I have been a practicing Catholic all my life, but I'm not sure I have always been what is called a "good Catholic." Although, I am definitely Christian, and believe in the Holy Trinity of God, the father, God, the son, and God the Holy Spirit, I do not always agree with all the dogma and creeds of the Catholic Church. Sometimes my views of Catholicism differs from that of Pope Benedict XVI, but my views of Jesus Christ and God are pretty much in accordance with God's teachings, which sometimes differ from lay man's teachings.What I am trying to say in my ramblings is that I have a "personal relationship" with God/Jesus Christ which is not always what the Catholic Church teaches.
The Catholic Church is full of sacraments, saints, the Virgin Mary and angels which the protestant faith does not have or rely on for their faith in God. My father being protestant, a Methodist, allowed me to learn how they see God/Jesus Christ as a personal relationship with God, without the intervention of priests, saints or sacraments. It has always been for me a much simpler and truer God/man relationship rather than what the Catholic Church puts forth with confession of sins, now called "reconciliation," sacraments and all the saint's interventions for the sake of our souls and guardian angels to look after us on our journey toward the final destination and God.
I have always been puzzled and amazed that the "visions" seen by peasants of the Virgin Mary at Guadalupe, Mexico and Lourdes, France, for example, were only seen by Catholics. God and the Virgin Mary only seem to reveal themselves to Catholics, never to Protestants or Islamics. Now, why would God choose to do that? I do not believe Catholics to be the "chosen religion" of God - especially in this day and age when Islam is believed in by more than half the world. God is God - there is only one. And, we are we. If we are truly "all God's children," then He can't pick out one religion and say it is truer than the rest. Or, that one religion is the best of the best.
What this is all leading up to is that in today's chaotic world, where exactly does Catholicism stand? What are the Catholic Church's beliefs today? Are they the same or different than what I learned in the Balmoral Catechism classes I took as a child? The title of this article and a new book written by a Catholic priest, Father Robert Barron, Catholicism: Journey to the Heart of the Faith, answers these questions that I have about Catholicism.
Fortunately, my present Catholic church parish, St. William's in Naples, FL, is holding sessions to view this book on DVD and having discussion sessions after viewing the DVD with other Catholics. In a sense, I am back in "catechism class" to learn what the Catholic Church is all about in the 21st Century.
So far, we have had two viewings of the beginning of the book and two discussion sessions following to discuss what we are seeing and hearing on the DVD. It is an excellent program lead and monitored by Sister Christa of St William's parish.
In the first session we discussed the Incarnation and the place it has in the beliefs of the Catholic Church and all of Christianity. We discussed whether we had doubts about the Incarnation - that God became man in Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ does not represent God but IS God and man all wrapped up in one person. This is the central belief of the Catholic Church and all of Christianity. We discussed this topic and came full circle with most of us in agreement with the Incarnation because of the miracles that Jesus performed and are described to us in the gospels of the New Testament have given us faith in God, the father, God, the son, and God, the Holy Spirit. Whewwww! That one out of the way.
In Session 2 we viewed more of the DVD of Barron's book, in which Father Barron takes us to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights and other places in Israel, to bring our religion alive for us.
In this session, most of us at our table did not realize that Jesus Christ had four tasks to perform for God and these four tasks were his purpose here on earth given to him by God to accomplish as described in the Old Testament. His four tasks were:
1. To gather all the tribes of Israel together
2. To cleanse the Temple of God
3. To deal with the enemies of Israel
4. To reign as Lord of the nations
Our discussion centered on whether Jesus Christ accomplished these four tasks while on earth and the importance of the crucifixion and resurrection to our Catholic beliefs. Again, through out discussions we came full circle and determined that, YES, Jesus Christ did accomplish all four tasks and, therefore, died for our sins and made possible everlasting life for us with God.
Jesus gathered everyone to his table: good, evil, rich, poor, sinners, prostitutes, beggars, disabled, sick etc. No one was cast away. Jesus was all inclusive at his table; he gathered us all there. Task one completed.
Jesus Christ did cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem, both literally and figuritivly. He cast out the corrupt priests and rabbis, the corrupt money changers and usurers, from the Temple. The Old Testament stated that water would flow from the new temple Christ created. And, unbeknownst to me, I learned from Father Barron that at the crucifixion, water flowed from Christ's side after the blood. Catholics now see Jesus as the "new temple", not the stone and mortar "Temple" standing in Jerusalem. So task number two is completed.
How did God deal with the enemies of Israel? He sent Christ as a warrior, but Christ is not the type of warrior that people were expecting. Jesus arrived in Bethlehem as a small vulnerable child, born in a stable to Mary and Joseph, a carpenter. He was not the great warrior king everyone was waiting for or expecting. Jesus Christ was the humble man cleansing out the Temple in Jerusalem. He was a non-violent warrior and had a loving, non-violent way of "turning the other cheek." This was a visual very different than what the people's mindset was at the time. Jesus taught that God is love, not secular power of any kind. Task number three accomplished.
And, the crucifixion became the epitome of the Sermon on the Mount. The eight beatitudes became true with the crucifixion. And, the finite proof that Jesus Christ was not just man but God - the resurrection and Jesus' appearance to show his body and wounds to his disciples. This was the definitive proof to those that lived, saw the crucifixion, knew Christ died on the cross, and then saw the risen Christ alive and with his wounds. This was the definitive proof to those that lived during this time and became the basis of the beliefs and faith in the Catholic Church and all of Christianity. Task number four completed.
Jesus saves us by showing us a new way to live.
Our task and purpose in life is to live this new way of life through our faith in God, the father, God the son, and God, the Holy Spirit, and that our example in life will encourage others to follow Christ and the Father.
This is a series of eleven or twelve sessions, which I hope to write about here on my blog. If you are in Naples, FL and are interested in joining the sessions, call Sister Christa at St. William's Catholic Church located on Seacrest Dr., to obtain more information. We meet every Thursday evening from 7-9 p.m..