As I wrote a few months ago, I’m very grateful to be Catholic. However, having practiced the Faith (at least on paper) for my whole life, I took a lot of it for granted. Thus, it was only recently that I first pondered the question: what exactly is the Faith?
The Church Is Filled With Love
Everyone knows on the surface that the Faith is a religion; specifically, the largest denomination of Christianity. But, from a Catholic’s point of view, what is Catholicism supposed to be? When I was younger, I would have said it was a cluster of rules we were forced to follow or else, which is how a lot of people outside the Church perceive Her. From a more balanced point of view, though, the Church is so much more than just rules. In fact, the Catholic Church is squarely centered on a more than trivial idea: that of love.
To further illustrate this, let us examine the beginning of the Church. We know that the Apostles were the first Catholics, and they used Christ’s teachings to spread the Faith. But, beyond that, why did Christ come to earth and teach? What would have happened if He had died and rose, but hadn’t told the Twelve to come after Him? What if He had not sent the Holy Spirit to teach them? We would still have been redeemed, but we would have also have been confused. Yes, likely at least a few Jews would have stumbled around trying to treat Jesus as their King. But, in the first place, if the Twelve had not been following Him, they would not have been close to Him and able to ask Him to do something like clarify His parables, so from the beginning His teachings would have been more confusing.
Without clear guidelines to help us, it would have become all too easy to get lost in a fog of worldliness and brutality. Furthermore, there would have been disagreement about how to best follow Christ—perhaps some would have even argued that we could do things like steal and lie and still be following Him perfectly. Additionally, the new Church would not have had a ready-picked set of leaders, so there would have been greater dissent and squabbling over that as well. For example, Jesus chose Peter as the first Pope in spite of his flaws, for His own reasons, but had the people been charged with picking the first Pope instead, I personally doubt they would have picked someone like Peter, because they could not see what Jesus saw.
Christ Founded the Church Out of Love
I mention the importance of the calling of the Twelve because there was another point to doing so, in addition to creating a good foundation for the Faith. We know the Church is the Bride of Christ. Beyond that, though, Our Lord’s purpose in creating the Church was for us. He did not want us to live our earthly lives in utter confusion. Rather, He wanted us to be able to accept the freedom He offered through His crucifixion and resurrection.
To that end, He knew that, with our fallen nature, we needed specific teachings and hierarchy in order not to fall prey to so much human confusion. It also makes sense that He would appoint a small group of persons with a set leader, because it is more difficult for larger groups to come an agreement, and the leader—that is, the Pope—could decide the hardest disputes. Thus, for more reasons He knows and we do not, He chose the Twelve as they were and gave them the mission of passing on the Faith, so we can see that the creation of the Church is a manifestation of His love for us.
The First Catholics Followed out of Love
That explains how Christ founded the Church out of love for us. But, there is another interesting point. Though the Lord’s call was surely very compelling, the Apostles had free choice in whether or not they followed it. Yet, choosing Him by itself was very difficult for them. Take the Bread of Life discourse. After He said, “I am the Bread of Life,” many said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But when Christ asked the Twelve if they would leave, Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Surely they, whom He handpicked, loved Him very much.
Beyond that, though, what comprises the Catholic Church, and all Christian denominations, not only at the time of the Twelve, but also here and now? They are organized communities of people dedicated to loving and serving Christ to the best of their abilities. But the Catholic Church, as the one founded by Christ, exists for two basic reasons: because God created her, and because humans responded to His call. In other words, the Church is founded on the very bedrock of love.
We (Hopefully) Remain in the Church out of Love
Yet, what else is the Church? More than just a community of people dedicated to following Christ, She is the Bride of Christ. Of course we all know that God is love. It then makes perfect sense to say that Christ’s bride is just like Himself, and as Christ is part of the continuous giving and receiving love of the Trinity, so His Church is a community of giving and receiving love to and from Him.
Here, then, is part of the beauty of the Catholic Church: She is not merely a set of beliefs, but She is an entity created and thriving with love for her Lord. She is also necessary, because without Her we would be lost. God’s gift of the Church is only one more proof of just how far His love extends. Let us then remember the great gift that He gave us in His Church, and strive to return His generosity all the more in our lives.