I pulled a great prank on my parishioners today at Mass. Several people told me it needs to be on my blog, so here it is!
Years ago, I remember reading an article someone had written in the local newspaper to the effect that she was Catholic and her sister had become a Jehovah’s Witness. She mentioned how she struggled with her sister’s decision until she eventually reached the conclusion, “To each his own!” She said that being a Catholic worked for her, and if being a Jehovah’s Witness worked for her sister, then that’s great! Her ultimate conclusion was that everyone should find whatever religion he likes and stick with it, as they’re all fine. I disagree.
Religion is not a country club. Religion is our response to the revelation of God. We worship God according to the truth we believe he reveals about himself. Virtually every society on the face of the earth has come to believe in the existence of God. Many people have shown how belief in God can be deduced logically, and many of these arguments are quite compelling. But while we can logically deduce his existence, there is wide disagreement on what he is like. Ancient civilizations believed in many gods, and most of these were angry gods that needed to be appeased with sacrifices, incense, throwing virgins into volcanoes, even child sacrifice! If we came across such religions today, I don’t think any of us would merely say, “To each his own!” No, we’d be horrified! In time we’ve come to realize that certain religions are not true and have rejected them. But there are many others still widely practiced across the globe whose adherents will die for their belief that this is the truth. The beliefs of different religions sometimes contradict each other, thus they cannot both be true. For example, Hinduism believes in several gods, while Judaism, Christianity, and Islam believe in only one. Logic tells us that Judaism’s claim that God has said, “I am God, and there is no other” prohibits the possibility that we could reconcile Hinduism with Judaism. At most only one of them is revealing the truth about God, but not both.
So why be Catholic? I can best respond to that question by relating my own process of reasoning which led me to believe that the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church.
When I was in the 7th grade, I was automatically launched on the program of preparation in my Catholic grammar school which would get me ready for the Sacrament of Confirmation. I was told about the “big decision” I was making to choose Christ and his Catholic Church. Being the person I was, I could never consent to anything without asking myself if I agreed with it. I therefore launched myself on an exhaustive soul-searching enterprise to see if this is in fact what I believed.
Since we are talking about religion and not science, I knew I had to start somewhere with a leap of faith. I certainly believed in the existence of God. I took the leap of faith to believe in the God of Israel. To me that made sense. With that as a foundation, I asked myself, “Okay, Judaism or Christianity?” I discovered that the crux in the whole question here was the person of Jesus. Israel had been longing for a messiah, and Jesus ultimately claimed to be that messiah. If he was truly the messiah, then Christianity was true; if he was a false prophet, I would be duty bound to become Jewish. It seemed obvious to me that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the key issue: did he or didn’t he rise? If he did, I felt he had proven himself to be truly what he said he was. If he did not rise, he was a fake. So could anyone prove he had risen from the dead?
It seemed strange to me at first that the accounts of the resurrection claimed that Jesus only appeared to his followers and not to Pontius Pilate, the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, or King Herod. But then I realized that these unschooled men went out and boldly proclaimed to the very people they had previously been afraid of that they had seen Jesus risen on numerous occasions. They couldn’t have all been mistaken or have hallucinated. No, they firmly believed they’d seen Jesus risen, and they went to foreign countries preaching his name and died horrible deaths defending it. I couldn’t conceive of eleven of the twelve apostles willingly dying for something they knew they’d made up or if they couldn’t be sure they hadn’t hallucinated. No, they were crucified, boiled alive, sawed in half and skinned alive convinced they’d seen Jesus risen. That to me was proof! They wouldn’t have suffered so terribly for something they knew was a lie! So I realized I beleived in Christ. That also valdiated my leap of faith in the God of Israel. If Jesus rose from the dead, and he was the fulfillment of the promise to Israel, then the God who made the promise was real!
Okay, so I was a Christian, but how about Catholic? Many verses of scripture convinced me that Jesus gave the apostles his authority and sent them as his witnesses, and that we had to remain one with them and the tradition they handed down. That tradition is what Ignatius of Antioch first called “The Catholic Church” around the year 107 AD. I knew that, since Jesus had given his authority to them, only he could take it away. Even though there were periods in history when everything wasn’t rosy, when some of the popes and priests were not giving the greatest of example, even sinning terribly, that still didn’t take away the authority that Jesus gave them.
I thought of it this way: suppose a President of the United States committed a serious crime and had to be removed from office, maybe even sent to prison for his crime. He was an embarrassment to his Office, no doubt. But what do we do now? We get a new president! No one would say that the Constitution of the United States was rendered null and void by the sins of the president. Similarly, even if some popes had sinned and were a disgrace, that still did not remove the authority Jesus gave to St. Peter. In order for the Catholic Church to lose her authority to speak in Jesus’ name, Jesus himself would have to return to earth and formally remove it and give it to another. He never did that with Martin Luther, John Calvin, Henry VIII, Zwingli, or any other reformer, and none of them ever claimed he did! I therefore concluded that the Catholic Church still possesses the authority to teach in the name of Christ and not any of the other denominations of Christianity, that those who separated from the Catholic Church were not in full Communion with Christ, and I was therefore duty-bound to embrace the Catholic faith. On October 16, 1976 at 11 AM, I did so at my Confirmation and have not looked back since.