-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)
I had held preconceived notions about the Catholic Church. However, they were largely unintentional, and they were quickly quashed as I began to read.
Why do Catholic call priests “father,” when Jesus said to call no man “father”? Well, if Jesus meant that literally, what do I call my Dad? And what about the verse where Jesus Himself calls Abraham our “father”?
Why do Catholics pray to saints? They don’t as if the saints are God. But they do believe that after a Christian dies, he is still part of the Body of Christ, and we can continue to pray for each other, to Christ, after we die. It’s either this, or Christ hasn’t conquered death.
Don’t Catholics worship Mary? No. They venerate her, putting her in a place of importance because she’s clearly prefigured in the Old Testament. She is the new Ark of the Covenant and the New Eve. As one of His last acts on the cross, Jesus tells us that she is our “mother” (John 19:25–27).
In the light of good Catholic teaching and an actual reading of what Catholics believe, my objections and misconceptions seemed juvenile. And I felt lazy, silly, for never having tried to understand what Catholics believed before. Now, as I began to get a better grasp, I was astounded at what I was learning.
Here was a Church that claimed authority not to only collect the books of the Bible together, but to interpret them as well. A Church which claimed unity under the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. A Church which drew a straight line from the first Apostles to the bishops of today, claiming an authoritative link to the very words of Christ, who said, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).
Suddenly, a Catholic Church came into focus that I had no idea existed — a Church which taught that the elements of Communion actually become the Body and Blood of Christ because, I learned, that’s what Jesus says in the Gospel of John (chapter 6). For all our “literal reading” of the Bible, we’d missed one of the most literal parts. Jesus says we have to “eat” His flesh, and when His followers throw up their hands in disgust, He becomes even more graphic, explaining that we have to “gnaw” His flesh! Then, when many of His followers walk away, declaring it a difficult teaching, He does nothing to stop them. Instead of clarifying for His disciples, as He’s often pictured doing, He simply asks, “Do you want to leave, too?”
Even more shocking is the evidence from the early Church Fathers. As a relatively well-educated Evangelical, I’d always been taught to treat my Bible as if it had fallen into my hands directly from its writers’ pens, as if the years between the texts being written and their arriving on my bookshelf simply didn’t exist. But they do exist, and in that time period, lots of important things were being written. Of particular interest are the early Church Fathers. Many of these Church Fathers lived immediately after the Apostles and had important things to say, vital perspectives on the development of the Christian Church.
Shockingly, these early Church Fathers were completely Catholic.
In the Fathers writings, we see ample evidence to believe that they understood Communion as Catholics do today, as the real Body and Blood of Jesus. We find appeals to the Bishop of Rome, lending significant credence to the position of Pope, the successor of Peter, even in the infant Church. We find widespread use of relics, prayers for the dead, and prayers to deceased Christians. We find a particular veneration of Mary, an understanding of infant baptism, and even a version of a worship service which looks shockingly similar to our modern-day Mass.
To my complete surprise, the early Church was Catholic.”