Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth
(A brief introduction to the Catholic Church)
Revised Second Edition
Copyright © 1996 by Catholic Answers. All Rights reserved
Whether or not you are Catholic, you may have questions about the
Catholic faith. You may have heard challenges to the Catholic Churchs claim to be the
interpreter and safeguard of the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Such challenges come from door-to-door missionaries who ask, "Are you saved?", from peer pressure that urges you to
ignore the Churchs teachings, from a
secular culture that whispers "There is no God."
You cant deal with these challenges unless you understand the basics of the
Catholic faith. This booklet introduces them to you.
In Catholicism you will find answers to lifes most
troubling questions: Why am I here? Who made me? What must I believe? How must I act? All these can be answered to your
satisfaction, if only you will open yourself to Gods grace, turn to the
Church He established, and follow His plan for you (John 7:17).
An Unbroken History
Jesus said His Church would be "the light of the world."
He then noted that "a city set on a hill cannot be hid" (Matthew 5:14). This means His Church is a
visible organization. It must have characteristics that clearly identify
it and that distinguish it from
Jesus promised, "I will build My
Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). This means
that His Church will never be
destroyed and will never
fall away from Him.
His Church will
survive until His return.
Among the Christian churches, only the
Catholic Church has existed since the time of
Jesus. Every other Christian church is an offshoot of the
Catholic Church. The Eastern
Orthodox churches broke away from unity with the
1054. The Protestant churches
were established during the Reformation, which began in
1517. (Most of todays
Protestant churches are actually offshoots of the original
Only the Catholic Church existed in the
tenth century, in the
fifth century, and in the
first century, faithfully teaching the
doctrines given by
Christ to the apostles, omitting
nothing. The line of popes can be traced back, in unbroken succession, to Peter
This is unequaled by any institution in history.
Even the oldest government is new compared to the papacy, and the churches that send
out door-to-door missionaries are young compared to the
Catholic Church. Many of these
churches began as recently as the nineteenth or
twentieth centuries. Some even began
during your own lifetime. None of them can claim to be the
Church Jesus established.
The Catholic Church has existed for nearly
2,000 years, despite constant
from the world. This is testimony to the Churchs divine origin.
It must be more than
a merely human organization, especially considering that
its human members even
some of its leaders have been
Any merely human organization with such members would have collapsed early on. The
Catholic Church is today the most vigorous church in the world (and the largest, with a
one sixth of the human race), and that is testimony
not to the cleverness
of the Churchs leaders, but to the
protection of the
of the True
If we wish to locate the Church founded by
Jesus, we need to locate the one that has
the four chief marks or qualities of
His Church. The
Church we seek must be
catholic, and apostolic.
The Church Is One
[Romans 12:5, 1Corinthians 10:17,
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)
Jesus established only
not a collection of
differing churches (Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, and so on). The
Bible says the Church is
the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:2332).
Jesus can have but
and His spouse is the
His Church also teaches just
one set of
doctrines, which must
be the same as those taught by the
apostles (Jude 3). This is the
unity of belief to which
Scripture calls us (Philippians 1:27, 2:2).
Although some Catholics
dissent from officially-taught
doctrines, the Churchs
official teachers the pope and the bishops united with
him have never
changed any doctrine. Over the
centuries, as doctrines are examined more fully, the
comes to understand them more deeply (John 16:1213), but
understands them to mean the opposite of what
they once meant.
The Church Is Holy
(Ephesians 5:2527, Revelation
19:78, CCC 823829)
Christ's Church -
Source of grace and
living water through
By His grace Jesus makes the
Church holy, just as
He is holy.
This doesnt mean that each member is always holy.
Jesus said there would be both
members in the Church (John 6:70), and
not all the members would go to
But the Church itself is
it is the source of
is the guardian of the special means of grace Jesus
The Church Is Catholic
(Matthew 28:1920, Revelation
5:910, CCC 830856)
Jesus Church is called catholic ("universal"
in Greek) because it is
His gift to all people.
He told His apostles to go throughout the
world and make disciples of "all nations"
For 2,000 years the
Catholic Church has carried out this mission, preaching the
news that Christ
died for all
men and that He wants all of us to be
universal family (Galatians 3:28).
Nowadays the Catholic Church is found in every country of the world and is still
sending out missionaries to "make disciples of all nations"
The Church Jesus established was known by
its most common title, "the
Catholic Church," at least as early as the
year 107, when Ignatius of
Antioch used that title to describe the one
Church Jesus founded. The title apparently was
old in Ignatiuss time, which means it probably went all the way back to the time of
The Church Is Apostolic
(Ephesians 2:1920, CCC
The Church Jesus founded is
He appointed the
apostles to be the first leaders of the Church, and their successors were to be
leaders. The apostles were the first
bishops, and, since the
first century, there has been
an unbroken line of Catholic bishops faithfully handing on what the
apostles taught the
first Christians in
Scripture and oral
Tradition (2Timothy 2:2).
These beliefs include the bodily Resurrection of
Jesus, the Real Presence
of Jesus in
the Eucharist, the sacrificial nature of the
Mass, the forgiveness of
sins through a
priest, baptismal regeneration, the existence of
purgatory, Marys special role, and
much more even the doctrine of apostolic succession itself.
Early Christian writings prove the first
Christians were thoroughly
Catholic in belief
and practice and looked to the successors of the apostles as their leaders. What these
first Christians believed is
still believed by the Catholic
Church. No other Church can make that claim.
Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth
Mans ingenuity cannot account for this. The
Church has remained
catholic, and apostolic
not through mans effort,
but because God preserves the
Church He established
(Matthew 16:18, 28:20).
He guided the
Israelites on their escape from Egypt by giving them a pillar
of fire to
light their way across the dark wilderness (Exodus 13:21). Today
He guides us through
The Bible, sacred Tradition, and the writings of the earliest Christians testify that
the Church teaches with
Jesus authority. In this age of countless competing
religions, each clamoring for attention, one voice rises above the din: the
Church, which the Bible calls "the pillar and foundation of
truth" (1Timothy 3:15).
Jesus assured the apostles and their successors, the
popes and the bishops, "He who listens to you listens to Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me"
(Luke 10:16). Jesus promised to guide
His Church into all
truth (John 16:1213). We
can have confidence that His Church teaches only the
of the Church
Jesus chose the apostles to be the earthly leaders of the
Church. He gave them
authority to teach and to govern not as dictators, but as
loving pastors and
fathers. That is why Catholics call their spiritual leaders "father."
In doing so we follow Pauls example: "I became your
father in Jesus Christ through the gospel" (1Corinthians 4:15).
The apostles, fulfilling Jesus will, ordained
bishops, priests, and deacons and
thus handed on their apostolic ministry to them the fullest degree of ordination to
the bishops, lesser degrees to the priests and deacons.
The Pope and Bishops
Jesus gave Peter special authority among the
apostles (John 21:1517) and
signified this by changing his name from Simon to
Peter, which means "rock" (John 1:42).
He said Peter was
to be the
rock on which
He would build
His Church (Matthew 16:18).
Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke,
Simons new name was
(which means a massive rock). Later this name was translated into Greek as
Petros (John 1:42) and into
Christ gave Peter
alone the "keys of the kingdom"
(Matthew 16:19) and promised that Peters decisions would be
binding in heaven.
also gave similar power to the other apostles (Matthew 18:18), but only
Peter was given
the keys, symbols of his authority to rule the
Church on earth in
Christ, the Good Shepherd, called
Peter to be the chief shepherd of His Church (John
21:1517). He gave Peter the task of strengthening the other
apostles in their
ensuring that they taught only what was true (Luke 22:3132).
Peter led the Church in
proclaiming the gospel and making decisions (Acts 2:1-41, 15:7-12).
Early Christian writings tell us that Peters successors, the
bishops of Rome (who
from the earliest times have been called by the affectionate title of "pope," which means "papa"), continued to exercise
Peters ministry in the Church.
The pope is the successor to Peter as bishop of Rome. The worlds other
are successors to the apostles in general.
As from the first,
God speaks to His Church through the
through sacred Tradition. To make sure we understand
Him, He guides the
Churchs teaching authority the
it always interprets the Bible and
This is the
gift of infallibility.
Like the three legs on a stool, the
and the Magisterium are all necessary for the
stability of the
to guarantee sound doctrine.
Sacred Tradition should not be confused with mere traditions of
which are more commonly called customs or
disciplines. Jesus sometimes
or disciplines, but only if they were
contrary to Gods commands (Mark 7:8).
condemned sacred Tradition, and
He didnt even
condemn all human
Sacred Tradition and the
Bible are not different or
competing revelations. They are two ways that the
Church hands on the
teachings such as the Trinity, infant
baptism, the inerrancy of the
Bible, purgatory, and
Marys perpetual virginity have been most clearly taught through
although they are also implicitly present in (and not contrary to) the
The Bible itself tells us to hold fast to
whether it comes to us in
written or oral form (2Thessalonians 2:15,
Sacred Tradition should not be confused with
customs and disciplines,
such as the rosary, priestly celibacy, and not eating meat on Fridays in
Lent. These are
good and helpful things, but they are not
doctrines. Sacred Tradition
preserves doctrines first taught by
Jesus to the apostles and later passed down to us
through the apostles successors, the bishops.
Scripture, by which we mean the
Old and New Testaments, was inspired
by God (2Timothy 3:16). The Holy Spirit
guided the biblical authors to write what He wanted them to write. Since
God is the
principal author of the
Bible, and since
God is truth itself
and cannot teach anything untrue, the Bible is free from all
everything it asserts to be
Some Christians claim, "The Bible is all I need,"
but this notion is not taught in the Bible itself. In fact, the
teaches the contrary idea (2Peter 1:20-21, 3:15-16). The "Bible
alone" theory was not believed by anyone in the early
It is new, having arisen only in the
1500s during the Protestant Reformation. The
theory is a "tradition of men" that
nullifies the Word
of God, distorts the true role of the
undermines the authority of the
Church Jesus established (Mark 7:18).
Although popular with many "Bible Christian" churches, the "Bible alone" theory simply does not work in practice.
Historical experience disproves it. Each year we see additional
Today there are tens of thousands of competing denominations, each insisting its
interpretation of the Bible is the correct one. The resulting divisions have caused untold
confusion among millions of sincere but misled
Just open up the Yellow Pages of your telephone book and see how many different
denominations are listed, each claiming to go by the "Bible
alone," but no two of them agreeing on exactly what the
We know this for sure: The Holy Spirit
be the author of this confusion (1Corinthians 14:33).
God cannot lead people to
contradictory beliefs because His truth is
The conclusion? The "Bible alone" theory
must be false.
(CCC 8587, 888892)
Together the pope and the bishops form the teaching authority of the
Church, which is
called the Magisterium (from the Latin for "teacher"). The
guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit,
gives us certainty in matters of doctrine. The
Church is the custodian of the
faithfully and accurately proclaims
its message, a task which
God has empowered
it to do.
Keep in mind that the Church came before the
the New Testament before the
members of the
Church wrote the
books of the New Testament, just as
divinely-inspired writers had written the
Testament, and the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit
to guard and interpret the entire Bible, both
Old and New Testaments.
Such an official interpreter is absolutely necessary if we are to understand the
properly. (We all know what the Constitution says, but we still need a
Court to interpret what it means.)
The Magisterium is
it teaches officially because Jesus
promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide
the apostles and their successors "into all truth"
How God Distributes His Gifts
He would not leave us orphans (John 14:18) but would send the
Holy Spirit to
protect us (John 15:26).
He gave the sacraments to
strengthen us. The
(also called Reconciliation or
Matrimony, and the
Anointing of the
Sick are not just symbols. They are
signs that actually convey
Gods grace and
The sacraments were
foreshadowed in the
Old Testament by things that did not actually
convey grace but merely
symbolized it (Circumcision,
for example, prefigured
Baptism, and the
the Eucharist). When
Christ came, He did not do away with
symbols of Gods grace.
He made them more than symbols.
constantly uses material things to show
and power. After all,
matter is not
He created the physical universe,
everything God created was "very good"
(Genesis 1:31). He takes such delight in matter that
He even dignified it through
Incarnation (John 1:14).
During His earthly ministry
and strengthened people through humble elements such as
water, bread, oil, and wine.
He could have performed His miracles
directly, but He
preferred to use material things to bestow His grace.
first public miracle
Jesus turned water into wine, at the request of
Mary (John 2:111).
healed a blind man by rubbing mud on his eyes (John 9:17).
He multiplied a few
loaves and fish into a meal for thousands (John 6:513).
He changed bread and wine
into His own Body and
Blood (Matthew 26:26 28). Through the
sacraments He continues
Because of original sin, we are born
without grace in our
so there is no way for us to have fellowship with
God. Jesus became
man to bring us into
union with His Father.
He said no one can enter the
Kingdom of God unless he is first born
of "water and the Spirit" (John 3:5)
this refers to Baptism.
Through Baptism we are born again, but this time on a
instead of a physical level. We are washed in the bath of rebirth (Titus 3:5). We are
into Christs death and therefore share in
His Resurrection (Romans 6:3-7).
cleanses us of sins
and brings the Holy Spirit and
His grace into our
(Acts 2:38, 22:16). And the apostle Peter is perhaps the most blunt of all: "Baptism now saves you" (1Peter 3:21).
Baptism is the
gateway into the Church.
Sometimes on our journey toward the heavenly promised land we
God is always ready to lift us up and to restore us to
grace-filled fellowship with
He does this through the
Penance (which is also known as
Jesus gave His apostles
power and authority to reconcile us to the
received Jesus own power
when He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy
Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained"
Paul notes that "all this is from God,
Who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation . . . .
So, we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us"
(2Corinthians 5:1820). Through
Confession to a priest,
Gods minister, we have
our sins forgiven, and we receive
grace to help us
Once we become members of Christs family,
He does not let us go hungry, but feeds
us with His own Body and
Blood through the Eucharist. In the
Testament, as they prepared for their journey in the wilderness,
to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on their doorposts, so the
Angel of Death would
pass by their homes. Then they ate the lamb to seal their covenant with
He is the real "Lamb of God,"
Who takes away the
sins of the world (John 1:29. Through
enter into a New Covenant with
God (Luke 22:20),
Who protects us from
Gods Old Testament people ate the Passover lamb. Now we must eat the
Lamb that is the
Jesus said, "Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood you
have no life within you" (John 6:53).
At the Last Supper He took bread and
wine and said, "Take
and eat. This is My body . . . This is My blood which will be shed for you"
(Mark 14:22-24). In this way Jesus instituted the
sacrament of the
the sacrificial meal
Catholics consume at each Mass.
The Catholic Church teaches that the
Christ on the
Cross occurred "once for all";
it cannot be repeated (Hebrews 9:28).
Christ does not "die
again" during Mass, but the very same
that occurred on Calvary is
made present on
the altar. Thats why the
Mass is not "another"
sacrifice, but a
participation in the same,
once-for-all sacrifice of
Christ on the Cross.
Paul reminds us that the bread and the wine really become, by a
Gods grace, the
actual Body and
Blood of Jesus: "Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the Body of the Lord
eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1Corinthians 11:27-29).
After the consecration of the bread and
wine, no bread or wine remains on the
Only Jesus Himself, under the
appearance of bread and wine, remains.
God strengthens our
souls in another way,
through the sacrament of confirmation. Even though
received grace before
His Resurrection, on
Holy Spirit came to strengthen
them with new graces for the
They went out and preached the gospel fearlessly and carried out the mission
given them. Later, they laid hands on others to strengthen them as well (Acts 8:14-17).
Through Confirmation you too are
strengthened to meet the
spiritual challenges in your life.
Most people are called to the married life. Through the
God gives special
to help married couples with lifes difficulties, especially to help them raise their
children as loving followers of Christ.
three parties: the bride, the
and God. When
two Christians receive the
sacrament of matrimony,
with them, witnessing and
blessing their marriage covenant. A
sacramental marriage is
permanent; only death can break
it (Mark 10:1-12, Romans 7:2-3,
This holy union is a living symbol of the unbreakable relationship between
Christ and His
Church (Ephesians 5:21-33).
Others are called to share specially in Christs priesthood. In the
even though Israel was a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6), the
Lord called certain men to
a special priestly ministry (Exodus 19:22). In the New Covenant, even though
Christians are a kingdom of priests (1Peter 2:9), Jesus calls certain men to a special priestly
ministry (Romans 15:15-16).
This sacrament is called
it, priests are
and thus empowered to serve the Church (2Timothy 1:6-7) as
pastors, teachers, and
spiritual fathers who heal,
feed, and strengthen Gods
people most importantly
through preaching and the administration of the sacraments.
Anointing of the Sick
Priests care for us when we are physically ill. They do this through the
known as the Anointing of the
Bible instructs us, "Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray . . . . Is any one among
you sick? He should summon the presbyters [priests] of the Church, and they should pray
over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will
save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he
will be forgiven" (James 5:13-15). Anointing of the
not only helps us endure illness, but
it cleanses our
and helps us prepare to meet God.
Talking with God and His Saints
One of the most important activities for a Catholic is
it there can be no true spiritual life. Through
personal prayer and the
prayer of the Church, especially the
Mass, we worship and
praise God, we express
sorrow for our sins, and we intercede on
behalf of others (1Timothy 2:1-4). Through prayer we grow in our relationship with
and with members of Gods family (CCC 2663-2696).
This family includes all members of the Church, whether on
or in purgatory. Since
Jesus has only one
Body, and since
death has no power to separate us from
(Romans 8:3-8), Christians who are in heaven or who, before entering
are being purified in purgatory by Gods love (1Corinthians
3:12-15) are still part of the
Body of Christ (CCC 962).
Jesus said the
second greatest commandment is to "love
your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Those in
love us more intensely than they ever could have
loved us while on earth.
They pray for us constantly (Revelation 5:8), and their
are powerful (James 5:16, CCC 956, 2683, 2692).
Our prayers to the
saints in heaven, asking for
prayers for us, and their intercession with the
Father do not undermine
Christs role as
sole Mediator (1Timothy 2:5). In
saints in heaven to
pray for us we follow
Pauls instructions: "I urge that supplications,
prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone," for
"this is good and pleasing to God our Savior"
All members of the Body of Christ are called to help one another
through prayer (CCC 2647).
Marys prayers are
especially effective on our behalf because of her relationship with
her Son (John 2:1-11).
God gave Mary a special role (CCC
490-511, 963-975). He
saved her from all
sin (Luke 1:28, 47), made
her uniquely blessed
among all women (Luke 1:42), and made her a
model for all
Christians (Luke 1:48). At the
end of her life He took
her, body and
soul, into heaven an
image of our own
resurrection at the end of the world (Revelation 12:1-2).
What is the Purpose of Life?
Old catechisms asked, "Why did God make you?"
The answer: "God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to
serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next."
Here, in just 26 words, is the whole reason for our existence.
Jesus answered the question
even more briefly: "I came so that [you] might have life
and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
Gods plan for you is simple. Your
loving Father wants to give you all
especially eternal life.
Jesus died on the
Cross to save us all from
sin and the
eternal separation from
sin causes (CCC 599-623). When
He saves us, He
makes us part of His Body, which is the
Church (1Corinthians 12:27-30).
We thus become united with
Him and with Christians everywhere
(on earth, in
What You Must Do to Be Saved
Best of all, the promise of eternal life is a
gift, freely offered to us by
1727). Our initial forgiveness and
justification are not things we "earn" (CCC 2010).
Jesus is the
Who bridged the gap of sin that separates us
from God (1Timothy 2:5);
He bridged it by dying
for us. He has chosen to make us partners in the
The Catholic Church teaches what the
apostles taught and what the Bible teaches: We are
saved by grace alone, but
faith alone (which is what "Bible
Christians" teach; see James 2:24).
When we come to God and are
justified (that is, enter a right
relationship with God), nothing preceding
faith or good works,
earns grace. But then
God plants His
love in our hearts, and we should live out our
faith by doing acts of
love (Galations 6:2).
Even though only Gods grace enables
us to love others, these
acts of love please
Him, and He promises to
with eternal life (Romans 2:6-7, Galations 6:6-10). Thus
good works are meritorious. When
we first come to God in
faith, we have nothing in our hands to offer
Him. Then He gives us
obey His commandments in
He rewards us with
salvation when we
offer these acts of love back to
2:6-11, Galations 6:6-10, Matthew 25:34-40).
Jesus said it is not enough to have faith
in Him; we also must
obey His commandments. "Why do you call Me Lord, Lord, but do not do the things I
command?" (Luke 6:46, Matthew 7:21-23, 19:16-21).
We do not "earn" our
through good works (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 9:16), but our
Christ puts us in a special
relationship with God so that our
combined with our faith, will be rewarded
with eternal life (Romans 2:7,
Paul said, "God is the one Who, for His good purpose,
works in you both to desire and to work" (Philippians 2:13).
explained that "the way we may be sure that we know Him is
to keep His commandments. Whoever says, I know Him, but does not keep His
commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in Him" (1John 2:3-4,
Since no gift can be forced on the recipient gifts always can be rejected
even after we become justified, we can throw away the
gift of salvation.
We throw it away through
sin (John 15:5-6, Romans 11:22-23,
15:1-2; CCC 1854-1863). Paul tells us, "The wages of sin is
death" (Romans 6:23).
Read his letters and see how often Paul warned Christians against
He would not have felt compelled to do so if their
could not exclude them from heaven (see, for example,
6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21).
Paul reminded the Christians in Rome that
repay everyone according to his works: eternal life for those who seek glory, honor, and
immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly
disobey the truth and obey wickedness" (Romans 2:6-8).
Sins are nothing but
evil works (CCC 1849-1850). We can avoid
sins by habitually performing
good works. Every
saint has known that the best way to keep free from
is to embrace regular prayer, the
sacraments (the Eucharist
first of all), and charitable acts.
Are You Guaranteed Heaven?
promote an especially attractive idea: All
true Christians, regardless of how they live, have an absolute assurance of
they accept Jesus into their
hearts as "their personal Lord
and Savior." The problem is that this belief is
to the Bible and constant
Keep in mind what Paul told the Christians of his day: "If
we have died with Him [in
Baptism; see Romans 6:3-4] we shall also live with Him; if we persevere we shall also reign with
Him" (2Timothy 2:11-12).
If we do not persevere, we shall
reign with Him. In other words, Christians can
heaven (CCC 1861.
The Bible makes it clear that Christians have a moral assurance of
salvation [God will
be true to His Word and will grant
salvation to those who have
faith in Christ and are
obedient to Him
(1John 3:19-24)], but the
Bible does not teach
that Christians have a guarantee of
heaven. There can be
no absolute assurance of salvation. Writing to
Christians, Paul said, "See, then, the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who
fell, but Gods kindness to you, provided you remain in His kindness, otherwise you
too will be cut off" (Romans 11:22-23; Matthew 18:21-35,
15:1-2, 2Peter 2:20-21).
Note that Paul includes an important condition: "provided
you remain in His kindness." He is saying that Christians can
salvation by throwing
it away. He warns, "Whoever thinks he
is standing secure should take care not to fall" (1Corinthians
If you are Catholic and someone asks you if you have been "saved,"
you should say, "I am redeemed by the blood of Christ, I
trust in Him alone for my salvation, and, as the Bible teaches, I am working out my
salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12),
knowing that it is Gods gift of grace that is working in me."
The Wave of the Future
All the alternatives to Catholicism are showing themselves to be inadequate: the
worn-out secularism that is everywhere around us and that no one any longer finds
satisfying, the odd cults and
movements that offer temporary community but no permanent
home, even the other, incomplete brands of Christianity. As our tired world becomes ever
more desperate, people are turning to the one alternative they never really had
considered: the Catholic Church. They are coming upon
truth in the last place they
expected to find it.
How can this be? Why are so many people seriously looking at the
Catholic Church for
the first time? Something is pulling them toward
it. That something is
This much we know: They are not considering the claims of the
Church out of a desire to
win public favor. Catholicism, at least nowadays, is never popular. You cannot win a
popularity contest by being a faithful Catholic. Our
fallen world rewards the clever, not
the good. If a Catholic is praised, it is for the worldly skills he demonstrates,
his Christian virtues.
Although people try to avoid the hard doctrinal and
moral truths the
offers them (because hard truths demand that lives be changed), they nevertheless are
attracted to the Church. When they listen to the
pope and the bishops in union with him,
they hear words with the ring of truth even if they find that
truth hard to live
When they contemplate the history of the Catholic Church and the lives of
they realize there must be something special, maybe something
about an institution that can produce holy people such as
Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas
Aquinas, and Mother Teresa.
When they step off a busy street and into the aisles of an apparently empty
Catholic Church, they sense not a complete emptiness, but a
presence. They sense that
inside, waiting to comfort them.
They realize that the persistent opposition that
confronts the Catholic Church
whether from non-believers or "Bible Christians" or even from people who insist
on calling themselves Catholics is a sign of the
Churchs divine origin (John
15:18-21). And they come to suspect that the Catholic Church, of all things, is the
of the future.
Incomplete Christianity Is Not Enough
Over the last few decades many
Catholics have left the
Church, many dropping out of
religion entirely, many joining other churches. But the traffic has not been in only one
The traffic toward Rome has increased rapidly. Today we are seeing more than a
and fifty thousand converts enter the Catholic Church each year in the
United States, and
in some other places, like the continent of Africa, there are more than a
to the Catholic faith each year. People of no religion, lapsed or inactive Catholics, and
members of other Christian churches are "coming home to
They are attracted to the Church for a variety of reasons, but the chief reason they
convert is the chief reason you should be Catholic: The
solid truth of the
Our separated brethren hold much Christian truth, but not all
of it. We might compare their religion to a stained glass window in which some of the
original panes were lost and have been replaced by opaque glass: Something that was
present at the beginning is now gone, and something that does not fit has been inserted to
fill up the empty space. The unity of the original window has been marred.
When, centuries ago, they split away from the
Catholic Church, the theological
ancestors of these Christians eliminated some authentic beliefs and added new ones of
their own making. The forms of Christianity they established are really
Only the Catholic Church was founded by
Jesus, and only
it has been able to preserve
all Christian truth without any
error and great numbers of people are coming to see
as a Catholic
Your tasks as a Catholic, no matter what your age, are
Know your Catholic faith. You
cannot live your faith if you do not know
it, and you cannot share with others what you do
not first make your own (CCC 429). Learning your
Catholic faith takes some effort, but it
is effort well spent because the study is, quite literally,
Live your Catholic faith. Your
Catholic faith is a public thing. It is not meant to be left behind when you leave home
(CCC 2472). But be forewarned: Being a public Catholic involves
risk and loss. You will
find some doors closed to you. You will lose some friends. You will be considered an
outsider. But, as a consolation, remember
Our Lords Words to the
persecuted: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven"
Spread your Catholic faith.
Christ wants us to bring the whole world into captivity to the
truth, and the truth is
Jesus Himself, Who is "the way, and the truth, and the life"
(John 14:6). Spreading the faith is a task not only for
bishops, priests, and religious
it is a task for all Catholics (CCC 905).
Just before His Ascension,
Our Lord told
His apostles, "Go,
therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded
you" (Matthew 28:19-20).
If we want to observe all that Jesus commanded, if we want to believe all
He taught, we
must follow Him through
His Church. This is our great challenge and our great