Amy Welborn gives you the answers you need when someone challenges your Catholic Faith. From Mary to the saints to papal infallibility, infant baptism, purgatory, and a whole lot more. Prove It! Church explains what you need to know to prove that the Catholic Church belongs to Christ, teaches Christ, preaches Christ - and is, in fact, Christ in the world today!
It happened on the first day of eighth grade.
There I was, in a new school in a new town in a completely new part of the country, just trying to figure out my thirteen-year-old life: where I was supposed to go next, what bus I was supposed to take home, and exactly what was and wasn’t cool down here in this strange land called Tennessee.
Sitting in a rickety portable classroom, getting ready for a history class, I was startled by a voice in my ear.
“My name’s Donna,” she said, in a sweet Southern drawl. “What’s yours?”
I told her. Next question?
“What church do you go to?”
I said the word: Catholic.
She meditated deeply on this for a second, then nodded knowingly.
“I thought so,” she announced. “You look like a Catholic. I’m Baptist.”
I looked like a Catholic. Okay. And what is so Catholic, exactly, about short brown hair, glasses, and braces? So I guess that means freckles and a mop of long red hair is the look all the Baptist girls were after in 1973?
No, I didn’t say that. In fact, I didn’t say anything, because before I could regroup my brain, the bell rang, and Tennessee history class — the story of a lot of Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, but not too many Catholics — began.
But that wasn’t the end, either of our friendship or that particular conversation. As her second question to me made perfectly clear, Donna was very, very interested in religion, knew more about the Bible than almost any adult I’d ever encountered, and had lots and lots of questions about this Catholic identity that apparently glinted right off my wire-rimmed glasses for anyone to see.
“Why do y’all worship Mary?”
“Why do you think the pope can’t be wrong about anything?”
“Why do your churches have statues when the Bible says not to have graven images?”
“Why do you call your priests ‘Father’ when the Bible says not to?”
I had never, ever, thought about even one of those questions before. I’d taken every bit of my faith for granted, never asked why, never wondered, never even tried to figure out what was different about being Catholic and why — until Donna asked me. And asked and asked. The girl just would not and could not give up. She forced me to think, and to be honest, she shamed me — shamed me into facing some cold, hard truths about myself.
Here I was, a cradle Catholic who never missed Mass and even said the Rosary once in a while (okay, mostly to help me go to sleep at night, but still . . .), and I couldn’t answer even one simple question about the unique aspects of this faith I said I believed. What kind of a Catholic was I?
On top of that, she knew so much about her own faith! She was my age, but she could quote Scripture passages that I’d never heard of. As I learned when I went over to visit her, she read two chapters of the Bible every night — and even having company didn’t stop her. Why didn’t I take my faith as seriously as she was taking hers? What was my excuse?
So, that year, I stopped making excuses. It’s sort of a bizarre picture, but I have to reveal that it really did happen this way. During study hall, I’d sit in the library of my big public junior high school, those huge green volumes of the New Catholic Encyclopedia open in front of me, racing through articles on “Assumption” or “Papal Infallibility” or “Infant Baptism,” hoping that at least enough of the important stuff would sink in, and I could explain it to Donna.
I don’t know how successful I was. Probably not very. I’m sure that Donna is still a very happy Baptist today, still reading Scripture every night, and teaching her own children to do the very same thing. Maybe she learned a little bit about Catholicism. Knowing what I was able to tell her, if it was anything, it was indeed a very little bit.
How about you? Have you ever been challenged the way Donna challenged me?
If so, perhaps the challenge came from friends at school, like mine did. Maybe you’ve found a little pamphlet in a public restroom or on a park bench that asks you, in big bold letters, “ARE YOU SAVED?” And you have to wonder, Am I?
Evangelists might have appeared at your door. Perhaps you’ve even encountered these kinds of questions and challenges from right in your own family. A surprising number of members of fundamentalist churches were actually cradle Catholics, and they have children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews they would be very happy to bring along on the trip.
You can be sure, though, that if your Catholic faith hasn’t been challenged by a fundamentalist Christian yet, it will be. It will happen at school or work. It will happen in your neighborhood. And there’s no doubt it will happen if you go to college. Believe it or not, there really are groups whose specific ministry is all about convincing Catholic college students that their Catholic faith is not only wrong, but also dangerous to their eternal salvation.
If you’re not, fasten your seat belts. You need to get ready, and let me tell you why before we head out on this bumpy ride to the land of Truth, Wisdom, and a Whole Lotta Big Words.
You simply must understand that when fundamentalists start peppering you with questions, their motive isn’t simple curiosity. Sowing doubt is what it’s really all about.
We have to be honest about this. Many, many fundamentalist Christians believe that the Catholic Church leads its followers nowhere but to hell. Not all of them buy this, of course. Later on in this chapter, we’ll briefly run through the diversity you’ll find among those who call themselves “fundamentalist” and “evangelical.”
But a startling number of them believe that you’re doomed. There are actually entire “ministries” devoted to “saving Catholics.” Most fundamentalist churches send missionaries to traditionally Catholic countries in Latin America and Europe. Why? To bring Jesus Christ to the poor, ignorant souls who inhabit those lands — implying, of course, that the Catholic Church has been silent on that minor matter.
Those kinds of groups, “evangelization” movements, and anti-Catholic books and pamphlets don’t come out of a respect for the ancient Catholic faith. Nope, they’re rooted in nothing less than a deep conviction that the Catholic faith leads people away from God, and that it’s the fundamentalist’s mission to put them back on the right path.
And believe it or not, despite all of this, your hard-core evangelizing fundamentalist will deny, deny, deny that she’s anti-Catholic.
“But we love Catholics!” she’ll proclaim. “That’s why we want to bring them to Jesus!”
Thanks a bunch. Somehow, I don’t think we’re defining our terms exactly the same way. So, this is how the whole deal usually ends up working:
You’ll field a question or two about your faith — those same questions I was asked when I was thirteen. Some you can sort of answer. Some leave you stumped, silent, and squirming.
And without even saying a direct word about it, your friend has planted a seed of doubt.
As a matter of fact, I don’t know why my Church does these things, you think. What else about it don’t I know? Next, they might start showing you passages in the Bible that seem to contradict the teachings of the Catholic faith.
But, you wonder, how can that be? Our faith is supposed to come from the Bible, isn’t it?
Finally, they’ll ask that all-important, life-defining question. “Are you saved? If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven? Are you sure?”
You consider your baptism, your prayers, your participation in Mass and the other sacraments, your volunteer work — all those things, your Catholic faith has taught you, that bring you closer to God.
But the barrage of questions — the seeds of doubt — have begun to sprout:
My friend seems to know so much more about religion than I do. Maybe she knows more about this salvation stuff. Plus, she’s telling me that a lot of this Catholic stuff isn’t in the Bible, and she seems to be right. Maybe
How could I be Catholic my whole life and still be so unsure about things? Why isn’t what I hear in church as clear as what my friend is telling me?
Maybe she knows something I don’t. Maybe she has an answer that I don’t have. I wonder what it is?
And there you go, off into the wild blue yonder, away from the Catholic faith.
But we’re not going to let that happen, right? Right. And let me tell you why.
Because you, my friend, are very, very interested in truth.
You’re not about to accept arguments that are based on fear, half-truths, or manipulations of Bible passages taken out of context.
You’re not about to just sit and believe what someone outside the Catholic faith tells you about that same faith.
You’re smarter than that.
You know in your heart that the Catholic faith does bring you to Christ. In fact, the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ on earth, established by Jesus himself, living, teaching, loving, and healing today, the same way Jesus did when He walked the earth.
You know because of all this — because the Church belongs to Christ, teaches Christ, preaches Christ, and is Christ in the world, and because eternal salvation comes through Christ — that of course you can find salvation through the Catholic Church!
It just makes sense.
Be real. The Church has been around for two thousand years. Lots of people have dealt with these issues before, and have done so very successfully. Believe it or not, there are quite a few former fundamentalists who, once they started investigating what the Catholic Church was really all about, rather than blindly accepting what they were taught by their own pastors and churches, found themselves so convinced by what they found that they became Catholic themselves! Check out “For a Deeper Look” at the end of this book for the titles of some books these folks have written about their journeys.
So don’t worry. If you have a Donna or two in your life, don’t run the other way when she plops down behind you in class. Don’t see her as a walking, talking acne infestation, good for nothing but a big dose of Stridex.
Maybe, just maybe, you could see her as a blessing, sent by Someone (gee — who could that be?) to finally, at long last, get you thinking about this thing we call “faith.”
Order Prove It! Church by Amy Welborn here.
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