The One True Church (Part III)
Queen Elizabeth of England, whom the British called Good Queen Bess because she regularly oppressed Catholics, was out in the English countryside with her hunting party when she came upon a venerable old farmer working his field. She soon discovered that the old man was a fervent Catholic, faithful to the old religion. The Queen tactfully tried to win the old man over to the religion of her father, King Henry VIII.
The old man slowly shook his head from side to side, grasped his beard firmly in his right hand, and asked, “How can I join a religion that is younger than my own gray beard?”
The old farmer’s answer to the Queen was very wise. The question of the age of non-Catholic Christian religions is a good point, but our separated brethren never seem to grasp that. King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church in 1534, when he declared himself head of the Church in England, but it was Martin Luther who started it all with his break from the Church in 1517. Until 1517, there was no other Christian religion in the world but the Catholic Church. If I were a Protestant (and I was), I would have to reasonably ask myself (and I did), “Are we to believe that we had to wait fifteen-hundred years after Christ ascended into heaven to get the fulness of divine revelation?” That seems to be what Protestants truly do believe, yet that makes no sense at all… or so I concluded.
We can prove the divine establishment of the Church on the basis of history alone, but an unfortunate reality is that most people neither know nor care about history. Okay, history aside, is there a means by which we can look at the 40,000 Christian religions in North America alone and determine which is the one true Church founded by Christ? The answer is most certainly “YES”!
In order to identify the Church founded by Jesus Christ we must find the marks that only He alone could and would leave as identifying characteristics of His Church. We call those characteristics the Marks of the Church. There are four primary marks, and they are easily identifiable. It is true that some other churches may have one of those marks, and a few may even possess two of the marks, but there is only one—the one founded by Our Lord—that has all four marks. Those marks are that He gave His Church are One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. This week and next week we will examine these four marks and show that only the Catholic Church possesses them. First the mark we call “one”.
We say the Catholic Church is one because all her members profess the same Faith, participate in the same sacraments, and obey the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ (Eph. 4:4-5).
Jesus never spoke of a plurality of churches, but of “my church”, when He promised Peter that He would make him the rock foundation of the Church He was about to establish (Mt. 16:18-19). The Church is always pictured in the New Testament as visibly one, presided over by Peter, who represents Christ, telling all men until the end of time to believe only what He and his apostles taught, to obey His and their commands, and to worship as He had ordered (cf. Jn. 10:16).
Christ plainly foretold that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church, and that He would provide for its unity by His own presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is granted that the private judgment of the individual naturally brings about disunion in the Church, but Christ ensured its unity by a special supernatural grace, which He asked of His Father the night before He died: “That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be in us… The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one, even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one” (Jn. 17:21-23).
St. Paul insists on the unity of the Church in all his epistles. Although he mentions individual local churches in certain cities, he teaches clearly that they are parts of the one Church in every place (1 Thes. 1:8; 1Cor. 1:2; 2Cor. 2:14). The Church is not a mere organization that may be divided and subdivided like a nation or a club, but a divine organism with its own inherent principle of life. It is Christ’s Mystical Body, of which He is the head and all Christians are members. It is founded by one Lord, given life by one Spirit, entered into by one baptism, ruled by a united body of bishops, and having one aim—the glory of God and the salvation of men’s souls (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:3-16).
Being one is to be united, as Christ demands. We must remember that He isn’t Jesus the Warm Fuzzy, but rather Jesus the Incarnate Word of God! That means we are obligated to be obedient to His Church in all matters of faith and morals. We must obey Christ through His Church on everything in the Ten Commandments and all that they imply.
Many Catholics seem to think they can pick and choose what to believe and not believe, what to obey and not obey. If what Christ through His church demands isn’t comfortable, is difficult, or doesn’t feel good, they simply choose not to obey. These Catholics are typically referred to as “Cafeteria Catholics”. The fact is, they aren’t really Catholics at all. They have voluntarily separated themselves from the Catholic Church and their eternal souls are in grave danger.
I can actually empathize with many modern Catholics and their cafeteria attitude. Indeed, they cannot be fully blamed. After all, there was a gross rebellion of many leaders in the ‘70s that led to a truly dumbed down catechesis in our country. Hence the reason we see virtually no one going to confession week after week, month after month, year after year, but EVERYBODY seems to go to Communion every single Sunday. Even that is understandable, since surveys clearly show that 70% of Catholics in the pew no longer believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. And the reason for the lack of belief is the dumbed down catechesis.
Of course, times they are a changin’. Thanks be to God, we are seeing a major swing back toward both good catechesis and evangelization. That means we are re-educating our Catholic faithful and healing the wounds brought on by our ever-changing culture… one St. John Paul II called the culture of death.