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The Catholic Church. Her Structure and Belief-System

Textbook 2019 134 Pages

Didactics - Theology, Religion Pedagogy

Excerpt

Table of Contents

FOREWORD

PREFACE

CHAPTER ONE: THE HOLY ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
THE BEAUTY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Catholic Church is open to all as Christ is.
The Catholic Church like Christ seeks to nurture souls for heaven
The Catholic Church cares for her flocks as Christ would.
The Catholic Church Teaches the Mind of Christ
SOURCES OF CATHOLIC TEACHINGS
THE CHURCH - AN OBJECT OF ADMIRATION AND CRITICISM
The Church - an object of admiration
The Catholic Church - An object of criticism
What the Church is
Why I remain a Catholic

CHAPTER TWO: THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
MARY - THE MOTHER OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
MARY - THE MOTHER OF ALL CHRISTIANS
MARY - WHY SHE DESERVES OUR HONOUR

CHAPTER THREE: THE SACRED IMAGES AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
WHY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH USE IMAGES
WHY CATHOLICS BOW TO SACRED IMAGES
WHY CATHOLICS PRAY BEFORE STATUES

CHAPTER FOUR: CATHOLICS AND PRAYERS TO THE SAINTS
ARE SAINTS IN HEAVEN NOW?
DO SAINTS INTERCEDE
HOW DO WE KNOW THE SAINTS?
Miracles through the intercession of the Saints

CHAPTER FIVE: THE HOLY ROSARY
PRAYING THE ROSARY
THE BEAUTY OF THE ROSARY
THE POWER OF THE ROSARY

CHAPTER SIX: THE DOCTRINE OF PURGATORY
WHAT IS PURGATORY
PURGATORY AND THE PROTESTANTS
REVELATIONS ON PURGATORY

CHAPTER SEVEN: THE BLESSED EUCHARIST
The Eucharist as a sign of the New Covenant
The Eucharist as a memorial of the sacrifice of Christ
MIRACLES THROUGH THE EUCHARIST

CHAPTER EIGHT: QUESTIONS FOR THE CHURCH
QUESTIONS REGARDING THE CHURCH
Why is the Catholic Church referred to as the Holy Roman Catholic Church?
Why do Catholic Priests not marry?
Are Knights not Secret Cultists?
QUESTIONS REGARDING THE SACRAMENTS
Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest?
Why does the Church baptize by sprinkling and not immersion?
Is Infant baptism justified?
QUESTIONS REGARDING LITURGY
Why do Catholics burn incense?
Why do Catholics use candles?
Why is there always a procession before and after mass?
Why is the bell rung during mass in the Church?
QUESTIONS ON CATHOLIC MODE OF PRAYERS
Why do Catholics make the sign of the cross?
Why do Catholics sign themselves before the gospel reading?
The repetition in the Rosary, does it not bore?
Why do Catholics recite prayers?

CHAPTER NINE: THE WAY OF THE MASS
THE INTRODUCTORY RITE
The Sign of the Cross
I confess
Lord have Mercy
The Gloria
The opening prayer
The Liturgy of the Word
The Readings
The sermon
The Credo (I Believe)
The Prayer of the Faithful
THE LITURGY OF THE EUGHARIST
The consecration
The Communion
THE CONCLUDING RITE
The best way to prepare for Mass
CHAPTER TEN: THE HOLY SPIRIT
Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Role of the Spirit in the Life of Christians
The Benefits of the Holy Spirit to a Christian
The Holy Spirit protects us

BIBLIOGRAPHY

FOREWORD

This book beautifully captioned, The Catholic Church: Her Structure and Belief-System is a captivating book written by one who has an undaunted desire to see truth taking root in every Christian. It captures in a simple way the truth about the Catholic Church in a manner that leaves the reader hungry for more.

Peter Bisong has shown by this booklet that he is awake to the religious challenges of his day. Ours is a world where the truth is continually being perverted, where religious antagonism is increasing, and day by day evolving new dimension. It is a world, where powered by the internet, and other means of communication, myriads of divergence information regarding Christ and salvation circulate freely making Christianity sometimes a bundles of confusion. It is unfortunate that the Catholic Church and indeed all Catholics are in this jungle: this book therefore, is a call to all, to hold fast to the faith they profess in the church.

This book is not a specialized theological work. Rather, it is a lucid explanation of the catholic faith capable of reviving spiritually dead and dying Catholics to full realization of the richness of the heritage they are entrusted with, by someone with great concern. This work will go a long way in strengthening and fortifying anyone against conflicting theorems scattered all around about salvation.

This book is also a challenge to the priests and indeed all clergy. The task of catechesis is a responsibility they cannot shake off. The faithful out there in the word are prone to deception and thus must continually be nourished and strengthened by catechesis.

Finally and most importantly this book is a type that should be read again and again for it holds rich truths that could benefit immensely Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Rev.Fr. Evaristus Bassey

Parish Adminsitrator

St. Mary’s Parish, Efut Abua

Calabar, Cross River State.

PREFACE

A joke I once read in a magazine pictured Jesus as a spectator who watched the match between the Catholic and the Protestants. The Catholics scored first and Jesus jumped up, threw up His hat in great jubilation. It was not long the Protestants scored an equalizing goal and Jesus was seen again jubilating. The person by His side lost in amazement asked Him, ‘which team do you support’? Jesus replied, ‘I support no team, I am only enjoying the match.

Christianity, a religion that traces its origin to Christ Himself has become the most diversified religion in the world today. Under it contains a lot of small denominations all clamoring and struggling for justification. To justify their existence they employ all means, including attacks on the older denominations. This is rationally necessary because their progress and continuous existence depends on the number of emigrants from these churches. The Catholic Church perhaps, because of her place in history and the influence she wields in Christianity and her numerical strength has remained a threat to the survival of the smaller denominations and thus has been made the centre of all these religious attacks. The effect of these attacks are clearly visible, for the torrent of people leaving the church is continually increasing day by day. Some who have not joined the torrent are living in a state I may call ‘religious uneasiness,’ even to make the sign of the cross in public becomes an impossible task.

This book however, does not purport to be a defense of the Catholic Church. The mark of a true church is in the divine protection and defense she enjoys. The Catholic Church obviously has this, if not it would have crumbled for long amidst all the bulldozing attacks on her. The original intention of this book is not also to clarify the doctrines of the church. There are too many books on that already. This book is intended to be a challenge to all Christians and believers in the world, that whatever one believes in, he must have reasons for believing. In this book I present to the world reasons, why I still remain a catholic in spite of the seeming weaknesses all over her. I present and urge you the readers to present your reasons why you believe in what you believe. This has become necessary because it is in thinking and reasoning about our faith that the division and controversies in Christianity could be eradicated. We all need to know why we believe in God, why we belong to the particular denominations we are now, why we think, that is the best place to be and so on and so forth.

One of the greatest problems of Christianity and indeed the world at large is the fact that people are now being moved by the passions instead of reason. People copy, imitate and follow ideas without pausing to ask why. We see this mad passion-led trend visibly in fashion wears, dancing, and culture and most unfortunately in religion too. We now imbibe foreign cultures and fashions without a minute contemplation. We now enter into religions and systems of belief without any rationalization. This is really an unfortunate trend and it pricks my heart so much. By this book I intend to challenge and indeed encourage all to let the intellect govern the passions in all our undertakings, be it religious or otherwise.. I know why I am a catholic and why I would never leave the church, what about you?

I wish to express my unalloyed gratitude to all those who aided the publication of this book. May God bless you! Amen. I wish also to use this medium to request for comments on this book. I wish that the chapters my readers would want taken deeper be addressed to me. Some questions to the church that you want answered should also be kindly addressed to me; these will be fully treated in the next volume. Thank you and happy reading!

CHAPTER ONE: THE HOLY ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

The origin of the Catholic Church could be traced to that point in history when the Virgin Mary made the solemn declaration: "I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your will". Lk. 1:38. This resulted to the formation in her womb, the body of Christ His Church, as well as Christ himself who is the head of the Church.

After her birth, the young Church was tended by Christ himself for some years. He later appointed and commissioned St. Peter as His successor. That Jesus intended His Church to be led by Peter is evident in these portions of the scripture: Mt. 16:18-20, where Jesus said to Peter"... I tell you that, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven". In Lk. 22:31- 33, where Jesus said to Peter, "I have prayed for you Simon that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers". And in Jn.21:15-16, Peter was given the mandate to feed and take care of the children of God: "Simon, feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep".

Peter the first Pope took seriously the mandate of Christ and thus was seen in Scriptures performing the leadership function in the early Church. He was the chief spokesman on Pentecost, where 3000 people were converted to Christianity. (Pentecost to be noted is the day when the Church was officially commissioned through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples (Acts 2:14). Peter was the one that presided over the selection of Mathias as a replacement to Judas Iscariot (Acts. 1:15-22). He was the judge over Ananias and Saphiras’ case (Acts 5:1-12).

Even the rest of the disciples seem to have recognized the power and authority of Peter; this is perhaps why he is mentioned in the gospel more times than the rest of the apostles; he is mentioned 195 times while the other apostles put together are only mentioned 130 times. It is also why they tended to give him the presiding place in every meeting (Acts. 1:15; 5:1- 10). It is also why his name was always placed first whenever the names of the apostles were mentioned. It is perhaps why they heard of the news of the resurrection of Jesus and they ran to the tomb, the other disciple who arrived before Peter had to wait for Peter to enter the tomb first (John 20:1-10). St. Paul spoke of how he went, after his conversion, to Jerusalem to be acquainted with Peter (Gal.2:2).

The young Church therefore, through the efforts of the disciple’s headed by Peter was able to fulfill the divine mandate of Christ and proclaim the good news to the whole world". Mk.16:15. Thus the church began to assume the name 'Catholic', {which means universal} even before the end of the life of majority of the Apostles. The church became known and referred to as a universal or Catholic Church, because she was able to carry the gospel message to the whole world. The Roman Empire being the only known world at that time. UNESCO History of Mankind captures this fact thus: “By about the end of the apostles' time, Christianity was a 'Catholic Church' in the etymological sense of these two words: that is to say. It was a visible association, organized and universal in outlook” [1] .

Through the acts of the Disciples of Christ the infant Church grew in strength and size and became catholic in outlook. From then on the Church began to be referred to, as Catholic Church. There are lots of evidences that prove that the infant church was known and called 'the Catholic Church'. For instance, St. Ignatius who lived between 40-110AD at about the time of the apostles wrote referring to the church as catholic. He writes: "where the bishop appears let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the Catholic Church [2] . St. Iraeneus (130-200AD), who was a disciple of St. Polycarp who was a direct disciple of Apostle John, also wrote referring to the early church thus:

The Catholic Church, having received the apostolic teaching and faith, though spread over the whole world, guards it sedulously, as though dwelling in one house, and these truths she uniformly teaches, as having but one soul and one heart; these truth she proclaims, teaches, and hands down as though she has but one month. [3]

Also St. Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 263-339) calls the early church, catholic in his writing:

But the brightness of the Catholic Church proceeded to increase in greatness, for it ever held to the same points in the same way, and radiated forth to all the race of Greeks and barbarians the reverent, sincere, and free nature, and the sobriety and purity of the divine teaching as to conduct and thought. [4]

The Catholic Church continued to exist through the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit through eons of ages to this present time. She had many times faced serious persecution which led to the martyrdom of many of her faithful. But she has survived up to this present time where she is headed by this present Pope who is the direct successor of St. Peter. It is on record that apostle Peter was succeeded by St. Linus who was succeeded by Anacletus. St. Iraeneus writing in 189AD captures this thus:

When the glorious apostles have founded and built up the Church, they handed over the ministries of the episcopate to Linus. Paul mentioned this Linus In his epistle to Timothy. Linus was succeeded by Anacletus. After him Clement received the lot of tne episcopate to the third place from the apostle. Evarestus succeeded to this Clement and Alexander to Evarestus, then Xystus was installed as the sixth from the apostles, and after him Telesphorus, who met a glorious martyrdom; then Hyginus, then Pius and after him Anicetus. Soter followed Anicetus and after him Eleutherus now in the twelfth place from the apostles holds the lot of the episcopate. In this very order and succession, the Apostolic Tradition and the preaching of the truth has come down even to us. [5]

The Catholic Church, is the only Church that could trace her authority and identity down to the apostles and to Christ. She existed for eons of years as a single united entity before the existence of the oldest protestant churches.

THE BEAUTY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

Christ founded His Church but did not lay down any objective operation standard for the Church. He rather gave her the Holy Spirit to be her teacher, her instructor and her informant on the content of the heart of Christ. For it is the spirit of a man that knows a man fully well, the Spirit of Christ knows the mind of Christ and has been translating it to the Church from her inception to date. Thus, the Catholic Church could be said to be operating after the mind of Christ, for her teachings, doctrines, rites liturgy are beautifully fashioned after the mind of Christ.

The Catholic Church is open to all as Christ is.

When I was a child, I used to be furious with the Church for being so permissive as to allow even well-known criminals and witches into the Church. This is surely how so many people feel. This is why some pastors in desire to purge the Church of filthy people embarked on suspension and most times total dismissal of their faithful from the Church for trivial offences like wrong dressing, wrong association, improper conduct etc. The Catholic Church is well aware of the compassion and tolerance of Christ and tries to follow in that line. The hands of Christ are always open to welcome all who want to come to Him. The disciples once made a mistake of trying to stop children from coming to the presence of Christ but He rebuked them saying: “let the little children come to me and do not stop them" Lk.1 5:16. Zealous Pharisees queried why he had to allow notable sinners and tax collectors to come to Him, he replied them saying: “people who are well do need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respect people to repent but outcast," Lk 5:29-32. Christ never turned away any body that came to Him, He intends His church to do same. This is reflected in the parable of the 'Wheat and the Weed’:

The kingdom of heaven is like this. A man sowed good seed in his field One night, when the plants grew and the ears of corn began to grow, then the weeds showed up. The man's servant came to him and said, 'sir, it was good seed you sowed in your field; where did the weed coma from'? It was some enemy who did this', he answered. 'Do you want us to go and pull out the weeds'? They asked him. 'No he answered, because as you gather the weeds'? you might pull up some of the wheat along with them'. Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until harvest. Matt. 13:24-29.

The Church ought to exist as one without segregation, until judgment day when the bad ones will be removed from the good. This is the mission of the Catholic Church; she gives everybody the opportunity to meet Christ. Those who accuse her of not having the Spirit of Christ, because she is not able to prophesy and expose the bad ones in the Church are wrong; for the Spirit of God is not the Spirit of discord. She like Christ wills that the wheat and the weed should exist together till the appointed time. The spirit that makes a public show of someone's fault, ordering the casting away of evil people could not really be from God, for that Spirit works against the mind of Christ. All are considered children of God until that time when God shall judge the world. The Catholic Church has this in mind and thus operate in such a way as to give everybody free opportunity to meet God. Who knows, the bad ones (like Zaccheaus was transformed by the awesome presence of Jesus) may be changed by the overwhelming power of God's presence.

The Catholic Church like Christ seeks to nurture souls for heaven

In Matt.21:15-16, Jesus specifically entrusted the task of feeding His sheep to Peter. The Catholic Church operating in the authority of Peter has always taken it as her spiritual duty to nurture the sheep of Christ to spiritual maturity. This she does by her tireless effort in grooming the children of God to love and worship God for who He is and not for the benefit to be derived there from. God intends His children to have a pure love for Him, a love that is not based on the incentives to be got from serving Him. This is exactly why Jesus was disappointed when He observed that so many people were following Him because of the miracles He performed. He rebuked them thus: "I am telling you the truth: you are looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles. Do not work for food that goes bad, instead work for food that lasts for eternal life.., what God wants you to do is to believe in the one He sent" (Jn.6:26-27.29).

Jesus was sad because the people were coming to Him for the miracles and not for salvation. The Catholic Church tries to groom her faithful to serve God for salvation purpose and not for signs and wonders. Christ desires people who would come to Him hungry for salvation. The Catholic Church knowing the mind of God takes it as her mission to turn out sheep that keep miracles not in the centre of their minds when worshipping Christ. This is why the Church does not give chance for testimonies and similar kinds of entertainment in her worship, (although this can take place in group prayer meetings}. Miracles and healings result every day in the midst of God's people but the Church does not see it as something to make a big show of, what should call for celebration and jubilation is the assurance that our names are written in the book of life. Christ told the jubilating seventy two disciples, don't be glad because evil spirits obey you; rather be glad because your names are written in the book of life" (Lk.1 0:20). Christ does not want miracles to be exalted over and above the important thing - salvation. The Catholic Church does not want the minds of the people to be shifted from the important thing to miracles; this is why the Catholic Church does not exalt miracles as other churches do. This does not mean that miracles do not occur in the Catholic Church. The testimonies of the early Christians showed that miracles have always accompanied the church’s activities. I will give a few examples. Irenaeus writes :

[Heretics are] so far . . . from being able to raise the dead, as the Lord raised them and the apostles did by means of prayer, and as has been frequently done in the [Catholic] brotherhood on account of some necessity. The entire church in that particular locality entreating with much fasting and prayer, the spirit of the dead man has returned, and he has been bestowed in answer to the prayers of the saints [6]

Eusebius of Caesarea on his part asserts

The citizens of that parish [in Alexandria] mention many other miracles of Narcissus . . . among which they relate the following wonder as performed by him. . . . [T]he oil once failed while the deacons were watching through the night at the great Paschal Vigil. Thereupon, the whole multitude being dismayed, Narcissus directed those who attended to the lights to draw water and bring it to him. This being immediately done he prayed over the water and with firm faith in the Lord commanded them to pour it into the lamps. And when they had done so, contrary to all expectation, by a wonderful and divine power the nature of the water was changed into that of oil. A small portion of it has been preserved even to our day by many of the brethren there as a memento of the wonder [7]

Athanasius also testified to the existence as well as a belief in miracles in the Catholic Church. He writes:

So take these as an example, beloved Dracontius, and do not say, or believe those who say, that the bishop’s office is an occasion to sin. . . . For we know both bishops who fast and monks who eat. We know bishops who drink no wine as well as monks who do. We know bishops who work miracles as well as monks who do not. [8]

Basil the Great also testified of the miracle working power of Gregory

But where shall I rank the great Gregory [the Wonderworker] and the words uttered by him? Shall we not place among the apostles and prophets a man who walked by the same Spirit as they? . . . For by the fellow-working of the Spirit, the power which he had over demons was tremendous and so gifted was he with the grace of the word . . . that, though only seventeen Christians were handed over to him, he brought the whole people alike in town and country through knowledge to God. He too by Christ’s mighty name commanded even rivers to change their course and caused a lake . . . to dry up. Moreover his predictions of things to come were such as in no way to fall short of the great prophets [9]

Jerome documented the healing by St. Hilarion thus:

[A woman with three sick children came to Hilarion and] on reaching the saint she said: ‘I pray you by Jesus our most merciful God . . . to restore to me my three sons, so that the name of our Lord and Savior may be glorified in the city of the Gentiles. Then shall his servants enter Gaza and the idol Marnas shall fall to the ground.’ At first he refused and said that he never left his cell . . . [but] the woman did not leave him till he promised he would enter Gaza after sunset. On coming thither he made the sign of the cross over the bed and fevered limbs of each [child] and called upon the name of Jesus. Marvelous efficacy of the name! . . . In that very hour they took food, recognized the mourning mother, and with thanks to God warmly kissed the saint’s hands [10]

Augustine also wrote:

In the same city of Carthage lived Innocentia, a very devout woman of the highest rank in the state. She had cancer in one of her breasts, a disease which, as physicians say, is incurable. . . . This lady we speak of had been advised by a skillful physician, who was intimate with her family, and she betook herself to God alone in prayer. On the approach of Easter, she was instructed in a dream to wait for the first woman that came out of the baptistery after being baptized and to have her make the sign of Christ upon the sore. She did so, and was immediately cured … For even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by his sacraments or by the prayers or relics of his saints. . . . But who but a very small number are aware of the cure which was wrought upon Innocentius . . . a cure wrought at Carthage, in my presence, and under my own eyes? . . . For he and all his household were devotedly pious. He was being treated by medical men for fistulae, of which he had a large number. . . . He had already undergone an operation but clearly needed another. . . . [H]e cast himself down . . . and began to pray; but in what a manner, with what earnestness and emotion, with what a flood of tears, with what groans and sobs, that shook his whole body and almost prevented him speaking. . . . [And when the] surgeons arrived, all that the circumstances required was ready; the frightful instruments were produced; all look on in wonder and suspense. . . . [But the surgeon] finds a perfectly firm scar! No words of mine can describe the joy, and praise, and thanksgiving to the merciful and almighty God, which was poured from the lips of all with tears of gladness. Let the scene [of rejoicing] be imagined rather than described! [11]

He writes further

A gouty doctor of the same city, when he had given his name for baptism and had been forbidden the day before his baptism from being baptized that year by black woolly-haired boys who appeared to him in his dreams (and whom he understood to be devils), and when . . . he refused to obey them but overcame them and would not defer being washed in the laver of regeneration, was relieved in the very act of baptism, not only of the extraordinary pain he was tortured with, but also of the disease itself … what am I to do? I am so pressed by the promise of finishing this work that I cannot record all the miracles I know, and doubtless several of our adherents, when they read what I have narrated, will regret that I have omitted many which they, as well as I, certainly know. Even now I beg these persons to excuse me and to consider how long it would take me to relate all those miracles, which the necessity of finishing the work I have undertaken forces me to omit. . . . Even now, therefore, many miracles are wrought, the same God who wrought those we read of [in the Bible is] still performing them, by whom he will and as he will [12]

Miracles are always happening in the Catholic Church. The most awe inspiring miracles in history have always occurred more in the Catholic Church than in other churches. This will be clear, if we look at the number of saints whose bodies were incorruptible, among them include: St. Silvan, St. Bernadette, St. John Vianney, St. Vincent the Paul, St. Veronica Guiliana and many others who after many years of death remain incorruptible and flexible as though they were just sleeping. It will be clearer if we consider saints like St. Therese Neumann, St. Catherine of Siena. Olive Dawson, Alexandrina Maria, who survived only on the Eucharist without any other food for many years; they never ate or drank water but survived on one host of communion a day for many years – they never lose weight or suffered any health effect. Saints like Joseph of Cupertino, St Gerard Majella, St Paul of the Cross and many more had the gift of levitation and ecstatic flight. In many occasions, especially during prayers were seen flowing on air. Also the stigmatic, that is those who had the wounds of Christ (at the places Christ was nailed) abound in the history of the church, people like Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Marie Rose Ferron, Maria Bolognesi, St Gemma Galgani etc had wounds of Jesus. There are many other astonishing miracles that have defied medical explanation that occurred in the Catholic Church. Think of the bloody statues recorded in history; the Eucharist turned flesh, the bilocation of some saints, the preaching to birds and other animals by St. Francis of Assisi. These are miracles that defy scientific explanation. Such miracles are hardly found in the protestant churches. The Catholic Church therefore boasts of incredible miracles in history, miracles that are still occurring today in their numbers, but she does not glory in these things, rather concerns itself with the salvation of the souls. The Church wants her faithful to love God for who He is and not for what He has to give. After all, one who loves without expectation of much in return is a greater lover. Catholics are groomed to be great lovers of God. Catholics are bred to have the mindset of Shedrach, Meshack and Abednigo, that even If God does not rescue us from our predicaments we will continue to serve the Lord; for we are not serving Him because we want to be freed from our problems but because we love Him. He promised to free us, but even if he does not, Catholics are expected to continue serving Him faithfully.

The Catholic Church cares for her flocks as Christ would.

That all men are created different is a well-known fact. Some are created tall, some are short; some are fat; others are slim; some are temperamentally passionate while some are resilient; what taste great for some may taste sour to others. The Catholic Church is well aware of this uniqueness in every man. She knows that even in spiritual fulfillment there is no one general way for all. Thus in her desire to provide a calm and fruitful environment for the optimum development of its diverse flock, the Church creates different religious societies that suits different spiritual temperament. There are a lot of pious societies in the church each wielding a unique spiritual environment. Thus each individual could identify the group that corresponds to his or her temperament. The spiritually passionate may seek to join the Catholic Charismatic Renewal or the Blue Army societies, while the spiritually restive ones could join the Sacred Heart of Jesus society or any other one of their choice. This wisdom of the church to establish fitting societies to accommodate the different temperaments is in consonance with the fact that the Spirit of God operates in and with individuals in different forms and categories. And each of these categories must find a place to be nurtured spiritually to full growth in the Church. The Church recognizes the fact that the Spirit of God sometimes comes in whispers (CF.IKgs.1911-12) and sometimes in thunderous form (CF. Acts.2:2-3). In which ever form He moves in an individual, the Catholic Church is ready to support such an individual.

The Catholic Church in order to better nourish the spiritual life of her people also cares for their psychological, emotional and even material wellbeing, Orphanage homes, good Samaritan homes, homes for the sick and aged scattered all over the world are all signs that the Catholic Church like Jesus who fed the five thousand men does not only care for the flock's spiritual needs but also economic and material ones. This is because the material, the psychological and the spiritual aspect of man are all connected in this life. Failure of one affects greatly hinders the other. The Catholic Church in her wisdom tries to nourish all these aspect of man, so that the spiritual will blossom brightly. The great sacrament of the Church serves this purpose very well. The sacrament of penance (confession) heals the spiritual and psychological wounds of the people, the sacrament of anointing of the sick cares for the physically sick; the Eucharist nourishes the soul with heavenly bread; baptism transforms people into eternal children of God. Therefore with the help of this tool (the sacrament) the Church has continued with youthful vigour to nourish all aspect of her faithful as Christ would in totality.

The Catholic Church Teaches the Mind of Christ

The Lord Jesus did not leave behind an ignorant church. He taught the apostles who were to be the custodians of the truth of faith for about three years before His departure. In addition to the great teaching and grooming, He gave them the Holy Spirit who would remind them of what He taught them and to also teach them more truth which He couldn't teach them. The disciples through the great assistance of the Holy Spirit passed on these teachings of Jesus Christ to their successors who also passed them to their followers till the teachings have reached us today. The Catholic Church because of her divine connection to the apostles retains the complete teachings of the apostles; this is made possible through the aid of the Holy Spirit whose duty is to guide the church out of error. The church therefore in union with the pope and the bishops cannot err in her teachings because of Christ's assurance: "what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven; and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.' Mt.16:16. By this the Lord means that whatever the church teaches since she cannot be wrong is accepted in heaven. He further gave them the added assurance that He is with them till the end of time. Mt.28:20.

If He is with the church all the time then the church cannot err in faith and morals because of the influence of Jesus who is ever present with her. Jesus handed His flock to the Church through Peter with the statement "whoever listens to you listens to me" Lk. 10:16. He did not hand them over to any written book. Whoever listens to the church listens to Christ. This is to say that whatever the church in conjunction with the pope teaches is the mind of Christ and is accepted in heaven. It is unfortunate that many are contradicting Christ by teaching that 'whoever listens to the Bible listens to Christ. Don't we know that the Bible is the product of the church? Can a product become superior to the producer? The Bible itself testifies of its incompleteness Jn.21 :25. Because of this it cannot be the sole authority to guide the spiritual life of people. I do not mean to downplay the role of the Bible as the word of life here, but it has to be noted that the church holds the complete truths of salvation, which include those truths not .included in the Bible. The Catholic Church therefore remains the sole authority in spiritual matters for she holds the complete truths of salvation.

SOURCES OF CATHOLIC TEACHINGS

I once entered an argument with a friend who demanded to know where in the Bible what I was saying was quoted from; I couldn't produce it in the Bible so he ended up by concluding that I have no basis for my argument. I felt defeated but like a smart Catholic I decided to dazzle him by telling him that the Blessed Mary had no parent. Like somebody who already had misgiving about Mary, he flew off, "why should you say Mary had no mother, is she God, this is why I don't like you Catholics". I had to calm him down and demanded in my own turn that he should show it in the Bible that Mary had a mother and father. This is the kind of problem we encounter if we take the Bible as the only source of authority. How are we supposed to know about the works of the apostles, in acts of the apostles only few disciples were mentioned, does it mean that others did not work? How are we supposed to know how the apostles ended up their lives? In fact dependence on scriptures alone would land us to similar problems as those who mistook Mt. 13:55, to be referring to the biological brothers of Jesus. The Catholic Church in addition to the Holy Bible also has the sacred tradition and the Magisterium as sources of her teachings.

Not all works of Christ and his disciples are recorded in the Bible. Jn.21:25. The fact that these were not recorded in the Bible doesn't make them less inferior to those in the Bible. The Church calls all the teachings, practices and actions of Jesus and the apostles that are recorded in the Bible and those not in the Bible as Sacred Traditions. Thus the Holy Traditions curries and "transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the Church by Christ the lord and the Holy Spirit of truth" (Catechism of the Catholic Church P.50). This has equal authority with the Bible for "they are bound closely together and communicate one with the other" {Catechism of the Catholic Church P.50}. It is from sacred traditions that we know that Ann and Joachim were the parent of Mary. It is also from Sacred Tradition that we know that the brothers of Jesus that were referred to in Mt, 13:55 were not biological brothers but cousins. They were the children of Mary the mother of James the younger who were the sister of the Blessed Virgin. It is from Sacred Traditions that we know that Joseph the husband of Mary had other children before marrying Mary. The sacred traditions therefore enlighten the sacred scriptures. They work hand in hand each enlightening the other. To have one without the other is dangerous, this is why there is so much problem in Christianity today because the so called new generation Christians depend only on the Bible as source of their teachings.

In addition to Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Traditions the Church also draws her teachings from the magisterium. The magisterium is the teaching authority given by Christ to the Church. When Christ told his disciples to go into the whole world and preach that whosoever listens to them listens to him, he actually entrusted them with the power to teach, direct, decide on situations; that the Holy Spirit will direct them. The Lord knows He has not given the disciples all that they needed to know. He knew that situations in the world would continually be changing; He knew the new Church would face difficult challenges in future. That is why He gave them the Holy Spirit, so that as events and situations unfold, the Holy Spirit will guide the Church without error on what to do and preach. This is the teaching authority of the Church. One good example of the implementation of the teaching authority of the Church is found in Acts.15. Where a controversy arose in the early Church on whether or not to circumcise the new gentile converts. If the apostles were to insist on following the Scriptures, they would have opened up to Lev. 12:3, where God commanded every male child to be circumcised and therefore on the basis of that enforce circumcision on the new converts. But the Church headed by Peter set aside the writings of the Bible and established a teaching that, gentiles need not be circumcised and it was binding. Another instance of the Church teaching authority in the Bible is the establishment of the seven deacons by the apostles upon hearing the complaints of the widows who were neglected during food distribution. The Church has the authority from Christ to enact teachings depending on the situations on ground and the teaching will be considered binding by God. A good example of the teaching authority of the Church today is the teaching that priest of the Roman Catholic Church should not marry. This teaching was motivated by the circumstances that prevailed at that time, and is upheld by God.

The Catholic Church therefore, is the only Church that enjoys the possession of complete truth handed by God. Her teachings are sound because they come from three divine sources in contrast to the other churches that draw their teachings from only one source the Bible. The Catholic Church is surely in possession of certainty of teachings, doctrines, liturgy, rites and ceremonies.

THE CHURCH - AN OBJECT OF ADMIRATION AND CRITICISM

Given a chance to discuss about the Church, almost every individual will have his own conception of her. Over the years many Theologians, Philosophers, Psychologist, Sociologists, Medical doctors and a host of other scholars have spoken and written extensively about the Church - the Catholic Church, some praising and extolling her, while others criticize and rebuke her. Thus, the Church down the years has had to live with the dual description - an object of admiration and an object of criticism.

The Church - an object of admiration

The Church - the Catholic Church is and has been the object of admiration of pagans and Protestants alike. It has to be so because there are a lot of reasons why the Church cannot escape the admiration of (especially disinterested) spectators. A unique, continuous and consistent history she has to show, a mixture of venerable age and vigorous youth she possesses, a powerful organization, spread throughout the world, with hundreds of millions of adherents and a strictly powerful hierarchy she wields. She has a system of beliefs rich in tradition and noble in its solemnity. She has put up a profound system of doctrinal theology and has in her possession sets of cultural and social achievements. She radiates with wisdom, prestige, splendour and great influence.

Thomas Babington Macaulay who himself was not a Catholic captured his admiration of the Church thus:

There is not and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilization. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin... The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modem when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustine, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila... nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exists in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all [13]

The Catholic Church - An object of criticism

It is possible to look at the Catholic Church in a positive light just like Macaulay and others have done; however recourse has to be given to the fact that they are many who look at her in a negative light. As in the former case, there are many justifications why the Church attracts criticisms. For instance, we have not forgotten the persecution of the Jews and the crusades by the Church, the trials of heretics and burning of witches is fresh in our memories, the religious warfare the Church engaged in, the false condemnation of men and ideas, the Church's frequent failures in the problem of slavery and war and in social questions, her identification with certain systems of society, government and thought are among the many questions mark on the Church. With all these too-human features associated with the Church, all the cruelty, fear and narrowness, all the laziness, cowardice and mediocrity, all the lack of love, the poor preaching, inadequate forms of worship, externalized piety, soulless traditions, authoritarian dogmatism, casuistic morality divorced from life, opportunism and intolerance, the legalism and self-aggrandizement of ecclesiastical functionaries at all levels of the Church; how could the Church honesty escape criticisms.

There is no doubt that many of these accusations directed at the Church stems from ignorance and bias. Many are false, unjust and unfounded. In these cases a few words of apology, defense and justification of the Church could suffice to wade them off. However, it is right to make it categorically clear, that most of these criticisms are justified, well-founded and in fact true. No defense can satisfactorily answer them. These questions unfortunately have made many to protest against the Church. Their actions could be described as a revolt against human nature itself. For the Church is both human and divine; the human it is, that has remained the object of criticism and admiration. Thus all the criticisms leveled against the Church do not touch on the essential nature of the Church but on the surface. Those who revolt against the Church simply expects the impossible from the Church; for as long as the Church remains human, and human remains imperfect, then we cannot have a perfect Church here on earth.

What the Church is

Admiration and criticism directed on the Church both have basis. But these attacks are on the external aspect of the Church which may be part of its historical attributes but does not belong to its permanent nature. The Church has two aspects - the visible and the invisible. The visible which continually evolves in history is always the object of admiration and criticisms. This visible aspect of the Church which humans are part of is quickened, formed and controlled by the invisible aspects. This means that the Church is essentially more than what it appears to be. Thus the criticisms and admiration on the Church do not touch on the essential components of the Church.

Those who criticize the Church have idealistic view of the Church not a realistic one. If we believe that the Church is composed of the material (visible) and spiritual (invisible) parts; knowing full well we humans make up the material parts, then we shouldn't expect the Church to be perfect because of the imperfections of the humans who make up the Church. The Church never claims perfections, it is rather a fellowship of those who seeks, journey and often lose their way, of the helpless, the anguished and the suffering, of sinners and pilgrims. If we are the Church, it means the Church is a sinful and pilgrim entity, arid it cannot be idealized. It is the fellowship of those who hear and believe, who make their pilgrimage through darkness and uncertainty, completely dependent on God's grace and truth, forgiveness and deliverance, putting their whole trust in God.

Those who criticize the Church are thinking of an ideal Church not a real Church. A real Church is a needy Church. It is one in need of salvation. It is one in search of God. It is an imperfect group hoping for perfection. It is a pilgrim Church capable of making and unmaking mistakes.

A clear distinction between the Church and other institutions and pressure group is the belief the Church has on God. Faith is exactly the element that links the Church to the divine. It means it is from God's grace and through faith alone that the Church lives and hopes to be saved. It is through faith in the Spirit that the Church derives her spiritual and invisible nature. Through faith the Church becomes not just a building but a spiritual building: not just a body of people but a mystical body with Christ as the head.

Those who criticize the Church are only criticizing a facade that does not believe in itself. The Church does not believe in itself. The Church does not believe in itself because it is not omniscient and omnipotent. She is not self-sufficient and autonomous, not eternal and sinless. It is not the source of grace and truth; it is not Lord, Redeemer or judge. It is not God. The Church rather is an embodiment of individuals who believe in God. This believe in God is what mark the Church from other organizations. The Church therefore is a fellowship of the faithful and the obedient who lives from God and for God, which places all its trust and hope in him, which above all believe in God. It is a fellowship of the faithful who continually struggle for salvation, whose hope is to be perfected by the grace of God, whose thirst is to be quenched by God. It is this faith in God that links this group of faithful to the divine making it a Church. An organization that lacks this faith is not a Church.

Therefore those who abandon the Church because of some weaknesses or failures associated with her ought to know that the Church is not perfected yet, rather she is moving towards perfection. We as part of the Church need to remain part of the struggle of the Church to get herself perfected.

Martin Luther after breaking out from the Catholic Church to form his own church was surely astounded to find out that his church too was not perfect. He was for sure astounded to see other churches breaking out of his own church. The breaking off has not stopped and is not likely to stop in the nearest future. Today we have more than a million churches. Those who protested (protestants) against the Catholic Church, could not found a church that is perfect enough as to wade off protest. My lecturer told me how he found his church. According to him, he was not comfortable with the happenings in his church, which made him to stop church and eventually led him to start his own. He invited me to his church to attend his 3rd year anniversary of the church and I was bewildered when I heard one of his choristers, expressing her dissatisfaction with the church. On hearing this I said to myself, ‘this man was dissatisfied with his former church, and now his members are already dissatisfied with his church of only three years’. It is not possible to create a perfect church on earth as long as humans that make up the church are imperfect. It was wrong for Martin Luther to have broken out; it is wrong for pastors to break out of their churches; it is wrong to move from church to church.

Why I remain a Catholic

I have always told my friends that I would never leave the Catholic Church for any other church. This is not to disparage other churches, rather I believe that in life there are things that one need not gamble with. There are mistakes that can easily be corrected but there are ones that can never be corrected. This latter kind of mistakes should be avoided at all cost. If one make a mistake in religion, he may never have the chance to correct it in the other life. This could be disastrous and disheartening. For fear of making mistakes, I desist from even thinking of leaving the Catholic Church. I am sure of the Catholic Church and would want to remain in it for the following reasons.

1. She is the church founded by Christ himself. Jesus declared to Peter "... I tell you that, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Mt. 16:18-20). So many people argue that this church build by Jesus on Peter was not called Catholic. We have shown already in this chapter how the young church tended by Peter and the apostles assume the name Catholic Church. Aside from this evidence, history puts the Catholic Church as the sole church in existence after Christ. The Catholic Church existed for about 1600 years before the first Protestant church – the Lutheran church. It is hard to argue that the church founded by Christ ended at the time of the apostles and resurfaced after 1600 years with the protestant reformation. Since it is the Catholic Church that had existed singly for so long, it means it is the church that was founded by Christ and spread by the apostles. For if the church founded by Christ ended with the apostles, it means Christ promise of being with the church forever was not fulfilled. This cannot be. The church Christ founded and headed by the apostles continued as a single undivided entity for many years and has continued to exist in this present form of the Catholic Church. If the present day Catholic Church traces its origin to the apostles and to Christ, then I find no need to leave the church. I prefer to remain in a church that traces its origin to Christ, than one that traces its origin to a human founder.

2. I am not sure as to the mind of Christ as regards other churches. It is glaring in the bible that Christ intended his church to be one. He prayed fervently that the church should be one (Jn. 17:11-23). Not to get one’s wish could be very disappointing. Since Christ wished that the church be one, it is possible that He is very disappointed and sad, that His wish never came true. I cannot be so sure whether Christ will be happy in the last days with those who broke out from the church he founded. The importance of his wish, is very clear, in this passage Jn. 17: 11-23, the phrase ‘may they be one’, appeared three times, signaling the importance He attached to the oneness of the church. Who knows His state of mind as regards those who separated from His church? It could be argued by many that the miracles that occur in protestant churches are sign of the approval of Jesus. I do not think God approves of somebody by the miracle he wrought, so we should not hurriedly conclude so. He said to the miracle workers: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:22-23). Who knows whether this could be the fate of those who protest against the church of Christ? I actually do not wish them this fate, but I would not want to risk being possibly thrown off to damnation, because of this single mistake. That is why I would remain a catholic, where I am free of such risk.

3. I do not know the foundation of other churches. It is an open secret that most pastors and founders of churches use charms and occult powers to operate their churches. It is believed that most pastors build their churches on sacrificed humans and animals. Many pastors have come out openly to point accusing fingers at themselves. Since, I am human and cannot be so sure, which founder of a church is of God, I remain a catholic, where I know the foundation to be Jesus. In my interaction with people, I have heard most people claim that, it does not matter whether the foundation is right or not as long as they themselves worship the true God. To worship the true God in an occultic church is dangerous. If you are in the presence of God’s anointing, it definitely robs on you, also, if you are in the presence of the Devil’s anointing, it robs on you too. To be under the leadership of an occult master claim pastor, is to submit to his rulership – he is your shepherd and you are his sheep. His yearly offering of blood for sacrifices will most certainly come from his sheep and it could be you. It could be your womb, fortunes, and stars that could be used to renew his powers. As long as you are in his sheepfold, he could use you to renew his powers. It is dangerous to follow shepherds you do not know their true identity; it is safer and better to follow the true shepherd – Jesus Christ in His church, He founded with His hands – the Catholic Church. We know who the Catholic Church is built on and on whose powers she operates, for Christ promise never to leave her till the end of time (Matt. 28:20).

4. I understand and believe the teachings of the Catholic Church. In my interactions with many ex-Catholics, I have discovered that most people who leave the church are ignorant of the church’s teachings. They fail to understand the doctrines of the church. I am convinced that anyone who fully understands the doctrines and teachings of the church would not be willing to leave the church in a hurry. He/she would discover wisdom mixed with power in the teachings of the church. To a reasonable extent I understand the teachings of the church and by the grace of God I have been a witness to their tremendous efficacy. Thus, I would not be comfortable in another church. I always wonder, how people cope without the nourishing power of the Eucharist; the latent and potent powers of the sacramental, the tremendous blessings of the rosary, and the healing effects of the sacraments. The sacraments carry a powerful healing effects, but only few people know this. Fr. Richard Woldman is well aware of this. He writes on it thus: “one morning I received a call to come to the emergency room to see an 11 year-old boy named Johnny who was dying. I found him on a breathing machine, his head swollen very large. Johnny’s parents told me that he had been riding his bike on a gravel road near his home when a truck came flying over the hill and hit him head-on. The collision caused him to be thrown into the nearby field. When the ambulance arrived the medics found his head cut wide open with half his brains scattered in the field. They literally picked up pieces of his brain, shoved them into his head and took him to the hospital. When I asked Jonny’s parents if he had been baptized, the said, ‘No.’ they informed me they attend no church but prayed at home as a family. I asked them if they would like me to baptize Johnny. They glanced at each other as if to say, ‘it couldn’t cause any harm.’ Then said to me, ‘Go ahead.’ They also said if I wanted to I could baptize him into the catholic faith. That night, with the parents and two nurses as witnesses, I baptized Johnny. The next morning I was doing communion rounds when my beeper went off. Johnny’s doctor wanted me in the intensive care unit. ‘What you do last night? He asked in broken English, as I met him outside Johnny’s room. I explained to the doctor, a Buddhist, that I had baptized Johnny (with the permission of his parents) so that he could go to heaven. When I asked him why he was so concerned, he informed me that the boy’s swelling had disappeared. The doctor was still convinced that the boy would die, however; or if he lived, remain a vegetable, never moving, talking or even moving his eyes. That night Johnny’s parents thanked me for baptizing him. I then explained about the anointing of the sick, and asked if they would like Johnny to receive that sacrament. With their agreement and in their presence, I anointed Johnny. The next morning during communion rounds the doctor again paged me on my beeper. He met me at the door of intensive care and directed me to Johnny’s room, explaining on the way that he had heard from the nurses that I had again prayed for Johnny. Then he point to Johnny’s eyes and asked, ‘what you do?’ I saw that Johnny’s eyes were moving. ‘It was just the power of Jesus through prayers for the sick,’ I responded. He gave a faintly sarcastic grin and said, ‘it no matter. Boy no talk or move. He remain vegetable.’ It was now the third night, counting the night of the accident. I suggested to the parents that they permit me to give Johnny the sacrament of confirmation. They agreed. The following morning his legs and arms were moving. The doctor said to me in front of the parents, ‘I no longer in control.’ He was simply unable to explain what was happening. The parents turned to me and said they wanted to become Catholics. I recommended that they wait and see what happened to Johnny before making a final decision. That evening when I explained to them about the Eucharist, they said they wanted this for Johnny too. I gave him some Precious Blood through an eye dropper. The next morning he was making sounds. The weekend was now upon me. It was Labour Day 1979 and I went home to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday. When I checked in on Johnny upon my return. I learned he had been transferred to the third floor, which was the surgery unit. I went upstairs to see him, fearing that he had gone back to surgery. He was sitting on his bed, talking to his mother. After his recovery they took another x-ray of his head and found that the part of his brain that had spilled out into the field had grown back.”[14] If only one could fully understand the spiritual energy stored in the sacraments, one would think twice before leaving the Catholic Church. If one could contemplate the many channels of blessings available for faithful in the Catholic Church, he/she would not be in a hurry to jet out of the church.

5. I have experienced God in an unmistakable way in the Catholic Church. I do not know what else to expect in other churches, for I have received all I need as a Christian in the Catholic Church. I have received the Holy Spirit in the church and by the grace of God I have been enabled to walk with the Holy Spirit. I see a huge potentiality for growth to any spiritual level in the Catholic Church. When I think of spiritual giants like St. Francis of Assisi who was so spiritual that even animals listen to him; St. Anthony of Padua, who was so anointed by the Spirit that he performed tremendous miracles in his life time and continued to perform miracle after his death; St. Catherine of Siana who was so full of Jesus, that she vomits when she eat any other food apart from the Eucharist; St. Joseph of Cupertino who attained a relationship with God, such that God was no more contented with having his soul, but desired to take also his body and most times he is taken up and suspended in air, and sometimes he experienced ecstatic flight and many other great Catholics who had an enviable relationship with God, I feel no desire to leave the catholic church. These great and powerful saints remain my model and I don’t think they are comparable models elsewhere in other churches. I know that if they could accomplish all that in the Catholic Church, I can also do same and even more, for the Catholic Church remains the same, because of the sameness of the Spirit of Christ operating in her.

CHAPTER TWO: THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

The Virgin Mary has certainly been the most controversial figure in Christendom. Some highly exalt her; others take her as a mere human not different from any other. Some praise and revere her. Others abuse and insult her with all manners of words. Many take her as a mother and a model, others are ready to deny her all honour; and if it were possible the title the mother of Christ would be stripped off her. The most disturbing fact is that both the opposing side and the proposing side of the debate on Mary have put up sound arguments to back up their stance that, it has become very difficult to give a valid judgment on which side is wrong and which is correct. Many Catholics think the Protestants are wrong while many Protestants think the Catholics are the ones on the wrong side. Catholics accuse Protestants of rebellion against the mother of Christ while Protestants accuse the Catholics of idolatry, for daring to place Mary so highly in the Church. The war has visibly continued strenuously, the Catholics, especially the ill-informed ones are often times seen bowing out in defeat to join the Protestants who obviously are the winning side, some have lost their nerves and decided to hide their Catholic status for fear of the verbal missiles from the Protestant camp.

Though, I have been a Catholic from childhood, I had always been one in mind with the Protestants over the issue of the Virgin Mary and her place in the Church. I could not understand why the Catholic Church had to place Mary so high to almost the same ladder with God. I had even argued fiercely against Mary. It is understandable that as the mother of Jesus she ought to be respected but when the respect grows to worship it becomes idolatry. This was my line of argument when I was a child in faith. But when I grew up, and now that everything had become clear to me, I could now look back at my childhood days and shake my head in amusement; what a funny state one could be! What a state those who are against the Blessed Virgin Mary are in! The vision of John in Rev.12:1-7.13 clarifies everything.

Then a great and mysterious sight appeared in the sky. There was a woman, whose dress was the sun and who holds the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was soon to give birth, and the pains and suffering of childbirth made her cry out.

Another mysterious sight appeared in the sky. There was a huge red dragon... With his tail he dragged a third of the stars out of the sky and threw them down to the earth. He stood in front of the woman, in order to eat her child as soon as it was born. Then she gave birth to a son who will rule over the world with an iron scepter. But the child was snatched away and taken to God on his throne. When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he began to pursue the woman who had given birth to the boy...

This war of the devil against the Virgin Mary that started thousands of years ago has not ended. It has rather assumed another dimension. The devil is so furious with the Virgin Mary that he seeks to destroy her at all cost. Not being able to destroy her physically, he now seeks to defame her. One of the greatest pain one can cause a woman is to turn her children against her. The Devil is not ignorant of this; thus has turned his medium of warfare to the manipulation of the children of Mary in such a way that they now hate and taunt her. This is the strategy the Devil is using now; he is turning the children of Mary into an army that fight against her. It will be easy to understand that those who rebel and oppose the Virgin Mary are doing so through the impulse of the Devil if you follow this line of reasoning: in the world there exists a psychological fact that, everybody seeks to identify with the 'good and beautiful'. Everybody seeks to be identified with the great and famous. The Virgin Mary possesses these qualities much more than any other person. She ranks amongst the most famous personalities in the world. She is the greatest of all women, for no woman has been so favoured as to be called 'the mother of God'. But instead of people seeking to identify with her as it should be the normal psychological process, they shun and deride her. This is clearly the handiwork of the Devil, it is not normal. The Devil is speedily converting the world against Mary. He has erected for himself a huge army to fight his course. What a pity that some so called Christians are used by the Devil (in the same way that Saul was used to fight against the early Christians) to fight against their mother with the false hope that they are pleasing God.

The attack on the Virgin Mary and her children therefore is the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy. However, many anti-Mary Christians in their quest to justify their fight against Mary claim that the prophecy in Rev. 12, does not refer to Mary but to the Church which is symbolized by the word 'woman'. This is a rather queer justification of their role in the war of the Devil and Mary. The identity of the woman in the prophecy of John; will be very clear if we unveil the identity of the son she gave birth to. The son she gave birth to, is to rule the world with an iron scepter Rev. 12:5: “Then she gave birth to a son who will rule over the world with an iron scepter.” The scriptures identifies the one who is to rule with an iron scepter thus:

Then I saw heaven open, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True; it is with justice that he judges and fights his battles. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and he wore many crowns on his head. He had a name written on him, but no one except himself knows what it is. The robe he wore was covered with blood. His name is "the Word of God". The armies of heaven followed him, riding on white horses and dressed in clean white linen. Out of his mouth came a sharp sword, with which He will defeat the nations. He will rule over them with scepter of iron and He will trample out the wine in the winepress of the furious anger of the almighty God. On his robe and on his thigh was written the name: "King of kings and Lord of lords".

The child who will rule the world with an iron scepter is obviously Jesus Christ who is the son of Mary and not the son of the church. We need to note that the Church did not give birth to Jesus; for Jesus existed before the Church.

MARY - THE MOTHER OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

That Mary is the mother of the King of kings and the Lord or lords is a fact that even the Devil himself cannot contest. He and his army can succeed in robbing her of other titles but that she is the mother of Christ is a title that stand forever. Being the mother of Christ who is the head of the Church, she automatically becomes the mother of the Church. The Church we are told is the body of Christ Eph.5:23. It is certainly impossible for a woman to give birth to the head of a baby without the body. The head of the Church (Christ) could not have been born without his body (the Church).

Thus through the divine plan of God, Mary conceived and gave birth to the Christian Church. When she made the declaration; "I am the handmaid of the Lord be it done to me according to your will" Lk.f :38, the head and body of the Church was formed in her womb. She is the mother of the Christian Church that is why, like a good son of a good mother the Christian Church ought to hold here in high esteem.

Without the Virgin Mary, the Christian Church (we are so happy to profess today would not have existed. Mary became the mother of the Church at the time of annunciation when she offered the words of faith that brought the Holy Spirit upon her. She conceived and gave birth to the head and body of the Church. This truth was made formal at the cross when Christ offered her as a gift to us (the church). 'Woman, behold your son; son behold your mother". What a perfect handover. In this, Christ handed over his mother to be our mother also.

Mary has not disappointed in her maternal role; she was present with the disciples in the upper room fervently praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Mary knew how much these disciples would gain from the Holy Spirit; for she had experienced the Holy Spirit's work throughout her whole lifetime. She had been molded and transformed by the Holy Spirit and she surely wanted it to happen to her spiritual children, Oh How she prayed. I firmly believe that by her firm faith and fervent prayers, she was an inspiration to the rest of the disciples.

Mary's motherly role is still strongly evident in our world today. As the mother of this Body, the Church, Mary is deeply concerned about each one of us, her spiritual children. Like our natural mother, Mary is lovingly protective of our spiritual and temporal welfare. We are witnesses to her numerous apparitions down the ages. From Guadalupe to Lourdes, on to Fatima to Medjugorje (to mention only a few of her apparitions) our solicitous mother cautions and warns us of the dangers which threatens to rob us of the peace, happiness, and tranquility which the Lord wants us to enjoy.

MARY - THE MOTHER OF ALL CHRISTIANS

It ought to be noted seriously that God's purpose through Jesus was not only to make all men who believe in Him to share the same fatherhood with Jesus but also to share the same motherhood too. Through Jesus we who were orphaned because of our sins could now share the same fatherhood and motherhood of Christ. For “When the right time finally came, God sent His own son. He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish law; to redeem those who were under the law so that we might become God's sons.” Gal.4:4-7.

God through His wonderful plan of salvation has called us to be His sons and brothers of Jesus, "those God know before hand, He called us that Jesus might be the first among many brothers." Rom.8:29. But it is rather appalling to see some rejecting this unmerited favour meted out to us by Jesus. I once had a clash with a group of Protestants who vehemently rejected that Mary is their mother. To strengthen their claim they went as far as branding Mary as a mere envelope God used to bring forth his purpose. I wonder what the rationale behind accepting the offer to share in the father of Jesus and rejecting the offer of His mother is. 'We accept Jesus gift of His father to be our father also, why do we reject His gift of His mother? Jesus on the wood of the Cross handed His mother to us with love; ... "He said to His mother, 'Dear woman, here is your son, and to the disciple, 'here is your mother” Jn 19:25-27.

Notice that on the foot of the cross Mary assumed the word 'Woman - the one that was to crush the head of the serpent (cf. Gen 3:15). She was now not just 'His mother' but 'woman the generic word woman (which means mother of humanity) was used by Jesus to announce to the world its new mother. Jesus wasn't really handing over His mother to this disciple alone but to the whole body of Christians represented by this disciple. This is the reason the name of |the disciples was not mentioned for if it was, it would have appeared as if it is (personal). The generic word disciple' was used to represent all faithful and dedicated Christians the world over. To these Jesus granted the great gift of His mother. This truth is reflected and confirmed in the Bible, where all Christians are referred to as children of Mary "The dragon was furious with the woman and went off to fight against the rest of her descendants all those who obey God's commandments and are faithful to the truth revealed by Jesus" ( Rev.12:17.)

The Bible clearly describes all those who keep the commandment of God as children of Mary. The devil attempted to kill Jesus without success, he attempted to kill Mary and also failed; he then turned to the children of Mary who are the Christians who remain faithful to the true teachings handed over by Jesus to the Church. Those who refer to themselves as Christians yet reject Mary as their mother are simply throwing away their Christian identity ignorantly for all Christians are children of Mary (Rev. 12 17). If you are not a child of Mary then it is a self-declaration that you are not a Christian.

MARY - WHY SHE DESERVES OUR HONOUR

That the Catholic Church places Mary in a very high place is not a hidden truth. Her feasts days dominate the Church's calendar. Her statutes and images decorate the Church and the month of May every year is specifically dedicated to her. She is honoured with three solemnities; two feasts and eight memorials every year. Her honour also comes through several other ways, the rosary, the litany, the scapular, miraculous medal, icons, pictures, shrines, places of apparition and a lot of publications on her. Does she really deserve this much respect given her? Let's examine her profile, then and only then could we answer the question

1) She is the first to love God in a human being (Jesus). No love is greater than the love that is ready to risk its existence for its object (cf. Jn, 15:13). The Blessed Virgin Mary was well aware of what it meant in the custom of her age to give birth out of wedlock. All Jewish girls knew this. She was well aware that she was in danger of being publicly disgraced, perhaps stoned, she was aware of the fact that she was in danger of losing Joseph's love. She was aware of the calamities that may follow if she gives birth to a child without a father; perhaps she may be rejected by the society and be left alone, a young girl without any resources, but with great love which towers over and above all fears, she stood for her unborn child and was ready to lose all for the child. Her love was surely deep even when Jesus was yet to be born and when Jesus was born she continued to nourish her with her milk and love. All through his childhood, his adolescence, youth and his young' adulthood Jesus enjoyed the undiluted love of the mother. She cared for Him, educated Him, prayed for Him and occasionally suffered for Him. It is through the warm home Jesus was given that He had the chance to become for all of us the Bread of Life.

2) She is the first believer, the first Christian and the first disciple of Christ. When she made the renowned declaration, "be it done to me according to your will", she was as a matter of fact saying to the angel 'I believe you, I believe in the one who is to be formed in my womb, let your will be done'. Mary made a total surrender of her will to God. We know that freedom is the only thing a man has, health, wealth and life God can take from him. But freedom even God would not take. Freedom is therefore the only possession that is essentially our own. Thus to give somebody your freedom is to give that person the greatest gift possible. And to give somebody your freedom tantamount to becoming a slave of that person. That is why love which is an act of freedom is said to enslave the lover. The Blessed Virgin by making the declaration "be it done to me according to your words' was actually surrendering her free will to the supreme will of God. Is this not what discipleship entails? Mary therefore is a model of true discipleship. She listened attentively to the words of God, welcomed it warmly and faithfully kept it. Once when a woman, in the crowd complimented Mary: "blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you" Lk. 11:27. Jesus retorted; "blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it" Lk.11:2. By these words Jesus did not mean to taunt Mary as most anti-Mary Christians point out, rather He meant to reveal the real reason for Mary's blessedness: not the fact that Mary was chosen to be his mother, but that she responded graciously and generously to her role by listening to God's word and living in accord with that word. St. Augustine leaves no doubt why Mary is truly blessed thus: “Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Savior was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her – did she not do the will of the Father? Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.”[15] Jesus wanted to make it clear to the people that blessedness does not stem from physical relationship with Him but through faith in Him. Mary had this faith in abundance and that is a better reason why she is blessed. Mary listened to the word of God, surrendered herself freely to it and let it grow in her to become her norm of life; this is what made her the perfect and model disciple.

3) By her faith she ignited faith in the disciples. Many biblical scholars have marveled at the understanding that existed between Mary and her son. In the marriage feast at Cana, she manifested a huge faith and understanding in Jesus that brought about his first miracle even when the hour had not come yet. Like a mother who cares about human problems, she met her son informing him of the shortage of drinks, and like a mother who perfectly understands her son, she ignored Jesus protest, instructed the disciples to do whatever he says. Does her action not depict a woman who had a perfect understanding of her son, who knows the secrets her son carries and was confident her son will not shame her? This action of Mary obtains the miracle for the people, the miracle manifested the glory of Jesus, and the vision of this glory produces faith in the disciples. The Bible reports that the disciples believed in Jesus on witnessing this miracles (cf. Jn.2:11). Thus she is the one that instigated faith in the disciples through her own faith. She is the first to believe and the one that led other disciples to believe. She welcomed Jesus, nurse him to full growth and offered him to the world by making people know who He really is through her action in Cana.

4) She was the first to know the secret of the kingdom of God. She knew even before her husband Joseph that the time for the fulfillment of the promise of a messiah was ripe. This was announced to her by Angel Gabriel. This is something that kings and prophets had longed for but couldn't get it. Simeon the prophet was fortunate to receive the joy of the promise (cf.2:29) but Mary had it a long time before Simeon. The secret of God was first announced to her; in short it lived in her for nine months. She first knew the secret of God; she conceived this secret in her womb, gave birth to this secret, nurse it for thirty years and then revealed it to the world through her initiative at the feast of Cana.

5) She was the first to receive the Holy Spirit. She was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit when she accepted the message of Angel Gabriel (cf.Lk.1:48). This overshadowing resulted in the formation in her womb the physical body of Christ. At Pentecost the disciples also received what Mary had for long received.

6) She carries the most complete gospel of Christ. She witnessed Jesus' ministry from conception to birth; from childhood through His public ministry, from crucifixion, death, resurrection to ascension. She is the one who saw it all. She is therefore the one who holds the most complete gospel of Jesus Christ. As a mother has access to privileged information regarding her son that others do not, so also it was with Mary, there was a clear understanding that existed between them that others couldn't fathom.

7) She was present at the official inauguration of the Church. Acts 1:4. Pentecost was the official commissioning of the Church. This is the day when Christ took on his mystical body. It is remarkable to note that Mary the woman that gave Jesus his physical body through the Spirit was present when Christ took on his mystical body (cf. Acts.1:4). Through the overshadowing of the Spirit, Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ and through the overshadowing of the Spirit, the Church the body of Christ was formed. How fervently Mary prayed in that upper room! How earnestly she asked the Holy Spirit to come upon her fellow disciples to gift and endow them with the enlightenment and power they would need for the ministry and commission which her son has given them. How happy she was when her prayer for the Holy Spirit was answered. How happy she was to see her son in a mystical body - the Church.

8) She is the mother of God. Though many Christians only take Mary as 'a mere envelope'. The Catholic Church and of course the Bible takes her as the mother of God. Elizabeth led by the Holy Spirit addressed Mary thus "...why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me... Blessed is she who believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished." Luke 1:42-45. Notice that Elizabeth used the same Lord for the child in Mary's womb and the God who sent angel Gabriel to Mary. That Elizabeth equated the 'Lord' who sent an angel to Mary to the 'Lord' in Mary's womb leaves no one in doubt that Mary had in her womb the Lord the almighty.

There are many heretics who reject the divinity of Jesus, proclaiming him to be a prophet and not God. We will treat this in detail in other books. But it has to be noted that if Jesus is God as the Bible proclaims, then Mary surely is the mother of God. Affirming the divinity of Christ is affirming the fact that Mary is the mother of God. The description of Mary as the mother of God dates back to the early times of the Church. The description appears in the writings of the early Fathers of the Church, for instance St. Ignatius who was a direct disciple of apostle John wrote thus "... our God Jesus Christ was conceived in Mary's womb..." implying that Mary was the mother of God.

Whenever I reflect on the profile of the Blessed Virgin Mary I cannot help but remain grateful to God for counting me worthy to be a partaker in the motherhood of so noble a woman; the only one who can gaze at Jesus and proclaim 'my God, my Son'!

[...]


[1] UNESCO History of Mankind. Vol. 111 pp. 876- 878

[2] Ignatius. Epistle to the Smyrnæans, 8.2.

[3] Iraeneus. Adv. Haer., 1.2

[4] Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, 4.7.13

[5] Irenaeus. Against Heresies 3:3:3

[6] Ibid. 2:31:2–4.

[7] Eusebius. Church History 6:9:1–3.

[8] Athanasius. (Letters 49:9 [A.D. 354]).

[9] Basil. The Holy Spirit 74.

[10] Jerome. (Life of St. Hilarion 14

[11] Augustine. The City of God 22:8

[12] Ibid.

[13] Macaulay, Thomas. The Roman Catholic Church as the Most Successful Institution that Has Ever Existed. http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/macaulay/ranke1.html

[14] Robert de Grandis. Healing through the Eucharist. India: Resurrection Press, 1992, pp 11-13.

[15] Augustine. The Blessed Virgin's Place in the Church. http://beforeitsnews.com/christian-news/2015/08/the-blessed-virgins-place-in-the-church-2515144.html.

Details

Pages
134
Year
2019
ISBN (eBook)
9783346090904
ISBN (Book)
9783346090911
Language
English
Catalog Number
v508577
Institution / College
University of Calabar
Grade
1.0
Tags
catholic church structure belief-system

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Title: The Catholic Church. Her Structure and Belief-System