Aware that I’ve been a bit negative recently, focusing on worldly affairs too much, I’d like to tell you about a funny text message exchange I had yesterday with an atheist friend of mine. And since I always end up talking about either the Church or God that’s where we ended up. (In fact is it possible to talk coherently about God without mentioning the Church? I don’t think so.) My friend said something along the lines of: I think its important that people do what they like and are happy and should ignore what some crazy old institution says. That’s not a direct quote.
Bemused by this I felt I had to explain that I absolutely love the Church just as much as I love God. I love the Pope, I love my parish priest, I love the people in its pews (crazy though some of them inevitably are; yes including me) I even love the Bishops of England and Wales (even though most of them are rubbish) because they are apostles. I think that you could be a terrible heretic and there would still be hope for you if you loved the Church. Though one would hope that a love of the Church would make heresy extinct, but sadly we don’t live in a logical world. Therefore I think it is important to say that liberal Catholics may be contradictory, but to say that they necessarily hate the Church is a step too far and it may well be possible that they love the Church just as much as traditionalists. Likewise perhaps the opposite is that you could follow the rules, rubrics and religion to the letter, but if you hate the Church there would be no hope for you!
The other thing atheists sometimes don’t understand is that sinners (preferably repentant ones) are more than welcome in the Catholic Church. Everyone needs faith, hope and grace to stop sinning and you don’t often bump into God sitting on your sofa. Therefore sinners, yes even unrepentant ones, have to be welcome in Church. You have to do something truly awful to be excommunicated, and even then excommunication is never meant to be final, but imposed with the singular purpose of calling people to repentance. Anyway, I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but isn’t it amazing that God is here for us even when we stray from him! Thank God for confession! Where do we go for confession? the Church. Thank God for the Church!
I often see protestants struggling with questions of faith, I have a Catechism which can answer most questions in ten seconds flat and give biblical references and explanations by great saints. It would only take the reversal of one infallible doctrine, or the acceptance of one sinful idea into Catholic teaching and the Catholic Church would be finished in an instant. In two thousand years that hasn’t happened just as Jesus promised Peter it wouldn’t. If God hadn’t built this magnificent edifice, through the magisterium of the Church, we would be lost sheep, protestants don’t know what they are missing.
Protestants often have to rely on the musings of a pastor or last week’s spiritual bestseller or an Anglican priest who, on average, has only spent a couple of years in a theological college, one that didn’t teach any one line of thought with authority either. Protestants think Catholics are just dogmatic. We are dogmatic, its WONDERFUL, it frees us from constant re-hashing of arguments, from pernicious modernism which constantly demands changes that undermine faith. It frees us from the paralysis of uncertainty. It gives us two thousand years of the greatest thinkers in the history of Christianity so that we can seek their wisdom. This is not unthinking dogmatism, dogma is at the very heart of seeking a deep knowledge of God’s plan for our salvation and an informed faith. This would not be possible without the Church. Thank God for the Church!
The Church gives us priests, men who willingly give up the gift of family life to become Fathers to this Christian family. What a joy it is to call a priest Father, to know you could ask for confession at any time and they would hear you (though perhaps midnight to 8am is best left out of a sense of Christian charity). A priest who spends years in seminary learning the faith so they can pass it on without the subtle heresies that cause so much turmoil and loss of faith if they are released into the pews. This is a staggering gift, thank God for priests! Thank God for the Church!
I could go on and on. Our faith, without the Church, would quickly be under siege. If we want to convert people we need to extol and exhibit the virtue of the Church.