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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Is the Roman Catholic Church Christian?

One of the most unintelligible and repugnant of slurs is the accusation that the Roman Catholic is not a Christian. Such a mentality fails to appreciate the historical evidence which details the Catholic Church as the first and the legitimate Christian community established by Christ. The alternative to such thinking would be that Christianity disappeared entirely for 1,500 years only to reappear with the Protestant Reformation. Would our Lord abandon his Church and allow the truth to be eclipsed throughout the centuries? Of course not— there is no logic to such a view. The Lord promised that he would never abandon his Church, even unto the end of the world.

One anti-Catholic proponent declared that practically all the “precepts” of the Roman Catholic faith contradict the Scriptures. However, a thoughtful reading of the Bible will reveal that quite the opposite is true: the Bible validates the Catholic religion. While the critic uneducated to Catholic terminology and faith might use the word “precept” to include all things Catholic, it is actually understood in the Church as an ecclesial positive law. Just as civil society needs laws by which civilization may be maintained, so too does the community of the Church need laws for good order and to insure the furtherance of the Christian life.

The first precept stipulates: “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.” It is very much related to the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath Day. Coincidentally, it was the Catholic Church which transferred the commemoration of this day from Saturday to Sunday. Thus, there is at least one matter where many anti-Catholics acknowledge the authority of the Pope over their lives and religious observance. We are called to worship on the Lord’s Day. What is so terrible about this? Nothing! Those who hate the Mass forget that Jesus told his friends at the Last Supper to repeat it in memory of him.

The fourth precept is very much like it: “You shall keep holy the holy days of obligation.”

The second precept stipulates: “You shall confess your sins at least once a year (if you are in serious sin).” Coincidentally, it was the Catholic Church which allowed such repeated penance to be practiced so that fallen away Christians might be allowed reentry into the faith community. Initially, serious sin after baptism cast a member from the community as not one of the elect. Thus, the practice of Catholics in repentance and seeking reconciliation with God and with the Church after conversion and initiation can be traced back to the Catholic leadership’s use of the keys to the kingdom. What is so terrible about encouraging a prodigal son or daughter to come home? Nothing! Those who hate Confession forget that Jesus gave the power to forgive sins to his Church.

The third precept stipulates: “You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season.” Coincidentally, even the narration of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians is a recounting of the manner in which the Pauline Eucharist was celebrated. Did the Lord not say that unless you ate his flesh and drank his blood, you could have no part of him? Thus, the renunciation of the Lord’s Supper by many anti-Catholics is disobedience to a direct command from Christ and is a rejection of an apostolic testimony from the Scriptures. What is so terrible about fulfilling a mandate from Christ? Nothing! Those who ridicule the host as a “wafer God” blaspheme against the Lord.

The fifth precept stipulates: “You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.” Did the Lord not fast? Did not John the Baptizer mortify his flesh? They most certainly did. Knowing the value of discipline as a help to Christian character and as an inducement to selfless prayer, the Church recommends such austerity. What is so bad about imitating our Lord? Did he not say that a day was coming when the bridegroom would be taken away– a time for fasting? He sure did. Those who reject such penance are often the first to run away from any suffering inherent in following Christ.

The Catholic faithful are also duty bound to support the Church, materially and spiritually. Do not even non-Catholic churches take up donations and free-will offerings? Sure they do. Most of what is collected in Catholic Churches goes back into the work of the Gospel.

Anti-Catholic cults have some nerve calling the universal Church of Christ a cult. The so-called compassion such enthusiasts exhibit in stealing away Catholic membership is merely a symptom of their egoism. Instead of conforming themselves to Christ, they refashion Christ to themselves and to their message. Theirs is often a messianic cult of personality. Beware if such people tell you that they really care. The true prophet is humble and is always alert not to allow his own message to displace or overshadow that of Christ– even when it is a truth we personally would rather not hear. The Good News of Christ can be consoling; however, it can be very challenging as well. Sometimes the Church is attacked, not for what she believes but for what individuals and/or groups within her did in the name of religion. Often the abuses of the Inquisition or Crusades are listed as prime examples. Much of the Inquisition was the work of various governments and in some cases the Holy See pleaded for clemency and mercy. Further, many Protestant groups were also quite good at killing Catholics when they happened to stand in the way of their objectives– as in England. Such is not just the failure of religion; it is the failure to give Christianity a chance. Many figures for the death tolls are thrown around but they are also largely exaggerated. We must not lose sight of the fact that there were also positive objectives to movements which might have gotten out of hand. The threat of Islam was very much like that of Communism during the Cold War. The Inquisition was to insure that the Catholic Christian faith was safe in Western Europe. The Crusades were to give free access to the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims. The latter task met with limited success but resulted in an agreement where such pilgrimages continued into modern times. Another consequence of the Crusades, now recognized in Israeli law, is the right of Christians, albeit Catholics, to maintain many of the important religious sites in the Holy Land. All are welcome to these sites. Many missionaries and the Franciscans in particular have sacrificed much to insure this right of Christians. Long before the non-Catholic churches and cults came into existence, the Catholic Church was conducting operations which would come to the benefit of all Christians. It should also be noted that the Catholic Church is today at the forefront for the defense of human and religious rights. The understanding of such liberties, as with many doctrinal matters, sometimes only becomes clear over time and after a certain development. The greatest holocausts in all history are happening right now, especially with abortion; we are hardly in a position to pass judgment on the past. While suffering and death was once counted in hundreds and thousands, it is now numbered in the millions. The mindset of both Catholics and Protestants in days gone by was that the murder of the soul was as serious, if not more so, than the murder of the body. This perspective was what led to a severity toward which we would cringe today. Oddly enough, the love of God and the desire for the salvation of others was often still an ingredient. Hopefully, Catholics and Protestants can learn from the past; however, such has yet to be demonstrated.

Of course, anti-Catholic critics only want to fight the old battles all over again. One of their heroes is John Wycliffe (c. 1325-1384). He challenged the property rights of well-to-do clerics who fell from a state of grace, claiming that such resources then fell to the secular prince or monarch. Such anticlerical views ironically made him popular with poor priests. However, he got into real hot water over unorthodox views toward the Eucharist. He never meant to deny the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion, as the anti-Catholics do as a matter of course. Many of his views were ultimately judged heretical; but, he could hardly be the poster boy for the fundamentalists today. Indeed, he was quite devout until he had a stroke while at Mass. He believed in an ordained priesthood along Catholic lines but insisted upon evangelical simplicity. Another of their heroes is William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536). Leaning toward the humanism of Erasmus, he engaged in several debates with St. Thomas More over Christianity and the Catholic faith. More was a devout Catholic and Tyndale, while he had started out that way, had gravitated toward Protestantism. Both men would find themselves facing execution. Influenced by Martin Luther, Tyndale made a translation of the New Testament. It is interesting that Tyndale’s views were so unorthodox that not only did Catholics find him suspect, but the Lutherans forced him to leave England for Germany. He was not above breaking the law to bring about reformation. Regarding many matters, the views of these two men would be closer to Catholicism than to any anti-Catholic fundamentalism.

The issue with these two men and the Catholic faith was not their stress on the Scriptures, but upon interpretations which ran contrary to the consensus of the Church throughout the centuries. This is still the state of affairs; although anti-Catholics often paint a stark picture of deviation between Scriptural revelation and doctrinal truth.