Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Becoming Catholic Part 3

[continued from Part 2]

6. In the end, the major objection to Catholicism, during the Reformation and now, seems to be, "If the Catholic Church were the 'one true Church,' why have Catholics, even Catholic Bishops and Popes, done so many terrible things?" Of course this objection is an understandable emotional reaction. How could such terrible things as the Spanish Inquisition, the sacking of Constantinople, the burning of heretics, the vengeance of Queen Mary, and today's child abuse scandal happen in Christ's Church?

If I might answer this with a question, "If Christianity were the 'one true religion' why have Christians done so many terrible things?" What about things Protestants have done: slavery, witch trials, John Calvin's police state, King Henry XIII (let's not even start on him), crooked televangelists?

We could even ask, "Why do we remain Americans, after the terrible things America has done?"

When it's your group being addressed, the answer should become obvious: Our group should be understood more by its teachings and its ideals than by the failure of its members, or even its leaders, to live up to those teachings and ideals. Sometimes people sin blatantly. Sometimes people weigh their options, trying to do what's best, and they make the wrong choice. Sometimes it's a lack of information rather than a lack of good will.

What do we do when our religious leaders fail? Do we decide for ourselves to replace them with a completely different authority structure? Throughout the Old Testament the Jews were always falling into disobedience, but God did not choose a new people. The Jews carried forth the lineage to Christ. The Jews carried forth their priesthood. The Jews carried forth the scriptures. They always remained God's people despite their many failures. Even in the lives of specific Jewish leaders: Abraham, David, Solomon, and others all sinned, but most of them retained their authority, and even for those who lost their authority, their office remained, and was passed on to another.

And what is Christ's answer? The Bible tells us, "Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 'The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach (Matt 23:1-3).'"

He then goes on to harshly criticize the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, but despite the sinfulness of the leaders, he still affirms their authority (while also saying it is subject to God's supreme authority).

Later, the Apostles themselves were clearly given authority by Christ, some authority before his death, and more after his resurrection. They had many failings, but their authority remained. The betrayal by Judas did not strip the others of their authority. Peter's denial of Christ was forgiven, and he went on to receive special revelations from the Holy Spirit.

It seems clear from the Biblical evidence, that sinfulness and hypocrisy do not automatically strip a leader of their authority, or prove that the leader was not chosen by God. The Bible shows clearly that even God's chosen people can fail.

I suppose that should give you some idea of the major underlying reasons why I would begin to believe the claims of the Catholic Church. Sadly, it doesn't even begin to touch on the beauty, wisdom, and unity of Catholic teachings, the beauty of the Sacraments, and the wonder and awe of being connected more deeply with so many people who have gone before us and so many people around the world today. I feel that my writing is not really capable of doing justice to these things.

I really do love this Church, but I think there is a lot of work to be done in it (there always will be). Not work to change the teachings, but work to spread the Church's teachings (especially to the many Catholics who have been poorly taught), and to help the faithful to live according to those teachings. My only regret in joining the Church is that I have left some of my family behind. This seems to happen in most conversion stories. My greatest desire is to have my family (and everyone else, for that matter) join me in this Church. I believe anyone who makes themselves open to the possibility will love the Catholic Church once they begin to truly understand her teachings.

Nathan Cushman

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