May 29, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: The marks of the Church

John F. Fink(Sixteenth in a series of columns)

I was asked once to give a talk on why I’m a Catholic.

I said that I’m a Catholic because I’ve learned through the years that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be in the Nicene Creed: one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

It is one Church in its teachings—always the same whether you’re in the United States, Europe, South America, Asia or anyplace else in the world. Every Catholic church is ultimately under the jurisdiction of the pope.

It is holy because it has the Eucharist and the other sacraments that help us to become holy. To receive the body and blood of Jesus is the ultimate in intimacy with God this side of heaven.

The Church also makes available numerous opportunities for those who want to become closer to God—to become holy—through prayer.

The Church can present a large list of saints who have shown us how to follow Christ. These people found their holiness in the Catholic Church, and we can do likewise. They are our role models as well as our intercessors.

The Church really is catholic, or universal. It really does exist everywhere in the world. It has both great diversity and unity in its universality.

The Catholic Church is apostolic. It alone can trace itself back to the Apostles. Many converts to Catholicism have been converted mainly for that reason.

One of the most famous is John Henry Newman, who was a leader in the Anglican Church’s Oxford Movement in the 19th century. He began to write a book showing that the Anglican Church was the via media—the middle way—between Catholicism and Protestantism.

But as he studied the Church’s history, he had to acknowledge that Catholicism was indeed the same Church founded by Christ and spread by the Apostles. Newman went on to become the greatest theologian in the Catholic Church in the 19th century, and eventually was named a cardinal.

The Church has had a checkered history, to say the least. It has survived some simply awful popes in the 15th century, who thought more of enriching their families than in being spiritual leaders, or who fathered illegitimate children and plotted to murder their opponents.

There have been 37 antipopes in the Church’s history, men who claimed or exercised the papal office in an uncanonical manner.

During one period of history, 1378 to 1417, there were two and sometimes three men claiming to be pope, each with followers who thought that their man was the legitimate pope.

My feeling is that, if the Church could survive all of that, and more, it must be divinely protected in order to last all these centuries.

One, holy, catholic and apostolic—those are what we know as the four marks of the Church.

There’s also a fifth: The Catholic Church fosters and promotes devotion to Mary, the mother of God. I feel that only the Catholic and Orthodox Churches give to Mary the devotion to which she is entitled. †

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