Why does it matter if you leave the Catholic Church?
It matters because as Catholics we think it is important to belong to the Church that Christ founded 2000 years ago. It matters because when you leave the Catholic Church, you leave the Eucharist – and all the sacraments that Christ Himself instituted. It matters because as Catholics we believe the Church contains the fullness of the truth because it was founded by Christ Himself.
What is the “pillar and foundation of truth”? According to the Bible, it is the Church:
1 Timothy 3: 14-15 “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” Jesus left us a Church to guide us in Truth. He chose Peter as the first Pope when He said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). And then, this Church – the Catholic Church, decided what books belonged in the Bible in the 4th century. It was the authority of the Catholic Church that decided what books were inspired and belonged in the Bible. (Think about this – something “outside” the Bible determined what books belonged in the Bible.) The Catholic Church came before the Bible.
This does not mean that we think other religions and Christian denominations do not contain any truth, for they do. But the Catholic Church, since it was founded by Jesus, contains the fullness of truth, so we think it is very important to belong to the church that Christ founded, and share our faith with our children, grandchildren, and others.
There are many things christians have in common that we should celebrate – mainly our belief in Jesus Christ. Many say as long as we agree on the essentials it’s all good, and that it doesn’t matter what church you go to.
But who decides what is “essential”?
To a Catholic, the Eucharist is essential. Catholics believe that the Eucharist is truly the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. To many non-Catholics, it is merely a symbol.
To a Catholic, baptizing our children is essential. To many others, it doesn’t matter if you wait until the teenage years.
To a Catholic, our love and devotion to our Blessed Mother is essential. To many non-Catholics, our Blessed Mother is only thought about (if at all), during Christmas.
To a Catholic, the belief that all life is to be protected from conception to natural death is essential. To many others faiths, abortion and euthanasia are justified.
To a Catholic the belief that marriage is a sacrament, and is between one man and one woman is essential. To many others, marriage can easily be re-defined, and living together before marriage is no big deal because everybody is doing it.
To a Catholic, being required to go to Mass every Sunday is essential. To many others, its no big deal to miss Mass if you’re on vacation, want to sleep in, or think you can just watch it on TV.
To a Catholic, praying for the souls in purgatory is essential. To other christian faiths, they think purgatory doesn’t exist and is something they think Catholics made up. (Even though purgatory has been part of the church history for 2000 years. – Actually, the Jews prayed for the dead before Christ was born so there is both scripture and tradition to support it centuries before this.)
All of these “essentials” matter to a Catholic.
Does this mean that Catholics are holier than non-Catholics? Absolutely not. Some of the holiest people I know are Catholic, and some of the most unholiest people I know are Catholic. We’ve been given this beautiful gift of our Catholic faith, and yet too many of us have taken it for granted, pick and choose what we want to believe, or have not appreciated what we have.
The Catholic Church is both human and divine. Because it is divine, it will last forever. Because it is human, it will have scandals, and sinful people in it, just like what you will find in all denominations and religions. Scandals do not prove that the Catholic Church is false. They only prove what is obvious: that the Church contains sinners as well as saints.
Despite humans messing things up at times, the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, and will FOREVER be guided by the Holy Spirit until the end of time, as quoted in scripture:
“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:12-13
“I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
Among all the Christian churches, only the Catholic Church has existed since the time of Jesus. Every other Christian church is an offshoot of the Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox churches broke away from unity with the pope in 1054. The Protestant churches were established during the Reformation, which began in 1517. Most of today’s Protestant churches are actually offshoots of the original Protestant offshoots, each with their own man made traditions.
Only the Catholic Church existed in the tenth century, in the fifth century, and in the first century, faithfully teaching the doctrines given by Christ to the apostles, omitting nothing. The line of popes can be traced back, in unbroken succession, to Peter himself. This is unequaled by any institution in history.
Even the oldest government is new compared to the papacy, and the churches to which door-to-door missionaries belong are young compared to the Catholic Church. Many of these churches began as recently as the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. None of them can claim to be the Church Jesus established.
The Catholic Church has existed for 2,000 years, despite constant opposition from the world. This is testimony to the Church’s divine origin. It must be more than a merely human organization, especially considering that its human members—even some of its leaders—have been unwise, corrupt, or prone to heresy. Any merely human organization with such members would have collapsed early on. The fact that the Catholic Church is today the most vigorous church (and the largest, with about a billion members) is testimony not to the cleverness of the Church’s leaders, but to the protection of the Holy Spirit.
If you have never studied Church history, study it now and see what the early Church was really like, what Catholics believed, and what they practiced. If you study it you will see that the early Church was totally Catholic. The early Church believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; Early Christians did pray for their dead; Christ did give the apostles the power to forgive sins; Peter was clearly chosen by Christ as the leader of His Church; Mary was loved and honored by the early Christians; Whole households (including babies) were baptized. Think about it – if you are looking for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you can’t get more personal than when you receive His body, blood, soul, and divinity in the holy Eucharist, and are a part of the actual Church that Christ founded.
It’s important to know history, know why we are Catholic, and embrace the beauty and truth of our faith. So many people, including many protestant pastors, converted to the Catholic Church after studying Church history, particularly regarding the issue of authority. Two great books to read on church history are: “Four Witnesses”, by Rod Bennett, and “Where we got the Bible: Our debt to the Catholic Church” by Henry Graham. Two great sites that have helped many people on their journey to the Catholic faith are Catholics Come Home –www.catholicscomehome.org. and The Coming Home Network – http://www.chnetwork.org.
The Catholic Church, founded by Christ, contains the fullness of Truth. Be humble and grateful as you embrace the beautiful gift of our Catholic faith. Never stop seeking truth. Be thankful for all seven of our sacraments. Pray every day and develop a personal relationship with Jesus and our dear blessed mother, and pass on your faith and traditions to your children and grandchildren. Let us all spread the joy and beauty of our Catholic faith!