I was once asked the following question:
With so many denominations and people believing different things how are we supposed to know that being Catholic is the right choice? With this article I would like to address this, hopefully to some satisfaction.
There are many ways I could address this, but I want to start with the following from John’s Gospel:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23).
Here we can almost hear the pleading by Jesus that his followers be one. In reality outside the Catholic Church we know this not to be true. In the year 1517 through Martin Luther the fracturing of the Christian church began to accelerate. This is not good! As an example of this I could use my hometown of Parker, Colorado.
According to suburbanstats.org for 2019-2018 population was 45,297 persons.
And according to churchfinder.com to serve these 45,000 souls there are 19 different types of Protestant/Evangelical Christian churches (and my one Catholic Church).
With this in mind is Christ’s plea “that they may be one as we are one” fulfilled? Sadly, we cannot currently answer this in the affirmative.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18).
Here Jesus tells us he will build his “church”. This is in the singular. In Parker, Colorado there are 19 churches. This does not equal one. As justification for this we will hear the argument that these 19 churches may disagree on the non-essentials but agree on the essentials. But we can see this to be untrue by considering baptism. From this group of 19 we have some churches that say baptism is symbolic of faith, others that say it actually saves you. We have some that say you can baptize infants, others that say you must wait until the age of reason. This is just one Christian doctrine and yet these 19 churches cannot agree.
Let’s also remember that at least by the year 107 the church was being referred to as Catholic:
See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. —St. Ignatius-Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8
We may also hear that the church is one, that it is an invisible church made up all believers. For this argument we should consider Matthew 18.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)
Here we see that eventually we should take the “fault” of our brother or sister to the church and that there is a consequence for their refusal “to listen even to the church.” If we truly consider this in mind with any one of the many modern issues, we can see that an “invisible” church argument does not work. So, let’s think about the issue of same sex marriage. Some of these Parker churches will vehemently uphold the traditional view that marriage is between one man and one woman. Others may not only marry two individuals of the same sex, but it is even possible that one of the pastors themselves may be “married” to a person of the same sex.
So, what happens if someone contemplates this type of “marriage” and they go to one of the 19 churches asking to be married but they hear from one that they cannot be married. They would be inclined to find one of the others that would marry them.
This now brings me to my answer to the question “with so many denominations and people believing different things how are we supposed to know that being Catholic is the right choice?”
I would like to answer it from the fact of the consistent, constant teaching of the Church for 2000 years. We can see this from the pages of the New Testament, into the writings of the early church Fathers and on through the present day (the Catechism). Let’s take for example three teachings, the Eucharist, baptism (it saves you) and Tradition.
A. Eucharist-that it is the true body and blood of Christ
1. Scripture (John 6) where we read:
31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe
54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. (John 6).
2. From the early Church we read:
Justin Martyr, wrote, "Not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, . . . is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66:1–20).
Origen, in a homily written about A.D. 244, attested to belief in the Real Presence. "I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence" (Homilies on Exodus 13:3).
In a fifth-century homily, Theodore of Mopsuestia wrote: "When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my body,’ but, ‘This is my body.’ In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my blood,’ but, ‘This is my blood,’ for he wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements], after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit, not according to their nature, but to receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord" (Catechetical Homilies 5:1).
3. Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1333 At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ's Body and Blood…
1357 We carry out this command of the Lord by celebrating the memorial of his sacrifice. In so doing, we offer to the Father what he has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread and wine which, by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, have become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present.
1. Scripture: 1 Peter 3:21: And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
2. Early Church: “When, however, the prescript is laid down that 'without baptism, salvation is attainable by none" (chiefly on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, "Unless one be born of water, he hath not life.'" (On Baptism, 12:1, A.D. 203). Tertullian (155-220),
3. Catechism 1257: the Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.60 He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them.61 Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.62 The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.
1. Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
2. Early Church: "As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same." (St. Irenaeus-Against Heresies 1:10:2 [A.D. 189]).
3.Catechism of the Catholic Church 76: In keeping with the Lord's command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:
- orally "by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit";33
- in writing "by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing".34
Therefore, with these three examples we can see this continuity from the words of Christ himself, with the readings of the early centuries of the Church and through the present time in the teaching of the Catechism. This Church has been around since the time of Christ (He established it- Matthew 16), from early on this Church was Catholic (St. Ignatius 107 AD) and it has continuously taught its doctrines consistently throughout the centuries.