“Why does the Catholic Church … ?”

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Fr...

Emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot of people, including some Catholics, have questions about Holy Mother Church. Some questions are asked out of simple curiosity, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Other questions are posed with a sincere desire to learn or know or understand, and these are wonderful. But sometimes a question is asked that is, well, downright dishonest because it’s asked not out of real curiosity or an honest desire to know but with an ulterior motive. Have you ever had anyone ask a question and as soon as you’d finished answering chimed in with, “Well, I believe … ” and they keep going from there. They didn’t even listen to your answer, they were to busy thinking about their rebuttal. And lucky you, who didn’t even need to ask. But the first two I mentioned, the good kind of question, with questions like those in mind consider the following …

There’s a question that I’ve never heard asked and that I think is at the root of almost, not all but almost, every question about the Church that I’ve ever heard. The unspoken question, around which so many others revolve, is: “Why does the Catholic Church LOOK the way it does?”

Most of the people who ask questions about the Catholic Church, at least in my own personal experience, are folks who know what the first century Church looked like, or think they do, from what they read about it in the New Testament. And that Church doesn’t look anything like the Catholic Church to them. (Actually it does if you know what you’re looking for but because so many people are unfamiliar with concepts like the Papacy, the Magisterium, the Mass, and etc. they really don’t see the obvious.) Looking at it from their perspective for a minute helps. In the first century Church Peter didn’t wear a three-tiered mitre, priests didn’t wear vestments, there were no buildings with statuary, individual believers didn’t carry Rosaries, and the list goes on. So, after having stepped into the shoes of an honest questioner for a minute, lets step back in time and take a look at the Church at Pentecost, its “Birth Day”  …

What was the early Church, in reference to the people in it? What were the people there, the members of the new Church, on the day of Pentecost? French? German? Cherokee? No, we all know they were Jewish. In spreading the Gospel amongst the Jews what did the Apostles use? They used the Jewish scriptures. Every good Jew, and most of the not-so-good ones, knew the Holy Scriptures. It was via these Holy Books that an understanding of Jesus as Messiah could best be explained, best be gained. Now fast forward a few decades …

What was the early Church, in reference to people, by the end of its first one hundred years of existence? It was Gentile, and Gentile is everybody who’s NOT Jewish. How would the Apostles and their successors, many of these being Gentile themselves, explain the Gospel to Gentiles unfamiliar with the Jewish faith and its scriptures? Because you could use the Holy Books but they wouldn’t be understood in context because the Gentiles, not being Jewish, were out of context, spiritually, themselves. So how do you explain the Gospel, what do you use? You use what they’re familiar with. Like Paul did in Acts 17:23 when he referred to an idol dedicated to “The Unknown God”. Having found a point that his listeners could grasp he continued on from there. A little like St. Patrick explaining the Trinity several hundred years down the road. He could’ve talked about the Church Fathers and word meanings in common Greek with a side order of Latin, and he would have had no impact at all because his listeners would’ve had no clue as to any of these. But they could understand what they had and what they had were fields of shamrock.

“Why does the Catholic Church look  the way it does?” Because knowing the answer to this unasked question answers lots of others and the answer is simple. It looks like it does because its open to all, Jew and Gentile alike, and when people come in they bring their cultures with them. Cultures are not evil in themselves. True, certain aspects of any culture may need to be modified or left behind entirely, but the culture itself, the parts that are good or of no real consequence, is absorbed by the Church as God accepts the people into it and THAT’S why Holy Mother Church looks the way she does. Bottom line, we started out looking like a Jewish organization with its way of explaining and being, but quickly changed into a Gentile group with its own necessary ways of explaining and doing. The truths didn’t change, the people did. And God, by His Grace and the leading of the Holy Spirit, took all of this, put it together, nurtured it, let it grow, and now we have something called “Catholic culture”. And that’s all His, not Jewish, not Gentile, but blood-purchased Human.

Advertisements
Published in: on January 23, 2013 at 12:09 pm  Comments Off on “Why does the Catholic Church … ?”  
Tags: , , , , , , ,