Why did I become a Catholic?
Part 2 ( go to part 1)
My Reasons for joining the Catholic Church
So now I am Catholic. I had no choice; I was compelled to join the Catholic Church. There were basically two reasons.
Reason 1: Peter
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
Jesus' plan was to build a church, and Peter was to be the rock on which it was built. In their native language Aramaic, Peter's name and the word for rock are exactly the same word: Kepha. This Aramaic name appears here and there in the English Bible as Cephas. Later on, Jesus gave all the apostles the authority to bind and loose, but he gave only to Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. And Peter alone was the rock on which Jesus would build his church.
If Jesus granted such amazing authority to the leaders of His Church, who could dare claim that this authority would be revoked within a few decades? Yet everyone who disputes the decisions of the Church after the apostles died and the New Testament was written is making such a claim.
Jesus said He would build His Church. He didn't even mention writing a book. A few centuries later His Church would compile that book we know as the New Testament.
Remember what those first Church leaders were like? Most of them abandoned Jesus at His crucifixion. And think about all the mistakes Peter made; he could be a real bumbler at times. He often spoke without thinking, and he publicly denied being associated with Jesus three times in a row. How many people in history were called "Satan" in a rebuke by Jesus Himself? He was even rebuked in public by the apostle Paul for hypocrisy.
In order to avoid a disaster, you would expect God to guide Peter and the apostles closely -- keep them on a short leash, if you will -- during those moments when they were exercising this great authority!
The above Bible passage gives assurance that God does just that, as was demonstrated at that crucial moment when bumbling Peter was given a revelation directly from God concerning who Jesus really was. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Jesus made His declaration to Peter right then and there.
Some might think that Peter was merely one of the twelve (perhaps a little more colorful than the others), and that it is unreasonable to put too much emphasis on him. Well, here is a bit of data that might have escaped their notice: Peter's name is mentioned in the New Testament 156 times, far more than the other eleven apostles. John is in second place, and his name only appears 29 times!
Jesus also singled out Peter when he gave these commands concerning His followers:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"
Peter was called to do the work of a shepherd after his master the Good Shepherd had left this earth; he had a heavy responsibility in Jesus' Church.
Did the office and authority of Peter simply die with him, leaving the Church abandoned like sheep without a shepherd? Was Jesus plan for His Church so short-sighted?
The Church was able to continue its mission after the first generation by handing the office and authority of Peter -- and all the apostles -- to their successors, the next generation of Church leaders. The first instance of this is recorded in the first chapter of Acts, and it also shows Peter acting in his role as head of the apostles:
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, "Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry."
In the quote above, May another take his place of leadership, the Greek word for leadership is episkope and means bishop (overseer). This is significant because it indicates that the mission of the apostles was not just to preach the gospel, but to also function as bishops or overseers of the Church.
After the death of the original twelve apostles and their successors known as the Early Church Fathers, the Church would continue to appoint men to take their place as overseers in increasing numbers as the Church grew and spread throughout the world. Today there are over 5,000 Catholic bishops in all the countries of the world and they can all trace their line of succession back to the original apostles.
The earliest details of this line of succession are preseved in the form of letters and other documents from the early Church. We know that Peter went to Antioch and was a bishop there for a while, and finally ended up in Rome to become the first bishop of the Church of Rome, where he was killed and buried. His grave has been identified and his bones have been found under the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Why Rome? Why not Jerusalem where it all began and where it would make the most sense? Well, after Jerusalem rejected and killed the Lord Jesus Christ, the city was completely destroyed in 70 A.D. and the Christian community living there managed to escape beforehand, having been warned by prophecies from God. No, you won't find all this mentioned in the New Testament; you'll have to check history books such as the writings of Flavius Josephus or Eusebius to discover what Jesus was doing in His Church after the New Testament was written.
Anyway, Jerusalem no longer existed so there could not be a church there. Before the destruction of the city, there was a church in Jerusalem and Peter was apparently its bishop.
Some people argue that James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem because he played a dominant role in the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15. But he was not necessarily the apostle James, and an apostle would naturally be the top leader of the Church. There were two apostles named James, and one had already been killed, and the other was not very prominent. This man in the Jerusalem Council was apparently James the Just, the brother of the Lord (the word "brother" in Hebrew and Aramaic also means "kinsman") who was held in high esteem by the Church. But he was an elder and not an apostle and therefore not the top leader in the Church at Jerusalem.
So the apostle Peter was apparently the bishop of the Church in Jerusalem but he left the city after Herod tried to kill him and eventually ended up in Rome, the center of the Roman Empire where he served as chief of the apostles and also bishop of the Church in Rome. This was his final post on earth. So all the successors of Peter as bishop of Rome were also successors to his office as head apostle.
We know the names of the men who became the bishops of Rome after Peter. The second bishop of Rome was Linus, the third was Anencletus, and the fourth was Clement, and the list continues up to the present pope. Linus and Clement were probably the same ones who are mentioned in the letters of Paul.
The bishop of Rome was eventually called "papa" in the local language of the time, which becomes "pope" in modern English. There's nothing spooky about the title.
The Holy Spirit guides the Church through the office of the pope and when necessary, protects the Church from the man who occupies that position. So when the pope makes an official declaration concerning faith and morals, and also declares that he is doing so in the context of his office as successor to Peter the chief of the apostles, the Holy Spirit prevents him from saying something false. The concept of papal infallibility is really nothing more than this.
Like Peter (who might also be called the chief bumbler among the apostles) the pope might still make mistakes at other times, in all other areas of his life in words and actions. The pope might give an "off the cuff" opinion about Church matters and might say something odd during an interview which can be easily misinterpreted, and the media might have a feeding frenzy over it. He might even publish some document which can cause confusion. But regardless of what the pope might say in such a context, the concept of papal infallibility doesn't come into play. And don't forget that the pope is still a sinner like everybody else, and regularly confesses his sins to another priest.
The Church has had a certain amount of freedom in choosing men to fill the office of pope, and in history a few of them were really corrupt men, so we can't assume that every pope in history made it to heaven! Yet God protected the Church from these men, and they were not permitted to cause damage to the teachings of the Church.
It is the office of pope that God uses and protects from error regardless of the man who fills the office.
By the way, going back to the Bible passage about Jesus building His Church on the rock, I prefer the more accurate New American Standard Bible (NASB) which translates Matthew 16:19 (quoted above from the NIV) this way:
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (emphasis mine)
I like this translation because it assures us that God cannot be taken by surprise. Heaven is not bound by time. At the time when Jesus made this promise, when the Church had not even been born, every binding and loosing act that the Church would ever make till the end of time was already known in heaven, already approved in heaven, and even initiated in heaven before it had entered the mind of the leaders in the Church on earth.
God is in complete control, and the Holy Spirit faithfully guides the Church.
You might argue that the modern Church does not need a pope. We don't need a man to tell us what to do! We have the Bible and the Holy Spirit to guide us! Well, besides the fact that the Bible and Holy Spirit guided the Church to have popes, there is another reason:
Throughout history God has established specific individuals on earth to guide His people, such as Moses, the prophets, judges and kings. Without such an authority on earth, the Church would have the same problems that Israel experienced during a dark period in its history :
In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.
What happens when Christians reject the authority of Peter's successor? Since the reformation in the 16th century, the Protestant churches have been splitting and splintering at an incredible rate with nothing to stop them.
Today there are well over 30,000 Protestant denominations, each with its own interpretation of the Bible, and the number keeps growing. Each denomination or independent church believes that it is more correct than all others, and some disagreements are major, dealing with salvation itself.
It has become the norm for people to church-hop until they find one that suits their personal beliefs. And if their beliefs change later on, they look for another church. I did it quite often.
Is this what God intended? All my adult life I had searched for the church that would fit me like a glove, and I never found it. At one point during my Protestant days, I had even considered starting a church in my home that perfectly conformed to my own beliefs, and I could think of no reason to stop me.
But now the tables were turned as I was confronted with a church that claimed God's authority, with overwhelming scriptural and historical evidence to back up that claim.
I finally realized that I had to end my own church hopping and submit to the teaching authority of the one church that Jesus built on a rock, with the direct successors to Peter and the apostles still leading it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Reason 2: The Eucharist
When Jesus performed the amazing miracle of feeding five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, a large crowd followed him, hoping to be fed again and again with more miraculous food. It was at this time that Jesus made his shocking declaration which alienated many followers:
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
The listeners obviously took Jesus' declaration at face value because many stopped following him as a result. He didn't try to bring them back by saying that the words were only figurative.
Later, at the last supper, we have this account:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."
This would put an end to any speculation as to what Jesus had meant by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. A miracle took place at that moment.
The writings of the early Church Fathers clearly show that the Church from the beginning has always taken Jesus' words literally and has always believed in this miracle, that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ while still retaining the appearance and taste of bread and wine (good thing for us, since it would be extremely difficult for the average person to take communion if we could see it for what it really is). The Church has the power to bring this miracle about.
Now the Bible does not say much as to how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, but the Apostles evidently handed down to their disciples a great deal of specific information which they received from Christ Himself. This information is abundant in the writings of those disciples, who became the early Church Fathers.
The Apostles obviously had the authority to ask God to perform this miracle, and they had the confidence that God would hear them. Today when a bishop or priest in the Catholic Church asks God to perform this same miracle, we have confidence that God will answer this prayer as if Peter and the Apostles themselves were standing there at the altar making the request.
Our confidence is in Apostolic Succession, which is the authority that the Apostles received from Jesus Christ and which they passed down by the laying of hands to the next generation of Church leaders in an unbroken line to this very day. Apostolic Succession only exists in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches today. No other churches can assure us that the bread and wine will become the Body and Blood of Christ when they ask God to perform the miracle.
(For more information on my experience with the Orthodox Church, see my separate and long-winded article, Why did I choose the Catholic Church and not the Orthodox Churches?)
If you wonder how Christians can eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood every Sunday in churches all over the world, just remember that Jesus announced this new miracle just after he performed the miracle of multiplying loaves when he fed five thousand. Multiplication is a miracle he can handle with no problem.
If Jesus established the Eucharist as the way for Christians to eat His flesh and drink His blood, then it would stand to reason that it would be the main event when we come together. And so it is in the Catholic Church. We are physical beings, and the Eucharist is our physical point of contact with God Himself!
I had to join the Catholic Church because of the assurance that the real presence of Christ will be in the Eucharist, and the grace that comes from it.
Icing on the cake: Signs and wonders
I don't consider this a reason for joining the Catholic Church, but it affirms my decision. Many Protestant churches teach that miracles ceased when the apostles died or when the last book of the Bible was written. Some churches teach that miracles returned with the Pentecostal movement in the 20th century.
But the history of the Catholic Church shows an unbroken line of amazing miracles from the days of the apostles till today. The Holy Spirit has not been asleep or in hiding all these years; He has been very active and still in the miracle business; some of us just didn't know where to look.
As a matter of fact, the largest charismatic church in the world is the Catholic Church with some 200 million members in the Charismatic Renewal.
If the Eucharist is what the Church says it is, and that Jesus is really present, then it should not be surprising to hear of miracles associated with the Eucharist. A lot of those miracles involved priests who did not believe the bread and wine really became the body and blood of Jesus, so God showed them the truth in very graphic way (need I go into details?). One of the more notable Eucharistic miracles happened in a place called Lanciano. Just do a web search for Eucharistic miracles (or Lanciano) and see for yourself.
While I'm on the subject of miracles, what about all those Bible accounts of physical objects which became channels of God's power? You know, the stories that might make some modern enlightened Christians slightly uncomfortable, such as:
The Bible is full of such examples, and they are difficult to ignore or explain away as exceptions to the rule. Like Naaman who was told to wash in the Jordan River seven times, we might prefer to view God's miracles as simply a matter of waving a hand or saying a few words without getting physical.
Some of us have misunderstood the concept of "the flesh versus the spirit" and have become so "spiritual" in our mindset that we seem to have forgotten that God created us as physical beings in a physical world and that God Himself took on a physical body. Even when He appeared in his resurrected body, Jesus ate physical food in the presence of the disciples. Then He ascended to heaven in that same body and exists even now in that body. So God's blessing and approval remains on the physical creation, and He works through it. If we can't see that, how shallow and empty our world view has become!
The Catholic Church has not forgotten and has continued to make use of physical objects as channels of God's miraculous power. In addition to the elements of the Eucharist, we have holy water and a wide variety of blessed physical objects called sacramentals which have become channels of God's grace and power and have brought about amazing miracles throughout history.
Are these objects like good luck charms with magical power in them? Of course not. When the woman touched the edge of Jesus' cloak it is clear that the power came from Jesus and not the cloak itself. The cloak was a channel of power. The power of all these miraculous objects still comes from God even though they come through the objects. The bones of Elisha are particularly notable. When God chose Elisha as a physical channel of miraculous power, that arrangement apparently remained in effect even when there was not much of Elisha left except for a few bones!
I'm so happy to be in a Church that does not sweep those uncomfortable stories under the rug, but embraces a more complete view of God's power and physical channels of grace as described in the Bible.
As a matter of fact, now when I read the Old Testament, it is more relevant because there is not a big disconnect between the Old and New Testaments as I had experienced as a Protestant. The entire Bible from beginning to end all fits together in perfect harmony in the Catholic Church.
Then there are apparitions! Throughout history, Christians have apparently been visited by Jesus and various saints, particularly Mary, who had messages for the Church to keep it on track. Some of these were witnessed by groups of people such as the miracle of the sun which accompanied visits and messages by Mary, and was witnessed by 30,000 to 100,000 people near Fatima in 1917.
Now the Church teaches that these are in the category of "private revelation" and that Christians are not obligated to believe them, as distinguished from the Bible which is called "public revelation" and which must be believed by all Christians.
If you are cautious and not inclined to embrace this type of thing, know that the Catholic Church is even more cautious and will only declare certain apparitions as worthy of belief after much investigation (even then you still don't have to believe them). There are many apparitions which have not been approved by the Church, which you need to keep in mind when you read about this type of thing on the internet.
But if some of them are true, and this kind of thing has continued throughout history even after the Bible was completed, then those outside the Catholic Church have been missing out on some pretty exciting stuff these past few centuries, and there's lots of catching up to do!
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The New International Version (NIV) is the most popular version of the Bible among Evangelical Protestants. My personal favorites have always been the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the King James Version (KVJ) which I also quoted in this article.
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