Solemnity of the Ascension // Our Lady of Fatima // Mother’s Day, 2018
It’s very common for inquirers about Catholicism to arrive in their RCIA classes or local parishes with misconceptions about the Faith. Often warned by well-meaning acquaintances about the dangers of the Catholic faith, those curious about Catholicism often have to work through this emotional and cultural baggage before (and sometimes after) receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.
For those who convert from an Evangelical Protestant background, some “myths” run a common thread across denominational lines. Some of these common myths include the idea that Catholics worship Mary, Catholics must earn their way to Heaven, Catholics believe they can “just go to confession” (and keep on sinning), and that Catholicism rejects Biblical teaching in favor of man-made traditions.
For me, the experience was a little different.
Many Protestant groups teach that one only has to “accept Jesus” in order to secure salvation. Often, it is taught that salvation can never be lost, regardless of what the person does. Other groups teach that salvation is eternal, but if you continue to live a life of sin after acknowledging Jesus, then you probably weren’t really “saved” to begin with. Baptism is often presented as something one does as a sign of obedience after salvation, not as an act necessary for salvation.
Contrary to this dominant theology in Protestantism, my denomination taught the necessity of baptism for salvation and that eternal security is not a Biblical teaching. Since the Catholic Church teaches the necessity of baptism for salvation and the rejection of eternal security, I had no issue with this during my formation period.
However, there were other myths before my conversion that I carried with me into RCIA. Thankfully, these myths were resolved and I was able to understand more clearly what the Church teachers and how she operates in our world. While I’m not a professional theologian, hopefully I can help you untangle these misunderstandings and any other misunderstandings you may have, too.
Myth #1: Catholics Don’t Evangelize. A few months ago, I read an article (title and author I have since forgotten) about Catholic evangelization. Essentially, the author stated that helping someone enter the Catholic faith was once almost unheard of. He mentioned that inquiring about Catholicism was like if a non-Italian walked up to someone of Italian descent and said, “I’d like to be Italian. Can you help me do that?” In case you didn’t know, you can’t change someone’s ethnicity.
I imagine, that at one time, Catholicism was easily viewed as a family tradition, rather than a relationship with God (which happens even today in all faith traditions to a degree). Often, for those born into a Catholic family, the idea of conversion may seem foreign or even odd. At one time, I thought people only converted to Catholicism because they were going to marry a Catholic. On reason I carried this belief was because I thought that Catholics simply did not evangelize.
However, when I was in RCIA and upon my confirmation, I discovered that this was farther from the truth. For example, the Saint Paul Street Evangelization creates street teams to encounter passerbys in public spaces in a non-threatening way. These teams often pass out medals, rosary beads, pamphlets, and Bibles to those who are interested. On a smaller scale, many Catholic parishes have envagelization teams. For example, my parish hosted a Discovering Christ and Sharing Christ sessions for those interested in telling their story of faith in social settings. Catholic evangelization is alive and well, even if you don’t see it shouted on your local street corner.
Myth #2: Catholics Don’t Care About the Bible. This myth is rampant, especially in some (but not all) Protestant churches. The accusations are varied: Catholics say a priest forgives you. That’s not in the Bible! or Catholics drink blood each Sunday. That’s not in the Bible! or Catholics observe Advent and Lent, plus they baptize babies who can’t consent. That’s not in the Bible! My personal favorite: Catholics don’t even read the Bible. They’re not allowed to!
Unfortunately, many of these statements about Catholic doctrines not having a Biblical foundation are based on myths within a myth. Perhaps someone had heard a Catholic family member describe a faith practice incorrectly. Or, maybe someone has encountered a former Catholic who is angry with the Church (and is often poorly catechized), and is determined to spread their own understanding of Catholic teaching.
While I don’t have time to delve into the Biblical basis for Catholic teachings, I can say that Catholics have a strong reverence for the Bible as the inspired Word of God. If you attend any Catholic Mass, you will notice that the Mass is absolutely soaked in the words and story of the Bible. There are multiple readings: the Old Testament, a Psalm, often a second reading from the Epistles, and always, always, always a Gospel reading. That’s a reading from each part of the Bible each and every Sunday! In a three-year liturgical year cycle, a Catholic will have heard the entire Bible read. How awesome is that!
Another example, before receiving the Eucharist, Catholics say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only the say the words and my soul shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8). So, each time we receive Communion, Catholics are reminded that though we are not worthy of God, He comes to each one of us in the Eucharist. There are so many ways that Catholics reverence the Bible, just in the Mass alone. In fact, Pope Francis admonished Catholics to carry our Bibles just like we carry our smartphones.
Food For Thought
If you’re a convert to Catholicism, are there any myths that you believed prior to your confirmation? If you’re a cradle Catholic, did you have misunderstandings that were cleared up upon further study? Are you a non-Catholic who may have a misunderstanding? If so, I’d love to hear your stories below. It’s important that we always promote the truth in charity and love. I look forward to reading your comments and stories. Have a blessed Sunday!