Many non-Catholics regard the Church with perplexity or dislike because of “myths,” or misconceptions, about her, or about her teaching or practice. I used to believe some of these myths before my conversion, and could say the same as another Protestant turned Catholic, Msgr. Ronald Knox, when asked, “Did the Church of Rome come up to your expectations?” Knox replied, “No, thank God it didn’t. Because I was expecting the wrong things.”
For those coming from an Evangelical Protestant background, some myths run a common thread along denominational lines. Some 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.
Here, I share the myths that I carried with me into RCIA, along with the corresponding truths that I found. Thankfully, these myths were resolved and I was able to understand more clearly what the Church teaches and how she operates in our world. While I’m not a professional theologian, hopefully I can help you untangle these misunderstandings and any others 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. The author described the problem of merely cultural Catholicism, in which faith becomes simply a background, not a practice or way of life to be spread. He stated that, according to this mindset, inquiring about Catholicism was as if a non-Italian were to walk up to someone of Italian descent and say, “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, in some circles, Catholicism may become viewed as a family tradition, rather than a relationship with God (which happens 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. One reason I held this belief was because I thought that Catholics simply did not evangelize.
However, when I was in RCIA and then confirmed, I discovered that this was far from the truth. For instance, the Saint Paul Street Evangelization creates street teams to encounter passersby in public spaces in a non-threatening way. These teams often pass out medals, rosary beads, pamphlets, and Bibles to those who are interested. Another example is the Legion of Mary, an organization focused on apostolic work, present in about 170 countries and numbering several million members. While its works can be of many kinds, spreading the faith holds a prominent place among them, as the Legion website’s About page states: “Evangelization, especially the seeking of conversions to the Church, should be a priority for the Legion.”
On a smaller scale, many Catholic parishes have evangelization 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, and 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 the ignorance of Catholics. Perhaps someone has 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 or space here 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. The first half of the Mass, the “Liturgy of the Word,” is devoted to readings from Scripture: a passage from the Old Testament, a Psalm, often a second reading from the Epistles, and 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!
The second half of the Mass, the “Liturgy of the Eucharist,” is also suffused with Scripture. The words that consecrate the Host are the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is My Body . . . drink from it, for this is the chalice of My Blood . . . do this in remembrance of Me.” Thus we are reminded that Christ Himself gave us the Eucharist, and that each Mass is the fulfillment of His command. Before distributing Communion, the priest holds up the consecrated Host, become Jesus Himself, and says the words of John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). The people reply, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only the say the word and my soul shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8, only substituting soul for servant). That the Mass, the center of the Church’s life, is so filled with Scripture indicates how important God’s Word is to Catholic faith.
There are so many ways that Catholics reverence the Bible, and not only in the Mass. One important example is the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, a series of prayers recited at different times throughout the day. The Office is prayed by all priests, deacons, and consecrated religious, and many lay people as well; and it is predominantly made up of Scriptural passages. Catholics are also exhorted to practice lectio divina, or meditating on God’s Word (Catechism 1177, 2708). Though some may neglect the Scriptures out of ignorance or indifference, those who know and love their Catholic faith will seek to absorb God’s Word more deeply into their minds and hearts. In fact, Pope Francis admonished Catholics to carry our Bibles just like we carry our smartphones.
Sharing and Learning Together
Such was my journey through confusion to truth. What about you? If you’re a convert to Catholicism, were 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.