Ten good reasons for becoming Catholic
- Jesus has founded one Church* (not a collection of denominations), and it is His will that all would be part of His one Church.
- Jesus founded a visible Church* with visible leaders, not an invisible body with no real authority.
- Through apostolic succession and apostolic tradition*, the Church hands down the authentic teachings of Christ and his apostles.
- Jesus gave to His Church a charism of infallibility* which gives us certainty in important matters of faith and morals and enables us to know with confidence what to believe and how to live.
- In the Catholic Church alone can be found the fullness of the means of salvation* and all of the means to grow in holiness and in virtue*.
- The Church's Sacred Liturgy* inserts us into the Paschal Mystery and joins us with the heavenly worship of the angels and saints.
- The Church mediates to us Christ's sacraments*: the channels of God's grace, God's life and God's love poured out into us.
- In the Church you can receive the Eucharist*, the Body and Blood of the Lord and the source and summit of the Christian life.
- In the Catholic Church you become fully united with our earthly and heavenly family: the communion of saints*.
- Jesus has given us His mother Miriam* (Mary) as mother of the Church and as our own mother who loves us and watches over us.
1. Jesus founded One Church*, not a collection of denominations
We know from the Gospel of John how serious was Jesus' desire that his followers be united. He prayed that all believers "may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me" (Jn 17:20-21). When we read the New Testament, we see that Jesus founded only one Church, united under the leadership of Peter and the apostles. He never established a loose collection of denominations as they exist today, each one differing and disagreeing with the other on important doctrines and moral issues. The Eastern Orthodox Churches broke away from unity with the pope in 1054. The protestant denominations further damaged the unity of Christianity when they began to break away from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, and they continue to fragment themselves to our own day. Even the newer "non-denominational" churches, although they avoid labeling themselves under a particular denominational name, really are another form of evangelical denomination. And the Messianic Jewish movement, while pursuing the noble goal of rediscovering the Jewish roots of Christianity, is plagued by the same lack of unity as the Protestant communities.
The one, universal Church which Jesus has founded and which has preserved its unity now for 2,000 years, all while spreading to all times and places, is the Catholic Church.
By remaining outside of the Catholic Church you are therefore contributing, even if unconsciously and through no fault of your own, to the disunity of the body of Christ. By joining the Catholic Church you join the original Church that Jesus the Messiah founded, and you contribute to the unity of the Church for which He prayed!
2. Jesus founded a visible Church* with visible leaders
Why is there such a lack of unity among Protestant / Evangelical / Messianic communities? Because of the absence of legitimately ordained authority. Often it is said that the church is simply the invisible union of all believers, led by the Holy Spirit and whose head is Christ, but left without any ultimate human authority here on earth. This theory, however, is not biblical and does not work in practice. In fact, it has caused tremendous confusion and division in the Body of Christ.
When one looks at the Bible one finds a completely different picture: At the time of the Exodus, God's people were united under the leadership of Moses and seventy elders, who transmitted the Word of God to the people, interpreted it, and settled disputes (Exo 18:13-26, Num 11:16-25). This continued at the time of the Davidic Kingdom, when the nation was united under the king's authority, subject to the words of the Prophets.
The picture is similar in the New Testament: Jesus gave to His Church a real human leader in the person of Peter. Jesus said that Peter would be the rock on his He would build his Church. He gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mat 16:17-19), appointed him as chief shepherd of the Church (Jn 21:15-17), and commissioned him to strengthen the other apostles in their faith (Lk 22:31-32). In addition, Jesus also gave his own authority to the other apostles, telling them "he who hears you, hears me" (Lk 10:16) and empowering them to forgive sins (Jn 20:23). You can read in the book of Acts how Peter and the apostles led the Church in proclaiming the gospel and in making important decisions (Acts 2:1-41, 15:7-12).
By joining the Catholic Church you become a part of the Church modeled after God's people in the Bible and you place yourself under the authority which Jesus himself appointed.
3. Jesus established an apostolic succession and apostolic tradition* which hands down His authentic teachings and those of the apostles
But, you may ask, has this divinely appointed authority been preserved in the Church until our own day? Yes it has, through apostolic succession and apostolic tradition. After Judas died, Peter and the apostles immediately chose a successor to replace him (Acts 1:15-26). We also see in the New Testament the apostles ordaining presbyters (Acts 14:23, Tit 1:5), and handing down their own authority to their successors: "what you heard from me entrust to faithful teachers who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2). We also read of a triple structure of authority in the New Testament which includes bishops, presbyters (priests) and deacons (1 Tim 3:1,8, 5:17). From the earliest times, bishops have been considered to be the successors of the apostles, with the bishop of Rome being the successor of Peter, who died in Rome. And so the unity of the Church is safeguarded through the passing down of Christ's teachings by the apostolic succession of the bishop of Rome, the pope, in union with all the other bishops, the successors of the other apostles.
The first and most natural reaction to this claim is often: "why should I submit myself to the authority of these men? History has shown how people can abuse their authority and make errors of judgment!" It is true than whenever people exercise positions of authority there is a danger of abuse of authority. Yet we are never totally free of human authority in spiritual matters. The moment we attend a church, we begin to submit to the pastor's authority and teachings - which can also stray from truth and charity. And if we entirely reject authority and accountability, then we become our own authority, with our own fallibility, limitations and blind spots. In other words, we must chose the authority under which we submit: either it will be the authority that Christ himself appointed, under which he promised that "the Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth" (Jn 16:13) and against which "the gates of Hades will not prevail" (Mat 16:18), or it will be the fallible authority of someone else. Rejecting the authority of the pope means that every pastor, or even every individual becomes his own 'pope'. This is not a recipe for unity but for anarchy. Much better is to accept the authority which Christ has appointed and which faithfully guards Christ's teachings, as He has promised!
By joining the Catholic Church you get to tap into the authentic teachings of Jesus and the apostles as passed down through apostolic tradition!
4. The infallibility* of the Church gives us certainty in what to believe and in how to live
The best reason for submitting to the authority of the Catholic Church is because Jesus has endowed it with a special charism of infallibility which safeguards doctrinal unity and guarantees certainty in her teachings. If you have been a Protestant, Evangelical Christian or Messianic Jew for a while, you will probably have heard hundreds of different sermons and teachings interpreting the Bible in different ways that sometimes seriously contradict each other. Perhaps you count yourself among the many believers who feel more confused and less certain about your faith now than a few years ago because of all the different and contradictory teachings, theories, and interpretations of the Bible that you have heard.
Jesus never intended for it to be that way. Nowhere in the Bible do we see every believer consulting his/her Bible and deciding for himself/herself what to believe without appealing to a higher authority. Believers in the first four centuries of the Church did not even have a New Testament they could consult (the NT canon was only closed in 393-397 AD). Their ultimate authority in matters of faith and morals was the authority of the apostles and their successors. We have just seen how Jesus promised to the apostles that "the gates of Hades will not prevail" against the Church, and that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth and "will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (Jn 14:26). Indeed, the Church is called in the New Testament the "pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Tim 3:15).
Though our post-modern society exalts skepticism and uncertainty, it is impossible to build one's life without a solid foundation. Bible believers do have a foundation in Christ and in the Word of God, but this foundation is often undermined by all the conflicting interpretations of Scripture. By contrast, it is a wonderful thing to be certain about what to believe and how to live. The Holy Spirit has faithfully guided the Church for two thousand years so that we can know with confidence how the apostles and the first believers understood and interpreted the Scriptures. Read for yourself the Catechism of the Catholic Church (or its shorter Compendium) to gain clarity on what the Scriptures really say in light of the Church's tradition about important matters such as God's revelation, creation, the nature of man, the Trinity, the divinity of the Messiah, his expected second coming, the Holy Spirit, the nature of the Church, Mary the mother of Jesus, life after death, the effects of baptism, the Lord's Supper, how we are saved, and much more.
Equally as important is the question of how we are to live, or important moral issues. Though the Bible is clear on certain moral issues, on others it is not. Which commandments were preconditioned by time and culture, and which ones are absolute and unchanging? For example, the Bible forbids the shaving of the corners of one's beard, the printing of tattoos, and the eating of shrimps, and it commands women to cover their heads when praying; yet it has nothing to say against abortion, slavery, artificial insemination or human cloning. How are we to interpret the Ten Commandments today? Without authoritative tradition, believers remain at the whim of their pastor's interpretation of the Scriptures; or they must rely on their own private judgment, easily prone to error, and they will find it very difficult to clearly know what is right or wrong. The result can fluctuate between individualistic moral anarchy, where one falls into many sins out of ignorance, and slavish moral legalism, where one abstains from many good things through the fear that they may be sinful. Much better is to draw from the well of the Church's timeless wisdom, guided by the Holy Spirit, in order to really know what is right and wrong and thus find joyful freedom in living out a holy life.
Of course, the infallibility of the Church does not mean that its leaders will always lead an impeccable life. The pope, bishops and priests are sinners too, and they are not immune against moral failure, as this has often happened and, sadly, will happen again. Yet this is another testimony of God's faithfulness and greatness, that He infallibly guides in matters of faith and morals a Church made of fallible sinners like you and me.
By joining the Catholic Church you can know for sure what to believe and how to live regarding the most important matters of life!
5. The Church conveys to us the fullness of the means of salvation* and of the means to grow in holiness and in virtue*
If you believe in Christ and have been baptized, then you are already on the road to salvation. However, accepting Christ by faith as Lord and Savior is not enough to be saved, according to the Bible. Jesus himself said that "not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Mt 7:21), and that only "he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Mt 24:13). Paul, the great apostle, warned believers to remain in God's goodness, "otherwise you also will be cut off" (Rom 11:22). He exhorts us to "work out your salvation in fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12) and speaks of disciplining his own body and bringing it under subjection "lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor 9:27). Our works also play an important role towards our salvation, since "God will repay each one according to his works" (Rom 2:5-8, 2 Cor 5:10, 1 Pet 1:17, Rev 20:12-13).
We are saved entirely by God's grace, with no initial merit on our part (Eph 2:8). However, we must also work out our salvation in fear and trembling, and "must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). As a believer in Jesus, you already have many of the "tools" that help you to work out your salvation in cooperation with God's grace: through faith in Christ and baptism you have had your former sins washed away and received His forgiveness; by reading the Word of God you learn His will to some degree and follow His guidance; through prayer you receive God's help and strength; through praise He touches you with His joy; through works of charity you grow in his likeness and in His selflessness.
However, by remaining outside of the Church, you are missing out on many of the "tools" that Jesus has given us to advance our salvation and that of the world, and to help us grow in holiness. You are continuing on the road to salvation with only "partial equipment" to reach the goal, and thus this goal will be much more difficult to reach. We have already discussed the importance of authority: detached from the Church's authoritative tradition you are exposed to false teachings which may slow you down and even stop you on your way to salvation. You are missing out on the Eucharist, Christ's own body and blood and the most intimate union between the Bridegroom and His bride (see below). You are also deprived of most of the other sacraments which the Lord has given us and which convey to us his power and his grace in a very real way. You do not fully benefit of the protection and intercession of our mother Mary and of the full communion of the saints in heaven and on earth, since possibly you do not even believe in them - and much more!
By joining the Catholic Church you get to tap into the fullness of the blessings that the Lord has given us for our salvation and sanctification!
6. The Church's Sacred Liturgy* inserts us into the Paschal Mystery and joins us with the heavenly worship of the angels and saints
If you have been going to an Evangelical church or Messianic congregation for a while, you have no doubt gotten accustomed to loosely structured meetings, perhaps charismatic, with much emphasis on lively praise and worship, and extensive preaching from the Bible. Though there is nothing wrong with this format, it does bear the problem that it is heavily dependant upon the quality of the ministers. If the worship team is lousy and the preacher boring or irrelevant, there is hardly any point in showing up there. It may well be more beneficial to stay at home and pray alone or with a few friends. Many believers who have been exposed to evangelical/messianic worship for a while begin to feel a need for worship which is less centered upon man and more centered upon God, with less talking, less activities and programs, less novelty, less hype, but rather more depth, more reverence, more mystery and more awe before our Maker. In other words, they long for liturgy.
Often, when we pray to God in our own words we run out of things to say. This is quite normal, for everyone feels at times spiritually weak, tired, uninspired, or dry. In this case, you may have picked up a Bible and prayed the psalms out loud, and felt how the inspired words of Scripture, turned into your own prayer, lifted your soul and expressed things that you could not have come up with on your own. This is the power of the liturgy: the lofty words of prayer uttered by the inspired biblical authors or the spiritual masters and saints, drawn from the rich spiritual treasures of the Church, become your own words. These words unite your mind and heart with the great spiritual figures that preceded us and draw you into the Church's timeless liturgy, united with the heavenly liturgy which transcends time and space.
Liturgical prayer, of course, has been the traditional and historical way of common prayer in both Judaism and Christianity since the origins of the two faiths. While it is important to always nurture a personal, spontaneous dialogue with the Lord in one's private prayer life, the public prayer of God's people has always been primarily liturgical.
By joining the Catholic Church you become a part of the rich Sacred Tradition of the Church and an active participant in her Sacred Liturgy, the very heart of Christ's Paschal Mystery celebrated in union with all the angels and saints in heaven and on earth!
7. The Church mediates to us Christ's sacraments*: the channels of God's grace, God's life and God's love poured out into us
The greatest and most powerful gifts that the Lord has given us, and the most amazing testimony of His love are the seven sacraments which He instituted. Through the seven sacraments the Messiah endows us with His very life and love. One could say that they are like "channels" connecting heaven and earth by which God pours out His grace onto His children. They fill us with the Holy Spirit; they heal us, cleanse us, feed us, and strengthen us. Since they impart to us God's life, they are the most effective means by which we are made holy; they are also the most powerful weapons by which we wage spiritual warfare. The sacraments are not just symbols but signs that actually convey God's grace and love. The seven sacraments are:
- Baptism*: the new birth that washes away our sins (Tit 3:5), gives us the Holy Spirit, and baptizes us into Christ's death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-7).
- Confirmation*: the fullness of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which strengthens us and inserts us fully into the Church's mission (Acts 8:14-17).
- The Eucharist*: the greatest of sacraments where the Messiah feeds us with His own Body and Blood, soul and divinity (Mark 14:22-24, Jn 6:53).
- Reconciliation (Confession)*: the way to receive forgiveness for sins committed after baptism, entrusted by Jesus to the apostles (Jn 20:22-23).
- Anointing of the Sick*: grants us help to endure illness and sometimes heals us, cleanses our soul, and helps us to prepare to meet God (Js 5:14-15).
- Matrimony*: In marriage, husband and wife become a living sign of the faithful relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:21-33)
- Holy Orders*: Jesus called certain men to a special priestly ministry, in addition to our own role as 'kingdom of priests' (Rom 15:15-16).
Tragically, at the time of the Protestant reformation, large numbers of Christians lost five of these seven sacraments, and this sad situation remains to our own day. These sacraments were lost partly because the reformers lost faith in them, and partly because they rejected the priesthood (Holy Orders) upon which they are dependent, for the sacraments of confirmation, the Eucharist, reconciliation, and the anointing of the sick require a validly ordained priesthood (and apostolic succession) to be validly administered. Only the sacraments of baptism and matrimony remain among those believers who have not retained apostolic succession. Even worse, an increasing number of Messianic groups who baptize only in the name of Jesus rather than in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, do not even have a valid baptism. The Orthodox churches, by contrast, though they are not in union with the papacy, have retained valid apostolic succession and Holy Orders, and therefore still have seven valid sacraments.
By joining the Catholic Church you get to receive the fullness of Christ's power and love that he gives us through the seven sacraments!
8. In the Church you can receive the great gift of the Eucharist*: the Body and Blood of the Lord and the source and summit of the Christian life.
The Eucharist is called "the sacraments of sacraments" and is "the source and summit of the Christian life." It is such a great gift that it is a reason in itself - indeed perhaps the greatest reason - for joining the Catholic Church. At the Last Supper - a Passover Seder - Jesus said to his disciples after he blessed the bread and the wine: "Take and eat; this is my body... this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:26-28). He then commanded them: "Do this in memory of me" (Luke 22:19). At the first Passover, which initiated the Exodus out of Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts as protection against the angel of death. Then they ate the lamb as a sign of their covenant with God. At the Last Supper Jesus revealed himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, seals a new covenant with us and protects us from eternal death.
Now we also must eat the lamb - the body and blood of the new Paschal sacrifice which becomes present before us at every Mass. Jesus himself had previously said: "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life... For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink" (Jn 6:53-55). This was a shocking statement, and as a result many of his disciples left him (Jn 6:66). Sadly, this is similar to what happened at the Reformation, when many Christians decided they could no longer accept the words of the Savior. Since then, a large part of Christianity has tragically been deprived of the Eucharist, God's greatest gift to us, either because they don't have faith in the Real Presence or because they have no valid priesthood, necessary to consecrate the bread and wine so that they become the body and blood of the Lord. And so they remain with a communion service which, though it may remember the Lord's Passion in a beautiful way, merely consists of bread and wine rather than the Lord's true and substantial presence given to them. As a result, since non-Catholic believers do not accept the full teachings of the Catholic Church, they are not permitted to occasionally go to a Catholic church and receive the Eucharist. This is because the sacrament is a sign of full communion and full unity between believers (CCC 1400), and sharing the Eucharist together with those who do not fully accept the authority and teachings of the Church would falsely give the impression that there exists a full unity between us, while in reality we have not yet attained this full unity of faith. This is not a rejection of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ, but rather an invitation to them to learn more about the Catholic faith so that they too may come to full unity with the Church and partake of the Lamb’s banquet!
The loss of the Eucharist to so many believers is particularly sad because the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was uncontested for the first millennium of Christian history. Paul himself wrote that "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor 11:27). About 50 years later (107 AD), bishop Ignatius of Antioch wrote that "heretics abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ" (Letter to Smyrnaeans 6,2,2). Many other Church Fathers used equally strong language testifying of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
By joining the Catholic Church you get to partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb and eat at the Lord's Table at every Mass. You get to receive God's greatest gift, the Eucharist - the body and blood, soul and divinity of the Lord who loved you and gave himself for you. This is the most possible intimate union on earth between God and man, a kiss between heaven and earth which nothing else can replace. When you receive the Eucharist, you receive God's very life of love which supercharges you with His power and His grace. Is this really something that you want to do without?
9. In the Catholic Church you become fully united with our earthly and heavenly family: the communion of saints*.
God does not only save us as individuals. He saves us "in bunches" - as a family, a community, a people, a kingdom. Many believers have a rather individualistic view of salvation, seeing it as primarily "me and Jesus." They do ask others here on earth to pray for them, but deny that any help from the saints in heaven is possible or desirable. They see such mediation as a form of spiritism condemned in Deut 18, or a violation of 1 Tim 2:5 which states that there is "one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." Jesus is of course our one mediator before God, but this does not mean that we can't participate in this mediation. Every time you pray for someone, you are actually mediating for him/her before God. God in fact encourages this type of intercessory mediation (1 Tim 2:1), and we can see in the New Testament that it also continues after death, where the saints who have gone to be with the Lord continue to be with us and help us along the way towards our final goal. They are a "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) that surrounds us, the "spirits of just men made perfect" to whom we come in the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22-23). Even the rich man who suffers in Hades intercedes for his brothers still alive and asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house to warn them (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man plays here - in purgatory? - an intercessory role, and Abraham acts as mediator between him, God, and his brothers. In the book of Revelation we also see elders and angels bringing to God bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints on earth (Rev 5:8, 8:3), and the souls of martyrs supplicating God: "how long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Rev 6:9)
God is interested in the personal salvation of each one of us, but He is just as interested in the communion of love between us, a communion which cannot be broken by death (Rom 8:35-39). God's family includes all members of His Church, whether on earth, in heaven, or those still being purified in purgatory (1 Cor 3:12-15). The saints who have preceded us are our examples in holiness; there in heaven their love has become complete, and they are in an even better position to help us with their prayers than when they were on earth. They pray for us from above, we can ask for their help from here below, and we are also called to pray for those who suffer in purgatory. If you have ever had a loved one pass away, is it not one of the most natural and human reactions to pray for him/her or to ask for his or her help from heaven?
By joining the Catholic Church you take a full part in the eternal, loving communion of saints in heaven, on earth and in purgatory.
10. Jesus has given us His mother Miriam* (Mary) as our own mother who loves us and watches over us
God has given us a mother. When Jesus, a few moments before his death, saw His mother Mary and his disciple John at the foot of the cross, he said to Mary "behold your Son" and to John "behold your mother" (Jn 19:26). In His hour of agony, Jesus was doing more than a private family arrangement. He was making Mary the mother of all humanity.
When the eternal Son of God became man, he dwelt in the womb of this young Jewish virgin for nine months. Just as the Ark of the Covenant had previously been a holy vessel containing the true presence of God in the Tabernacle and Temple, God chose Mary to be His holy "Ark of the New Covenant" containing His very presence. In order to prepare her for such a noble task, he gave her the fullness of His grace and saved her from all sin. This is why the angel greeted her with the words: "Hail, full of grace" (Luk 1:28).
God's 'business' throughout Scripture is to humble the proud and to exalt the lowly, as Mary herself said: "He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly" (Luke 1:51-52). God chose to enter humanity through this most humble young woman. In the Gospels her role is modest and self-effaced. Her greatness is not revealed through great words or actions, but rather through her quiet faith and obedience to God's Word, and her faithfulness in raising Jesus and in giving herself entirely to His person and work. Yet with prophetic foresight she also saw that God would give her an exalted place in the story of salvation when she said: "all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48).
We can catch a glimpse of Mary's exalted role in the book of Revelation. In a heavenly vision, John sees the Ark of the Covenant appear in the heavenly temple (Rev 11:19). Immediately afterward, he sees "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars," who "being with child... cried out in labor and in pain to give birth" to "a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (Rev 12:1-2,5). This child is the Messiah Jesus, and his mother, the woman, is Mary, daughter of Israel and mother of the Church. She is also the woman whose seed would bruise the head of the serpent, as God promised after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:15). Mary plays a key role in spiritual warfare against the devil: "And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev 12:17). Who are "the rest of the woman's offspring"? We are. Mary is our loving mother, our model, and our advocate. She prays for us and helps us along the way to heaven. She does not take Jesus' place but rather leads us to Him. By following her example of humility, obedience, faithfulness, holiness and love, we will grow in her likeness and in the likeness of Jesus.
By joining the Catholic Church you come into full communion with God's human family whose mother and model is Mary: daughter of Israel, mother of the Messiah, and mother of the Church.