A sweet reader is struggling with her faith and writes me…

A sweet reader is struggling with her faith and writes me… June 14, 2018

…to say:

I am a committed Christian.

Glad to hear it!

I wasn’t brought up in a Christian family but by God’s grace I became His. I have been on an amazing journey in my faith and love and adore Christ.

How wonderful!  As a fellow convert, I salute you!

When I was living in London I had a very happy experience in a Catholic Church and even became a member of the Catholic faith.

Excellent!

Over time though protestant Christian friends convinced me that the Catholic Church was not worshipping according to the Gospel, explaining that the Church teachings on the eucharist, worship of Mary and the statues, purgatory, pope etc etc goes completely against the Gospels.

I’m sorry to hear that.  They were wrong, though they no doubt meant well.

The Church’s teaching on the Eucharist is, in fact, thoroughly biblical.  That’s why every Church tracing its roots back to the apostles says the same thing about the Real Presence and always has:  it is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.  The notion that it is “just a symbol” is the recent Protestant invention.  See my book This is my Body for a more thorough discussion of this.

Catholics do not worship Mary or statues (in the sense of “adore them as equals of God”).  You will see the word “worship” used in older English sometimes, but it does not mean what it now means, just as “gay” has changed in meaning from “happy” to “homosexual”.  “Worship” in older English simply meant “honor”.  So English judges are still called “your worship” but nobody mistakes them for God.  Old marriage oaths had the couple say to each other, “With my body, I thee worship” meaning, “I honor you with my body.”

So with “the worship of Mary”.  Scripture *commands* us to honor our father and our mother.  So we honor Mary since, in Christ, she has become our mother.  That is why John carefully records the words “Behold your mother” from Jesus on the cross.  Not just John, but all of us are “the beloved disciple”. She is our mother too.  So we honor her and ask her her to pray for us as we ask each other to pray.  We honor her, not as the equal of God (she’s just a creature) but as God’s greatest creature since it was through her that God chose to enter the world and from her he chose to take the flesh by which he would redeem the world.  She is his greatest disciple and does something for us that Jesus, God though he is, cannot do:  She shows us what a disciple of Jesus looks like.

As to statues, here’s the real story. God forbade images in the Old Testament because it was the destiny of that people to be turned from the likeness of God to the reality.  But paradoxically, he commanded the images of cheribum be place on the ark of the covenant, bowing to the invisible God.  The point was that images are not bad in themselves but only that creatures cannot be adored as gods.  In the New Testament, God himself became an image when he took flesh in Jesus.  Now images are hallowed and become doorways into God.  They are not worshipped as gods.

Regarding Purgatory, this too is perfectly biblical.

And so is the papacy.

There is, in fact, no aspect of Catholic teaching that is anti-biblical.  Not one.

Also, I feel that Pope Francis and some other catholics has said that other religions and even atheists can get to heaven which seems so contrary to the Bible whereby worshipping anything apart from God is idolatry and it is an abomination to worship false Gods. People are without excuse for knowing the Lord Romans 1:20.

It’s far more complex than that.  What the Church teaches (and has taught since Jesus gave the parable of the sheep and the goats), is that all who are saved are saved through Jesus, but that it is not necessarily the case that the saved will know Jesus’ name in this life.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the prophets never heard of Jesus by name but were still obeying his Spirit.  That’s why the saved sheep are all surprised in the parable.  “Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, etc.”  Obeying Jesus matters far more than having your ideas about him straight, though best of all is to do both.  Consider this article.

Also there is only one mediator to God and that is Christ not Mary.

And yet Scripture calls us a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) since we share in the priesthood of the Great High Priest Jesus through our baptism.  And priests are nothing but mediators.  They mediate God to man and man to God.  So when Scripture calls Jesus the “one” mediator it means it, not in the sense of “sole” or “exclusive” but in the sense of “archetypal”.  Jesus also tells us we have one Father and one Teacher (Matthew 23:8-9).  Does he mean you sin if you call your dad your father or your high school science teacher “teacher”.  Of course not.  His point is that, as Paul says “all fatherhood on earth” (Ephesians 3:14) comes from the Father and that teachers are able to teach because they have that gift from Him.  So Paul tells the Ephesians “he gave some to be… teachers” (Ephesians 4:11) and reminds the Corinthians that he became their father through Christ.  Mary is a co-mediatrix because it is through her that Jesus came to us.  We are also co-mediators because it is through us the he comes to others.  As the saying goes, you are only Jesus some people will ever meet.  Like us, her office depends on the grace of Jesus.

It was very painful to leave the Church but I have since worshipped at protestant Churches but even now I feel drawn to the catholic church.

It is Jesus, present in the Eucharist, who is drawing you back.

Finally, I have just started to attend my local Catholic Church which was great and feels like home but then I grow concerned once again when I hear pope Francis says to a gay man that God loves him just as he is and to be happy as he is and when he tells a little boy that his atheist dad will go to heaven when Christ makes it clear that only those who believe on Him will get to Heaven, he is the only way.

The Catholic Church teaches that God’s grace is given to all.  If Jesus did not love us just as we are it would be impossible for us to be saved at all.  Paul tells us that that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  That includes gay people.  We only have the account the gay man gave himself, not a quote from Francis.  What he reports is that Francis said, “You know Juan Carlos, that does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”

Remember that he is talking to a victim of sexual abuse and trying to bring words of healing and consolation.  And remember as well he is speaking to the person, not to his actions. The Church teaches that the human person, in all his particularity, is the creation of God.  Every person is a sinner and yet every person was made the way they are by God.  What is being affirmed her is him, not his homosexuality.  The Church does not, in fact, claim to know where the disordered appetite of homosexuality comes from any more than it claims to know where a disordered appetite for alcohol comes from.  Some people have it, others don’t.  We don’t know why.  But we do know that each person is made by God and loved by God.  That is what Francis is telling this man who has heard all his life that God hates him and that his sufferings are punishment by God for who he is.  I don’t think that’s bad.

The first work of a shepherd is to establish in the mind and heart of each person that God loves them.  Some people get that very quickly and can then move on to addressing those places in their lives where sin needs to be addressed.  Others take a long time, maybe years, to be able to hear that.  Shepherds do not tie up heavy burdens and lay them on the backs of such people, or begin by slapping them around for their sins.  They start small and they start always with the reassurance of God’s love for you (unless they are a terrible confessor).  When Jesus talked to the multiply-adulterous Samaritan Woman (John 4) he did something shocking: he never rebuked her for being an adulteress.  He made clear that he knew all about her, but he never rebuked her for it.  Why?  Apparently because the *first* thing she needed to know was that she was loved.  So here.  Francis seems to me to be acting like a good shepherd, wooing a grievously harmed man back to Jesus.

As to the child, Francis is reminding him of the same thing that Jesus is saying in the parable of the sheep and the goats.  His father was a good man who lived a life of love for the least of these, in whom Jesus is present.  One of the least of these, his little boy, loved him deeply, which is itself a sign of the presence of God.  That the man, through no fault of his own was unable to connect the love of God he lived with the name of Jesus who is the source of that love does not mean that Jesus’ hands were tied in saving him.  Rather, it just means that the boy can have good hope that his father will be one of those on That Day who will say, with surprise. “Lord, when did I see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick or in prison?  I just thought I was doing the right thing!”  The pope is saying to that kid that the king will reply. “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.  Enter into the kingdom which my Father as prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  Why is that bad?

Francis is actually extremely easy to understand.  His whole pontificate can summed up in these words: “He has preached good news to the poor.” He is all about evangelization and all about our duty to the least of these.  Understand that, and you understand him.  And he is, despite what you may hear, completely orthodox.  Try reading one of his documents, like the Joy of the Gospel.  He’s really quite wonderful and says nothing different from his predecessors, despite the hype you may hear in the press.

I hope you will continue your process of return to Holy Church!  God love you, dear!

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