As a Roman Catholic living in a predominately Protestant city, I get some interesting reactions to the way I practice my faith.
I live in Abilene, Texas and I really do love this city. It's a west Texas town filled with nice people, good, old fashioned values and many, many churches. Some have touted that this city has the most churches per capita in the United States. I would agree with that. It seems like there is a church on every street corner. I enjoy living around people that have Christian values and I have Protestant friends that I respect and love. It is funny, however, some of the reactions I have gotten from people when they find out I am Catholic. Many a conversation has taken place, where we are getting to know different people and if we mention church, they enthusiastically ask " Which Church". When they find out our church is a Catholic one, the enthusiasm subsides. I wanted to know why, so I asked my Protestant friends what questions they had, what mystified them and what they just didn't understand about Catholics.
Here are some of the questions and my answers as a lifelong Catholic who is still learning .
Question #1. Why do Catholics believe that they need to confess their sins to a priest rather than just pray over it?
A: We Catholics confess to a priest for a few reasons--. I will start with Scripture and say that in John 20:21-23- Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."
And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Jesus is commissioning his Apostles to continue His work. He is giving them authority to mediate between God and humankind. The Latin phrase "In Persona Christi" translates to "In the person of Christ". Therefore, the priests are acting through Christ. They are not another Christ, but they are doing what was instructed of the Apostles by Jesus Christ before His Ascension into Heaven.
The Apostles being the first priests of the Church, passed this on to the priests throughout time. While the forgiveness of sins comes fully from the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary, confession to a priest is important because we are asking Jesus directly, through the priest, who is in Persona Christi, and mediating between us and the Lord.
-- Humility is another strong reason to go Confession with the Catholic priest. I know as a Catholic, that my Confession is between me and God, but having the priest there, hearing me and responding and advising, just as Jesus would do, makes the Confession so much more spiritually deep. Not only am I face to face, but I am embarrassed and I am ashamed. It is in this moment of total humility and penitence, that I can open my heart and soul to the Lord Jesus Christ and all my sin is wiped clean. This overwhelming feeling of purity and closeness to God, leads me to receive Sacramental Grace.
-- Sacramental Grace is the grace that is bestowed upon someone who is receiving a particular Sacrament. It is a sanctifying grace in which a person becomes closer to God by fully accepting, with a pure heart, the divinity of the Sacrament. The Sacraments are "Instituted by Christ" and that is why when we receive our Sacraments in a devout and honest way, there is a grace that is bestowed on us that is distinctly "sacramental" . The sacramental grace that is given during the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a protection against sin. It is there to erase sin and help to resist the occasion of sin.
So, Catholics confess to a priest because of the Sacrament of Reconciliation which was one of seven Sacraments that Jesus Christ instructed the Church to provide for His followers.
This is referenced in this Scripture passage:
John 20:21-23- Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, " Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Jesus is asking His apostles to take up where he left off. He is asking this after being Resurrected from the dead. Also, it is stated here that the Apostles are to hear and discern what is a sin worthy of forgiveness. We are only going to be forgiven if we are truly penitent and sorry. He is wanting the intercession of the Apostles (i.e. first priest of the Church) acting through Christ.
Question #2: Why are their more books in a Catholic Bible?
A: The reason that Catholics have more books in their Bible is because during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther decided to remove 7 books from the Old Testament that he felt were not on par with divine Scripture. He had originally indexed these books in the back of the Bibles he was translating to German, but they eventually disappeared altogether from the Protestant Bibles. The Catholic bible contains all of the books of the Old Testament , known as the Septuagint, which was the version of the Old Testament being studied during the time of Jesus Christ. The Catholics and the Protestants have the same New Testament books. The books that are not included in the protestant ibles are in the Septuagint and were there during Jesus' time.
Question #3: Why do Catholics pray to Mary?
A: Catholics pray to Mary and ask for her intercession. It is similar to when we ask others to pray for us. We need extra prayers, extra help. Mary is Blessed, and chosen to be the Mother of God. She is loved by Jesus and He performed His first miracle at the wedding of Cana at her request. She endured unimaginable sorrow and pain as she watched her Son endure His Passion for our redemption.
She is our Immaculate Mother, ever-virgin, and she is honored with love and devotions by Catholics.
We do not worship her. We worship Jesus Christ and we love his Mother and honor her. She is Our Mother in Heaven and she is here to intercede and to help us to get closer to her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Question #4- Why do Catholics have the Crucified Christ in all their Churches, homes and even wear this symbol s around their necks?
A: I have been answering this question for many years . The answer to this question for me, is that Catholics need to remember the human pain, the real excruciating pain and torture that Jesus felt from a human level. God was made flesh, through the birth of Jesus Christ. He was both Divine and human. His suffering was for us and caused by us as humans and we must not forget that. It is easy for people to revel in the Resurrection because it is the happy ending to the tragedy of the Passion of our Messiah. We must always remember that it is through His Cross AND His Resurrection that He has set us free from sin. The crucifix is a constant reminder of the price of sinning and to how far Jesus' Love goes to save all of His children from the fires of Hell. The agony that Jesus endured for us through the Crucifixion is a reminder that The Lord was willing to die for us so that we could have life in Heaven. We should be humble, grateful and strive to be more like Him each time we see it. Some have said to me that He was Resurrected and that is what we should focus on ,to which my reply is this. I pray to God and I know that Jesus is not dead. I know that He is resurrected and I honor that. As a human being though, its very hard to not constantly be asking God for help and for this or that or to complain about things going on in my life. When I see the Crucifix, I stop myself and I think, "Lord, Thank you for ALL that you have done for me."
In conclusion, I LOVE being a Catholic. I strive to share things about my faith with my Protestant friends. I wanted to also say that as Christians, we ALL believe in Christ. That is a key element that we must not forget in todays times. Christians, both Catholic and Protestant , are being persecuted, tortured, kidnapped and murdered. All of this because they refuse to renounce the Love of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We must all pray for them and for each other. Let us work together to bring love upon the world in His name.
-Kelly Bailey Garner