierarchy (1 John 1:10)
  4. Offers an unbloody sacrifice, of bread and wine, to God “from the rising of the sun even unto its going down” (in other words, everywhere and at every time) as Malachi predicted in Malachi 1:11 and as Christ commanded at the Last Supper (Synoptic Gospels) and as practiced by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:29
  5. Has priests as seen repeatedly in the New Testament writings: Acts 14:22; Acts 15:2; Acts 22:30; 1Tim. 5:17,19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14
  6. Exercises the gift given the apostles to forgive sins in the name of Christ (John 20:23) and the gift given specifically to Christ’s Church leader (Peter) in Matthew 16:18
  7. Has adopted Mary as our own mother as was commanded of John by our Lord at the end of Christ’s earthly life (John 19:27), thereby making it mandatory to honor her via the 4th Commandment (5th for you)

There are others, as well, but this list should suffice for now. I am sure you agree that this seems to fit the Catholic Church quite well even if you do not accept all of the points above. Though many cannot abide by Her teachings, bringing scandal after scandal, She refuses to change Her teachings in order to get along in the world. For example, did you know that all Protestant churches forbade contraception before Margaret Sanger (Planned Parenthood’s founder and a promoter of eugenics) waged her successful battle against the family? Not until the 1930’s did any Protestant church succumb to this practice, with the Anglican Church being the first to yield. Others soon followed until the entire Protestant world accepted the practice. The Catholic Church now stands alone against the world in its defiant stand against the deliberate separation of the marital act from procreation. If “of the devil” wouldn’t we want to destroy the institution of marriage and encourage recreational sex? For this reason, the United Nations has tried repeatedly to exclude the Vatican from meetings where world population control was on the table, etc. Since Church teaching is supposed to be “revealed truth,” Christ’s Church might respond precisely as the Catholic Church has on many of today’s issues, stating in words to the effect that: “we do not have the authority to make this change.” I have heard no other Church in the world make this argument. If our Church were a worldly Church, subject to the desires of the people, She would certainly have ditched such unpopular practices as our teaching on contraception, our teaching on the Holy Eucharist, or our teaching on Sacramental Confession, to name but a few. No human being on the face of the planet would come up with these disciplines of their own accord – they had to be inspired by Divine Revelation. Therefore, Catholics are derided for obeying unpopular teachings, which we believe to be obligations of the faith as given us by Christ through His Church. We cannot be ruled by popular human opinion nor will we be able to completely vanquish the hatred that the world bears us as Christ foresaw (Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:9,10; John 17:14). I am moved to recall the reaction of the disciples that left Jesus after He told them that they had to eat His body and drink His blood. “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” (John 6:61) and then we were told that they “walked no more with Him” (John 6:67). That is a very human reaction to the teachings of the Church, which makes it quite improbable to convince those who have not, as yet, been moved by the grace of faith, which makes even the impossible possible.

History seems to supply ample evidence of the constancy in our teachings including: The Holy Eucharist, Confession of Sins, and the practice of giving great honor to Mary and the Saints. I would like to start with our teaching on the Eucharist.

John 6 opens with an account of Christ having fed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. It seems that this miracle might be regarded as a significant sign of what Catholics believe in regards to Holy Communion, when viewed as a prefiguring of Christ’s institution of this Sacrament. In Greek the word for fish became an acronym for Jesus and stood for “Jesus, Son of God, Savior”, and thus was used by early Christians as a sign for their belief in Christianity. Having said this, we have Christ feeding the multitudes with bread (an element of the Eucharist) and fish (symbolic of Himself) at one and the same time – and everyone was filled. There were fragments enough from this miracle to fill 12 baskets, perhaps to indicate that Christ could feed all “the chosen people” (the 12 tribes of Israel) from this 1 meal.

Further in John 6 starting at verse 51 through 59 we read: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever.”

Is it possible that Christ’s words were only symbolic? I would at least entertain such a possibility if it were not for the prefigured feeding of the 5000 and the information given us at the end of this chapter. For Christ, Who came to give His life for our Salvation, allowed those to walk away who could not bear this “hard saying”. He did not call them back to explain the symbolism as he had often done when His parables were misunderstood. Instead, He asked the 12 apostles if they too would leave: an indication that we must have faith in His words even if we do not quite understand how it is possible to eat His Body or drink His Blood – even if it must remain a mystery. Christ, of course, sheds much light on this mystery during His Seder meal (the Pasch) on the night before He died (the Last Supper).

Christ’s words at the Last Supper were direct and unambiguous in all the Gospel narratives: “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood.” He did not say this is a symbol or representation of My Body and Blood but that it IS MY BODY AND MY BLOOD. Does this bother you just a little bit as it did me when I was Protestant? Even if you have an interpretation, which justifies your not believing these words of our Lord, you must admit that it is neither a wild gesture on the part of the early Church nor on the part of today’s Catholics to take Christ literally on this point. Should we be vilified for it?

I would like to digress for a bit in order that you might understand that Catholic’s are not an un-Biblical people; though Protestant’s often portray us as such. It seems to me that one of the big problems between us is how we read and study the Bible, not whether we have read or studied the Bible. By this I mean that there are some huge differences between the Old Testament writings and the New Testament writings that beg to be solved in 2 different ways.

One way might be to see the Old Testament purely as a history of the “old Law” which is overturned by the “new Law” which is realized in Christ. This is fine if we can fully determine what is meant by “the Law:” otherwise we risk discarding much of God’s revelation, which provides light for a proper understanding of the New Testament. Some interpretations tend to portray the God of the Old Testament as a different God from that of the New Testament. He was the God of wrath while the New Testament God was a God of love (a depiction that is understandable considering all the ‘smiting’ that went on in the Old). For some then, the Old Testament revelation and covenants are looked upon as antiquated, as is the Old Testament view of God.

Though none would argue that much has been overturned, there is another way to view the whole of scripture. That is that the Old Testament teachings prefigure the New Testament teachings – Christ fulfilling all within the New Testament. Now it is my contention that God does not make mistakes. I cannot look upon our Omnipotent, All-knowing God as one who tried something and then failed at it – so He decided to take another shot at our salvation. I see it all as a whole and as a single plan for salvation. All of scripture seems to be training mankind for his ultimate end by continually revealing Himself to us. For the end of man, which should be every man’s desire and happiness, would also seem to be God Himself. Therefore, Catholics are more prone to approach the Bible as a process or development of themes that are important to God’s revelation. It becomes then a book of salvation history with man learning his ABC’s long before he understands the necessity of them. It is primarily through the New Testament that man learns of the relevance of the Old Testament, making it necessary to our proper understanding of the revelation given by Christ. In this way we might see much of the old Law transformed or transmuted into the new.

Now why did I digress to speak of these things? It is only to show that an understanding of all corresponding Old Testament pre-figurations is germane to any explanation of a Catholic understanding of things.

Therefore, in my explanation of the Catholic understanding of Holy Communion, started above, I would like you to at least examine some of the Old Testament pre-figurations (types, or models if you will), as additional support for our beliefs. In regards to our understanding of the Eucharist you might want to re-read the institution of the Pasch immediately preceding the Exodus fromEgypt. The lamb was sacrificed and then was to be eaten by all, without a bone being broken. Now doesn’t the Catholic Eucharist fulfill what was started back in Egypt? We take the Lamb of God and eat what was once a Bloody Sacrifice in the Old Testament but fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament in a Spiritual Pasch, where not a bone is broken – a re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice. Now the Jewish Sacrifice was taken away once theTemple was destroyed inJerusalemin A.D. 70 and therefore a lamb can no longer be offered by the Jews for their sacrifice as instituted in the Old Law. To this day, the Jewish people celebrate their Pasch with a shank bone placed on their plate, to symbolize the lamb, once sacrificed, which cannot now be truly offered. But a true sacrifice continues to this day in the Catholic Church alone, the once for all sacrifice of Christ, though it is offered perpetually in order that each Christian should have the opportunity to accept its application to their own soul. Protestants also believe that we have to do something: even if it is no more than saying in your heart that you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. But Catholics do not dismiss the fact that God uses material things to impart spiritual good. For example, Baptism confers God’s Grace through water. God is the maker of both the spiritual and the material universe and men are creatures comprised of a marriage between the spiritual (soul, intellect, reason) and the material (our corporeal bodies). We cannot separate our souls from our bodies and God works with us according to the nature that He gave us. He uses the physical to impart spiritual gifts and has done so from the beginning: the Old Testament and the New Testament are full of the history of this. Therefore it is not a new idea, concocted by Catholics, that we get God’s Saving Grace from the Baptismal element of water, that we get God’s Forgiving Grace through a priest, a mere human being, or that we might receive Christ Himself in the form of Bread and Wine. Such is the way a merciful God deals with the human being. For as a concoction of spirit and matter, human beings need to utilize their corporeal senses to see, feel, hear, taste, and smell. And God does not deny us the things that we need. He has given us something within our material reality by which we can lay claim on the spiritual.

What would you make of the Old Testament story of Melchisedech especially the Genesis 14:18 verse? Here we see a man, a priest, who prefigures Christ in offering bread and wine as a Sacrifice and distributing God’s blessing to Abram. It was an act by a mere human being in the name of God. This sacrificial offering and blessing is apparently a very old method God utilized in order to bless His earthly creatures. And although Christ is the High Priest that was prefigured by Melchisedech, our priests today only represent this Eternal High Priest in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. Yes, it is Christ Himself who is the High Priest, is the Lamb of God Offering, and is the Blessing conferred. It is a mere human priest who represents Christ. The priest, having received the power of the bishop in a long line of apostolic succession, only does as Christ instructed the apostles that last night.  For He commanded them to “Do this in remembrance of Me”: an act that is not just a simple acting out, like a school play. It is a re-presenting of the very same mystery that Christ enacted that evening when He gave Himself to the apostles in the form of Bread and Wine. I do not blame anyone for being skeptical about such an event, for it is purely a Divine Mystery that we accept by faith. That we view this in the same way as early Christians is pretty easily proved.

St. Paul warns the early community that they “eateth and drinketh  judgment” to themselves  if they do not “discern the Body of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:29). The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (circa A.D. 80) says the following in Chapter 14: :1And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.  2And let no man, having his dispute with his fellow, join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled; 3for this sacrifice it is that was spoken of by the Lord; In every place and at every time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great king, saith the Lord, and My name is wonderful among the nations.”

Note the connection to confessing one’s sins and the fact that “to break bread” was seen as a sacrifice to be offered to God. The “Lord’s own day” is Sunday, the first day of the week, the first day of the New Creation in Christ. It seems only fitting that the earliest Christians moved the Sabbath to Christ’s own day of Creation. In fact John tells us in the Book of Revelation (1:10) that he was “in the spirit” on the Lord’s Day. This was most probably a great favor given John by our Lord during or after “the Breaking of the Bread:” for it is not uncommon for great saints to experience spiritual ecstasy during the Mass. Our beliefs are not unbiblical nor do they go unsupported in early Christian writing. I could cite writer after writer from the first 4 centuries of the Church with the same belief if this would help. My hope is not that you accept all that we believe on this subject but to at least give us the benefit of a doubt when it comes to these beliefs, which we have held from the beginning. You might also recognize that we have 2000 years of history supporting these beliefs.

Now let us turn our attention to the Sacrament of Confession. I have already explained that Catholics do not think that priests forgive sins on their own authority but rather on the authority of Jesus Christ and by the command given to His apostles (John 20:23).

Is there further Scripture that may lend support to this practice? 1 John 1:9   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity.  I am sure that you agree with the idea of confession of sins as related in the above passage. The only difference between us is that we believe that Christ wants us to make our Confession to God in a formal way through one of His ambassadors, a priest, who has received the same “blessing” given to the apostles by Christ, and passed on throughout our Church history by the imposition of hands. It is interesting to note that God had the Jews present themselves to the priests in the “old law” in a similar way. In the Old Testament, lepers were looked upon as sinners, and they were to present themselves to the priests in order to be cleansed. Again, did God make a mistake, or did God prefigure the Sacrament of Confession that Catholic’s practice today. It is also necessary at this time to remind you of how God passes blessings on from man to man through the imposition of hands – a prefiguring of the ordination rite for bishops and priests within the Catholic hierarchy. I will only refer to one such event because I think it profound enough to suffice for my proof.

Please read Genesis Chapter 27 concerning how Jacob “stole” the blessing of Isaac from Esau. Once the blessing was gone (through the imposition of hands) it could not be taken back. God’s blessing surely fell on Jacob and even God would not undo the blessing for He is always true to His promises. Again, God was giving Divine Grace through His own sinful human creatures. Not that the blessing actually came from Esau, but, of course, came from God. We say the same about our Sacrament of Confession and our Rite for the Ordination of priests and bishops. It does not come from the power of the individual but from God alone, and because God always remains faithful to His promises.

In James 5:16 we read:  Confess therefore your sins one to another . . .      Now who are the ones to hear these confessions? Is it just anyone in the community, everyone in the community, or should we take our sins to the authorities of the Church? For in Ecclesiasticus 4:31 (also known as the Book of Sirach) the Old Law even suggests prudence in choosing those to whom we might confess and submit our sins:  Be not ashamed to confess thy sins, but submit not thyself to every man for sin. We happen to think that it is prudent to confess our sins to a priest who has been ordained in a long succession of ordination that stretches back to the apostles: to one who has received God’s ancient blessing and thereby given the same power that God gave the apostles to forgive sin.

So in ending this part, I would at least ask you to admit that Catholics are not unbiblical in their claims – whether you believe our teachings or not. I only want to show that our contention is not only Biblical but logical as well.

My final point has also been covered, in part, in the above writing: i.e. why Catholic’s pay great honor to Mary and the saints. First, let’s be perfectly clear on some of these points: Catholics only worship God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mary, because she is the mother of Jesus and thereby, the Mother of God, receives great love and honor. She is not the mother of His Divine Nature, which He possessed from eternity, and we do not claim this. However, we do claim what Scripture tells us of her: i.e. that Mary is the mother of our Savior’s human nature, having received this nature from her. We quite understandably give her great devotion and the honor that is befitting a human creature that was picked (from among all people and from all time) by God to be His very Mother. Catholics did not elevate her status: God did this by His election of her.

Christ, who chose Mary from eternity, was prepared, by God, for her task and was therefore, born without sin – an immaculate mother for our God. Though you may not believe that God would or could preserve Mary from the stain of sin from her conception even to her death, there is good theological reason for believing this. For one thing the angel greeted Mary as “full of grace.” Now “full” does not leave room for any extra. She cannot be at once “full” and yet stand in need of “more” grace. We also see from Scripture that nothing unholy can remain in contact with God. Moses had to hide his face from God. Hell itself separated the defiled from God’s presence while sin caused Adam and Eve to hide from God in the Garden – ending their life in Paradise.

Many stories in the Old Testament show us the Holiness that God demands as a prerequisite for God’s dwelling among men. Think for a minute about the Ark of the Covenant: For the defiled to even touch or look upon the Ark was punished by instant death. Likewise, Catholic’s believe that Mary, (as the New Ark who carried the New Law and the Word of God Himself within her womb), was also made holy. Yes, she was saved by Christ, as we all were. But she received a special favor in having His atoning death applied to her at the moment of her conception, instead of lying in wait for it as we did. This is a step above God’s special arrangement for the saints of the Old Testament who slept – in Sheol. God kept them somewhere, knowing that Christ’s Saving Grace could be applied to them in the future. Otherwise, they would have all been in hell, not having Sanctifying Grace in their soul at the time of their death.  So Christ’s Saving Death was applied to people who died throughout the ages and can be applied to all who ever will live. But for Mary – it was applied at the moment of Her conception so that she would be the perfect vessel for the 2nd person of God.

And just like the Ark of the Covenant that contained the word of God (10 Commandments), Mary contained the real WORD OF GOD. Just like the Ark of the Covenant contained a jar of the Manna (from Heaven), Mary contained the real BREAD FROM HEAVEN. Just as the Ark of the Covenant contained the Rod of Aaron that had bloomed (a symbol of his high priesthood), Mary contained the ETERNAL HIGH PRIEST. Early Christians saw the Ark of the Covenant as a Symbol for the Old Testament Church and Mary as a Symbol for the New Testament Church and as a fulfillment of the former. Therefore, I look for a Church that preaches THE WORD OF GOD (the Bible), feeds its people with THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN, and ministers to the people with a valid priesthood in the name of our ETERNAL HIGH PRIEST.

It follows that a continual sacrifice needs to be offered, since a priest is ordained to offer sacrifice for the people. Otherwise, there is neither a need for any priests on earth nor for an Eternal High Priest in Heaven. If it was done once in time and has no need to be repeated or re-applied, then why should Christ retain His title as Eternal High Priest?

Christ came as our brother and by extension this makes Mary our mother as well. Catholics therefore obey the Commandment to love, honor and obey our mother and our father not only in regards to our corporeal relatives but in regards to our spiritual parents as well. Will Mary ask you to do anything that will not be in the best interest of your soul or somehow compromise your obedience to Christ? Is she harmful to our souls? If God entrusted Himself to her care, I feel confident in entrusting myself to her care as well. The Mary I know from Scripture will have nothing to do with evil and will only lead me to her son, Jesus, my Lord and my God. Mary has said little in Scripture but the following 2 lines best characterize her: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” as spoken at the annunciation and “Do what he tells you to do.” which she told the servants at the wedding feast in Cana. I think Mary would like us all to make these words our own. I, for one, would like to obey her wishes.

Our honoring saints is not completely unlike our honoring of Mary, though Mary led a life that was supernaturally grace-filled from the start and never lost any of this grace by personal sin. Our saints are quite different in this regard. Many were great sinners (think of Moses and David who were guilty of murder and various other sins). However, in every case the saint overcame his sinful inclinations and found God’s grace that delivered them from the clutches of hell. These men and women have become the heroes and heroines of Christianity. They far more qualify themselves for reverent praise than do our civil and military heroes and heroines to whom we erect plaques and fashion statues to grace our parks and government buildings. These are true heroes and heroines that were weak, as we are weak, and yet overcame that weakness by the grace of God and by their cooperation with this grace. That makes them models of holiness for each of us and for our children. In an age when there are precious few role models for our children, thank goodness that we still have heroic saints to read about and to pray for us.

God is not a selfish God. Yes, He is a jealous God, because He loves us and desires the best for us. He is jealous of our following after false Gods. But He is also desirous of our praise for those whom He has given the ultimate praise: raising them up to His Heavenly home to live with Him. If God praises these saints and His Mother, does He get angry if we praise these men and women for their victories as well? I think not. As stated above, God is not selfish He is instead supremely giving; having given us His only begotten Son. Does God want us to forget His Son’s best pupils? Are we not to congratulate and admire them? Should we not try to learn from them and emulate them? If mere men are flattered when their students are praised or when their work of art is appreciated, would God be any less flattered? The praise that is given to a student or a work of art reflects on the teacher or the artist and praises them as well. Therefore the praises we give to the saints, gives further praise to God as well as thanksgiving for the grace He has bestowed.

Catholics do not think that saints are merely twiddling their thumbs in Heaven. We believe that God uses them to dispense His Grace. Not that God has need of them, but that God is a loving God and knows that they will find great happiness in participating in His Divine Plan. God had no need for angels yet He made them His messengers and servers.  He has no need for us, yet He wants us to share eternal life with Him and desires our eternal happiness. So it is a Catholic’s belief that God allows our participation in His Divine Plan for our true happiness due to His great love for us.

Since our Real Life starts in Heaven – and it is not just bread and circuses – we believe that our saints and God’s angels are active in our earthly life. They dispense God’s grace and they intercede with God for our needs. The participation of angels in God’s plan and in our salvation is obvious in scripture and yet most Protestants will not admit that God might possibly allow us to serve Him in a like manner. Yet, God seemed to think that man merited a Savior and the fallen angels did not. It seems to me that Mary and the saints may have roles in heaven that are at least equal to the roles that angels have played.

Most Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, would have no objection to praying for another, nor would they shy away from asking another to pray for them. This is intercession with God, the same thing we ask of saints. Yet, simply because a saint has begun his or her Real Life in heaven, these same Christians seem to think it somehow unfitting for Catholics to ask for their prayers simply because they have departed this earthly plane. This is not the conjuring of spirits from the nether world as forbidden in Deuteronomy. This is simply intercession of our brothers and sisters in Christ. They who are incorporated permanently into the mystical body of Christ are more capable of praying properly than we are. Their prayers, being in full accord with the Divine Will, might then be more efficacious than our own. Is it possible also that God may even entrust the dispensation of His Grace to those who ask for their help? Again, angels dispensed God’s blessings to men here on earth. Can Mary and our saints also dispense God’s blessings? Catholics reply with an unequivocal yes to this question. The Church has been utilizing these saints from the beginning and has an historical record of its effectiveness: miracles of every sort and kind over these past 2000 years. Thanks be to God for all His blessings and also for the love he has shown to His angels and His saints. A lesser god would never entrust such goodness to his creatures. Our God is neither diminished by His angels nor by His saints. Our God shows us the extent of His love and of His Greatness.

I hope that this helps in your understanding of some of the things that Catholics believe or practice. If you have further questions, please present them a few at a time in order that we might deal with them in an orderly fashion. Thank you for the opportunity given me to attempt this defense of the Catholic faith. For I believe it is through such efforts that God strengthens us in our faith though we may not be very adept in his service. May God bless you in this life and also in the next.

SIDE NOTE: I am happy to note that today marks my 20th year as a confirmed Catholic. It marks the most pivotal moment in my life and I cannot express the joy that this homecoming meant to me. It is my real birthday – the day I was joined to Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church for eternity.