“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen
It’s an interesting premise: You encounter someone new to the area and they are looking for a church. They know you’re Catholic but they don’t know anything about the Catholic Church, so they ask you what the Catholic Church believes. What will you say?
If our mission is evangelization, we need to be prepared for such an encounter. So what’s your “elevator pitch”? You have two to five minutes to explain what the Catholic Church believes…
This was my assignment for my last Masters class entitled “Catechesis and Religious Education.” Here’s what I came up with:
“I am so glad you asked! There is so much misinformation and confusion about who the Catholic Church is and what we believe, so I appreciate the opportunity to explain!” (Silent prayer: Oh, God, help me!) …
There is a lot to tell…The Catholic Church is two thousand years old and her teachings have evolved over centuries. It took so long because so many of our teachings are mysteries that unfold slowly, over a lifetime or more... I have been Catholic my whole life, I went to nine years of Catholic education, and I even teach at Catholic high school, yet there is so much I am still learning.
Essentially, because Jesus was Jewish, Catholicism is rooted in Judaism. Just as Jews were the first to understand that there was one true God, the Catholic Church was the first to understand that this same creator God entered his creation. (Queue the mystery!)
The Incarnation, or God “putting on of flesh” is one of many mysteries the Catholic Church embraces at the core of her teachings, namely, that an infinite God, slipped ever so quietly into human skin, entering the mess that had become of His creation. He did this as a means of sanctifying His creation, bridging for all eternity the infinite gap between the human and the divine.
Astonishingly enough, He did not do this until he received the consent of an unwed teenage girl. Through Mary, Salvation entered humanity. This is why we are so grateful to her and why we hold her in a place of honor above all humans. Because God did. And there is no doubt that her son did too. “Don’t ever worry about loving Mary too much,” St. Louis deMontfort said, “you can never love her more than Jesus did.”
If, as St. Paul says, Jesus is the head of the Church, then Mary is the spinal cord. The mission she consented to is to bring Jesus (the head) to us (the body). In doing so, her yes, “undoes” Eve’s no. Instead of tempting man to break his union with God, Mary helps restore our relationship with Him.
For the past two thousand years a procession of disciples has followed after Mary (the first disciple to say yes to an incarnate God). These disciples march through time and space, witnessing to a personal God who loves us unconditionally. Not from a distance, but up close and intimately, like a groom for His bride on their wedding day. He loves us like part of his very own body! It is a love that knows no end; a love that does not distinguish the “other” as other, but rather as flesh-of-my-flesh, bone-of-my-bone.
We believe that it was out of love for us that God became man. As an infant He was laid in a manger, (aka a feeding trough), in a town named Bethlehem (aka “house of bread”). What could be stranger than God in a manger? For thirty years the God of the universe lived an ordinary, hidden life, as a son, a carpenter, a friend and a neighbor.
When the time came, He poured out every ounce of His life, His very blood to save His beloved bride (that’s us!), from death. This is the Good News. We have nothing to fear, not even death itself!
Jesus is the first visible sign of an invisible God, and the Church, His bride, is the second. The two cannot be separated from one another.
In addition, He left us other visible signs of invisible gifts that nourish us and allow us to participate in His divine life. We call them Sacraments and we gather together regularly to celebrate them as a community. The greatest of these is the Sacrament of Communion where we do as Jesus commanded. Using the words of Christ, the creator-God, made man, we come to know Him and one another in the breaking of bread.
It is the mystery of all mysteries.
Just as He humbly entered creation in the flesh two thousand years ago, hidden in a feeding trough in a town named house of bread, he remains with us today in the Sacrament of Holy Communion!
You see, it is God’s very nature to pour Himself out in love. And just as He spoke all of creation into existence at the dawn of time when He said “Let there be Light”, we believe that when the priest speaks in the person of Christ, doing as He commanded, using Jesus’ very own words: “This is my body,” a miracle happens!
His Body is broken and His blood poured out not just for a particular moment in history (He is infinite, remember!), but for all eternity. This is culmination of His plan of salvation, in order that through Him all might come into communion with God and one another. Not just in a spiritual sense but as flesh-and-blood family! Through this most Blessed Sacrament, and several others, Catholics experience God and His love for us using all of our physical senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste!
The word catholic means universal. We believe that God desired all humans to commune with Him and each other in this way.
So, here we are at the very top of the tallest building on earth, the 160th floor!... What do you say, would you like to come to Church with us one weekend and see for yourself?!”