Are You Really Catholic?

Engaging in conversation about faith and morals with non-Catholics can be difficult or intimidating at times; but I sometimes find it to be easier than speaking about these matters with other Catholics.  One of the most frustrating things for me as a Catholic is when I am discussing faith with people who identify as practicing Catholics yet say, believe, and practice things that go blatantly against Church teaching.

Correcting someone like this can be awkward.  I don’t want to make her feel as though I’m a know-it-all who is trying to sound superior because “I know more about Church teaching than you do.” But the thing is, Catholicism is not a buffet from which you can pick and choose the bits that you like and ignore the rest.  When you choose to be a Catholic, you are saying that you agree with everything the Church teaches.

The Catholic Church is the original Church.  The first Church, founded by Jesus Christ.  Many denominations have broken away from Catholicism and formed their own beliefs, but the Catholic Church is the only body that can claim to be the original Church that Christ founded.  The apostles, whom Jesus appointed as leaders of the Church on earth, and to whom He gave authority to teach on matters of faith and morals—”He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16)—were the predecessors of the Pope and the bishops that make up the Magisterium of the Catholic Church today.

The reason we have the Magisterium, the reason why Ecumenical Councils gather, is to make clear answers on matters of faith.  The Magisterium is given teaching authority by God and is guided in all teaching on faith and morals by the Holy Spirit.  These decisions are not taken lightly.  They are not one person’s opinion or interpretation.  The Magisterium has infallibility given by God; it cannot err on matters of faith and morals.  The answers decided upon by the Magisterium are dogmas of the Faith that are held to be absolute Truth.  If a person disagrees with a particular dogma, he is disagreeing with something that is fundamentally a part of the Catholic Church.  You cannot separate certain Church teachings from others and say, “I agree with these ones over here, but not those other ones.” Each dogma is a piece of glass in the mosaic that makes up Catholicism.  To remove one (or many) takes away from the whole picture.

Believing in some teachings of the Catholic Church but not others is the reason we as Christians are so divided today. Martin Luther believed some of the teachings of the Catholic Church, and wanted much of the liturgy to remain the same, but other teachings, and even books of the Bible, he rejected.  He felt that he knew better, so he split off and formed his own church, thus beginning the Protestant Reformation.  This is what we all may as well be doing if we agree with most things that the Church teaches, but disagree with others.  Anyone with a Bible and an opinion can decide to start their own “church,” but which church really holds the truth? The Magisterium is in place to ensure that it is the Catholic Church which teaches the absolute Truth.

Everyone struggles in his faith at some time or another in his life.  We are all sinners.  We are all limited in our understanding and our ability to know.  Of course, a Catholic may wrestle with certain teachings, and have to work hard to come to an understanding of why the Church teaches what she does.  He may even reach a point where he needs to say, “this is something I cannot comprehend, but must accept.” After all, we are all limited, and there are some things about God that we may not be able to understand until we reach Heaven.  But in the end, if you do not accept everything that the Catholic Church teaches as Truth, then you’re not really Catholic.

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