Recently, I’ve been reflecting on why I joined the Catholic Church. This reflection was initially spurred by discussions with Matt Graham (of Rational Animal) regarding Church authority. Below, I list five reasons Christians should become or return to the Catholic Church. Now, non-Christians may read these reasons and find them wanting. The intent here is not to convince atheists and agnostics to join the Catholic Church, as they must first accept theism and then Christian theism. The intended audience for this article has already accepted that God exists and Jesus as the incarnate second person of the divine Trinity.
In short, the five reasons Christians should become or return to the Catholic Church are: truth, goodness, beauty, the Eucharist, and a sacramental community.
…but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know [a]how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15
The primary reason to enter the Catholic Church is because Jesus established it. Just as Jesus is the image of the invisible God, so too the visible Church reflects the invisible body of Christ (with Christ as the head). Historically, for the first thousand years of Christianity, only one Church existed. Then the Great Schism occurred in 1054, splitting the historical Church in two (East and West). Now, there also existed those who dissented from the Church (heretics), but these individuals (and their beliefs) were addressed locally by bishops, synods, ecumenical council, and papal declaration. In other words, Jesus gave authority to His apostles to lead the Church and these apostles, in turn, selected successors to govern the Church once they passed.
Moreover, once the Church ruled on a theological topic, the Church expected consent on all who wished to remain within the Church. Sadly, as with the Great Schism, the leaders of the Protestant Reformation believed their authority greater than Christ’s Church. What started as one fracture with Martin Luther eventually became thousands over the next five hundred years. Just as Jesus called those over two-thousand years ago, He calls you now. Come home.
Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. James 1:27
Another reason for Christians to become or return to the Catholic Church concerns goodness. Goodness, as it relates to the Catholic Church, means that the Church produces holy people that accomplish great things that manifest God’s kingdom in the world. In short, saints and services. The Catholic Church has produced some of the greatest people in world history. These people, the Catholic Church calls saints. They lived for Jesus alone and did amazing things, things that brought immense goodness into the world. For example, the patron saint of hospitals, Saint Camillus de Lellis (1550 – 1614). St. de Lellis experienced a radical conversion at age 24 and went on to establish a religious order to minister to the sick. This order formed the first recorded field medical ambulance in 1595 and still exists today as the Camillians to care for the infirmed.
Furthermore, one cannot mention great saints without mentioning those that helped shape Western civilization, like St. Augustin of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas. And let us not forget St. Pope John Paul II (the great) who helped defeat communism in the West through his holiness and solidarity. These saints accomplished such great works through the grace of God found within the Catholic Church. They beckon you to come and experience these graces for yourself.
Catholic convert Dr. Peter Kreeft once visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a teenager. As he walked through this beautiful place, the young Kreeft asked his Reformed Protestant father, “If the Catholics are so dreadfully wrong, how can their churches be so beautiful?” Moreover, Dr. Kreeft admits this experience with Catholic beauty played an integral part, maybe not in his initial conversion to the Church, but its affirmation. He states:
Beauty is irresistible. Truth is easily resistible. We are very good at deceiving ourselves. Goodness is easily resistible. We can shut up our consciences very easily. But we cannot shut up that nightingale in the heart with the heartbreaking voice that demands its food.
Therefore, beauty must not be overlooked in why one becomes or returns to the Catholic Church. Whether be its architecture, art, or music, the Catholic Church’s contribution to the world’s beauty remains unparalleled. No other institution has contributed more to reflect, in a small way, the coming beauty of heaven. Do not shut up the nightingale of your heart. Feed it. Come home to the Catholic Church.
In all honesty, this reason should be first, as the Eucharist is Christ Himself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1324 states:
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”
For Catholics, the Eucharist means participation in God’s divine life. It also unites all of God’s people as one. Furthermore, in the Eucharist, Catholics participate in the heavenly liturgy, that is, Catholics experience an eternal mystery on earth. Conversely, when a Catholic is excommunicated, they are barred from reception and participation of the Eucharist (and all sacraments), which stands as a sign of unity with the Church. Of course, excommunication is only employed as a last resort to encourage repentance.
Beginning of Life
The final reason on my list (others can come up with more reasons) is Catholic community. Catholics experience this community in and through the sacraments. In baptism, the Catholic community comes together to welcome all (the very young to the very old) into the Church (the community). The next two sacraments of initiation (the Eucharist and Confirmation) continue to unite Catholics to the Church community. This happens within the community, as all who seek Confirmation, for example, must choose an active Confirmed member of the Church to sponsor them.
In the Mists of Life
Moreover, the sacrament of Matrimony brings the Catholic community together in a special way. In this sacrament, the couple, not the priest or the deacon, stand in as the means by which God’s grace is conferred in the sacrament. Next, a community needs its leaders. In the Catholic Church, leaders are created through the sacrament of Holy Orders. In this sacrament, the Church continues the work of Jesus and the apostles through apostolic succession. One such work, the forgiveness of sins, Catholics receive in the sacrament of Reconciliation. In this sacrament, Catholics experience reconciliation with God and the Church community.
At Life’s End
Finally, the last two sacraments, Healing of the Sick and Viaticum, unite the Catholic community in communal suffering and healing. These sacraments, combined with Reconciliation, constitute the “end of life” sacraments. The Catechism states these sacraments are “‘the sacraments that prepare for our heavenly homeland’ or the sacraments that complete the earthly pilgrimage.”
In conclusion, allow me to make a final appeal. When asked why a Christian should become or return to the Catholic Church, I point to five main reasons: truth, goodness, beauty, Christ in the Eucharist, and a sacramental community. Do you value truth? How do you know Jesus established your church? The Catholic Church historically traces itself back to the apostles and to Jesus. This means that the hands that anoint (the hands of bishops and priests) also hold hands throughout time with the apostle’s successors, and therefore with the apostles and Jesus Himself. Moreover, the Catholic Church is beautiful and has spread this beauty throughout the world. Finally, Christ is present in a special way in the Eucharist and the sacraments. In the Catholic Church, Catholics receive Christ in a special and unique way.
I hope and pray you seriously consider the Catholic Church. God bless.
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