Saturday, 27 October 2012
Catholic or Not?
All Christians are joined by Baptism to the Catholic Church, but not all who call themselves Catholics are Catholics, since not all of them accept and practice the Catholic Faith in its entirety.
The truth is that Christ established one Church which He founded on Peter, the rock (Matt.16:18); and it is to this Church alone that He gave the Sacraments. Baptism is one of those Sacraments and as such, all who are Baptised are baptised into the Church governed by Peter and his successors, there being one ontological change associated with baptism; one grace which fills us, and one Church into which we are incorporated, either formally as Catholics or informally as Protestants. The rite for the reception of a convert testifies to this in that it brings separated brethren into full communion; as long as the person was validly baptised with water and the Trinitarian formula no ‘second Baptism’ is given; they are recognised as having been in some, though imperfect, communion with Christ’s Catholic Church.
This doesn’t mean we should be unconcerned about those not in full communion with Peter, for they are –though unaware of it– deprived of the fullness of grace and Truth which is found only in the Catholic Church (the Seven Sacraments, the infallible Magisterium, Sacred Tradition, a complete Bible, the spiritual writings of the saints). Indeed we should long for those outside full communion to come home and be fully nourished, and should work for their return home. To borrow an analogy from a friend of mine, ‘which of us sitting down to beef and potatoes beside a poor man with tomatoes on toast wouldn’t offer to share our meal with him? We wouldn’t dream of saying, “Well, I don’t feel too bad because at least you’ve got something to eat”’.
The point is that as baptised people we are in one of three states: we are either sincere Protestants who repudiate the authority of the Catholic Church per se; Catholics who trust the Church and submit to her teaching in both will and intellect, or catholics with a small ‘c’ who reject the Church’s authority and are therefore informally Protestant. It is not good enough for such catholics to say, “I consider myself Catholic but I respectfully disagree with the Church on some issues. I don’t believe contraception is intrinsically evil...that the Pope is infallible” etc. Such persons are protesting against the Church and her teaching, which is to protest against Christ, cf. Lk.10:16; they are rejecting two thousand years of teaching guided by the Holy Spirit (Jn.14:25-27). It is God with whom they have their disagreement, not an earthly institution.
Sadly this rejection is too often the case today. How many of us know people who are nominally catholic, yet reject articles of the Faith or concrete moral teaching that they haven’t fully studied or understood, or which conflict with their lifestyle choices and personal desires? I find it disappointing to note how many Catholics I know who, when challenged on the Faith, say “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask a priest” or worse, “I’m not sure I believe it myself”, and yet have no hesitation in dogmatically declaring on their own authority that the Church is wrong on contraception, abortion, same-gender marriage etc –despite two thousand years of Church teaching on these issues under the formal guidance of the Holy Spirit. Any call to come home during the new evangelisation then, is and must be addressed first of all to catholics with a small ‘c’, and only then to our separated brethren.