Why the Roman Catholic Church?

Why the Roman Catholic Church?

When one walks in through the gigantic bronze doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the world’s largest church, and then to the high altar, high overhead on the base of the huge dome are the words in Latin, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.” Excavations have been made under the high altar revealing a necropolis dating back to the first century. Paul VI announced that the bones of a robust man of 60-70 years were found by a wall engraved PETROS ENI which could be the remains of St. Peter.

This is the mother-church of over a billion Roman Catholics. The role of the church in salvation is emphasized more than in other Christian traditions. We see it as the visible sacrament of Christ’s presence on this earth. There is a strong emphasis on the roles of bishop, priest and deacon with special attention to the bishop of Rome, the Pope (cf. What is the Papacy?). The Church’s theology emphasizes continuity.

The catechism says: “The Church is the people that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, and above all as a Eucharistic assembly. She draws her life from the word and the body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ’s body” (paragraph 752).

Jesus and the Reign of God

The Church had its origin in Jesus who preached a message of the “Reign of God” (Mt.13:1ff). He chose “twelve” (Mk. 03:14-15) with Peter at the head (Mt. 16:17-19). They represented what was to become the foundational structure of the Church. This all took form within its matrix of Judaism.

At first its primary mission was to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt.10:06).  However Peter learned in a vision that “no one was unclean or impure” and he began a ministry to the gentiles (Acts 10:01-48).

This resulted in the first major crisis centered around the gentle converts and whether they had to be circumcised and comply with Levitical law (Acts15:05ff). There was another serious internal problem involving social justice and the care of the widows and those dependent on material help from others within the community. Seven were appointed to serve (diakonein) those “who had been neglected in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 06:01-07). This ministry has grown into many hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly, and other Catholic services concerned with corporal acts of mercy to all people regardless of religion or race throughout the world today.

Church of the New Testament

In the earliest writings of the New Testament, Paul describes the Church as the “body of Christ” with an appeal for unity and fellowship (1Cor. 12;12-31; Romans 12:04-05). We are united through the “one bread” of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 10:16-17). The early church consisted of groups who met in homes to read the Scripture and “break bread” (Acts 02:46; Acts 16:14-15; Acts 28:28:23, 30, 31). By the time that the later Pauline letters are written the word Church (ecclesia) refers to the worldwide assembly of Christians in which Christ is the head and the Church is his body (Eph. 01:22-23; Col.01:18-20). They were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).

As the followers of Jesus the Messiah increased, they began to experience increased hostility in Judaism. Prior to his conversion Paul was one of the persecutors (Acts 09:01-02; Gal. 01:13). About 85 AD the remaining Christians were finally expelled along with the Septuagint (Greek Bible).

John’s Gospel (c. 90s AD) reflects this hostility. The Church is portrayed as a flock of sheep with Christ as the shepherd (John 10:15). He is also seen as the vine with the believers as the branches (John15:01-08). Jesus passes on his role of shepherd to Peter who is martyred for the faith (John 21:15-19).

The Church after Pentecost

Some have attempted to show a wide diversity of faith structures in the early Church because of Scriptural differences (Romans vs. James; Luke vs. Matthew, etc.). All the New Testament authors write as members of the Church of Jesus Christ built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. There was no fragmentation. Heretics were expelled from the Church (Mat.18:15-18). It was one, holy, apostolic, and Catholic.

The Church of Vatican II

The Church is the whole people of God, not just the hierarchy. Its mission is not only preaching and a sacramental ministry, but also service to those in need.  Christ’s body includes not just Catholics but also Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants alike who are united to the Church through baptism. It acknowledges the ecclesial reality of other Christian communities. This is not to say, however, that all churches are equal.
Why Do We Need the Church?

#1. The Good News of Jesus Christ gives meaning to life and provides a sharing community where we are spiritually nourished. 
#2. The Church testifies to world of values that otherwise might be lost.
 #3. It presents the way of salvation which makes this world a better place to live in.  Finally, we can encounter the real presence of Jesus in the sacraments. “He is here!”

Why Is Our Church Different?

It stands alone with its continuity of the Petrine office as the visible foundation of the bishops and faithful. It has maintained a continuity of the basic essentials of Doctrine dating back to the apostles which are summed up in its creeds. It emphasizes its human qualities by admitting it is made up of sinners being saved through the grace that comes as a gift from the Lord. Finally it sees itself as the sacrament of God’s presence in the world and for that reason it is entrusted to administer the seven sacraments providing grace for all who seek salvation.

A Church of Social Justice

While the Church’s ministry is to the spiritual welfare of the faithful, it is also concerned with social justice and the corporal needs of all of humanity. In the complexities of this modern world it is concerned with the dignity of the human being as created in the image of God and with human rights. It takes a strong stand supporting the sacredness of life.

The late Pope John Paul II spoke out against environmental pollution, the arms race, the widening gap between the rich and poor, increasing number of political systems employing torture and oppression, and modern methods of warfare.

There have been numerous papal encyclicals issued in the last 125 years dealing with social problems. The Church is not only concerned with the hereafter, but also with the here and now.

"Why the Roman Catholic Church?" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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