“The Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon.” Oh brother, he didn’t just go there, I thought. I had heard a Catholic apologist tell a similar story about a radio preacher making the same claim. And now, a Baptist pastor was saying the same thing to me. “I don’t want to believe that,” he continued, assuring me, “but I have no reason to believe otherwise.” Fortunately, after hearing a reasonable response, he changed his mind - unfortunately, reasonable responses don’t always satisfy people. People are used to being their own pope, deciding who is an adequate teacher/author and who isn’t. Lots of different people - from Hollywood actors to authors, talk show hosts to pastors - are awarded the teacher’s cap from ordinary people like you and me. These people are influential for sure, but few, if any, are authoritative - especially when it comes to authentic Church teaching.
The sad reality is that many people are influential and yet not authoritative. Actor Hugh Jackman, best known for his role as Wolverine (X-Men Series, 2000-13), explains one reason why he doesn’t follow his parents’ Christian faith, "I couldn't get past the fact that 95 per cent of people on the planet are going to hell because they are non-Christian." Wincing, one might ask, “where does he get this impression?”, and “how many people are seeing this?” and then, “how many people are hearing this interview and thinking, ‘yeah, no kidding, he’s right!’” The same can be said for any number of Hollywood actors, TV talk show hosts, and public figures who have their opinions adopted by many people simply because they're famous. If Wolverine can't be trusted... who can be? But what about on a more local level?
“Isn’t the Pope supposed to be God incarnate?” asked one of the two ladies holding a religious brochure at my front door. Though she was immediately corrected, for me, the scary part was to think about how many of these zealous people have been given this mis-information and how many homes do they go spreading it to? Like it or not, they have influence. Well, that’s other faiths (you might say). Certainly people in my parish know better.
During a CCO Impact mission, students conducted a survey in one of the participating parishes, to see how people felt about evangelizing (that is, sharing their faith). Apparently, at least 60% of one parish replied that it is important to share your faith. Unfortunately, only around 30% of those who answered the survey, believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist (I stress “of those polled”). This means that what they want to share with people is not the real teaching of the Church.
It seems that hollywood actors, pastors and believers of other faiths, and even Catholic parishioners are not adequate sources of authoritative teaching, but have great influence. Duh! you say? While you may know this, it’s obvious that people don’t! People trust blog posts (hey, this is getting personal), bestsellers, History Channel specials, Dan Brown novels and movies, Youtube snippets, talk show hosts, and newspaper columns (etc., etc.) for their faith formation.
“People don’t really trust those, Scott,” you reply, “everybody knows you can’t believe everything you see in the media”. I would like to believe that, but the reality is, people see or read it, they talk about it, post articles and tweet about it, get their own impression of it, hear others’ opinions about it, internalize it, then act on it and re-circulate it over and over.
In the midst of this flood of misinformation and misconception, we need an anchor. Like it or not, we have the responsibility to be informed in our faith, and must have trusted sources to go to. “The Five” for this week presents five sources of teaching that you can and should go to for certainty; they represent expressions of the Teaching Office of the Church. While God cherishes my personal response to him, others need to respond to His invitation and not my opinion of it. In this way, we become a good 'influence' by pointing to the 'true authority'.
1. Liturgy (I placed this here because it (specifically the Mass) is really the most common source of formation for the ordinary Catholic; here is presented Scripture, teaching, and spiritual food - and application of it in both action and prayer - but it is meant to also include the Sacramental life, the Liturgy of the Hours and the living out of the Church Liturgical Calendar as well)
2. Scripture (All Catholics are encouraged to read this in order to be better prepared for the teaching, prayer, and commissioning which the Church presents in the Liturgy and instructions)
3. Catechism of the Catholic Church (the Compendium of the Catechism & the YouCat have attempted to make referencing this amazing gift more accessible to the average person )
4. Council Documents (especially Vatican II, it’s goal was to clarify for the faithful who the Church truly is amid the change, and volume of information, happening throughout the world)
5. Writings of the Popes, Doctors of the Church, Saints, Church Fathers. (Okay, so I obviously smooshed all these in here to get more in... the benefit of these writings is that they can be specific to topics and more practical for applying the teachings to life, especially the lives of the Saints who demonstrate that the Christian Life can be lived authentically.)
***Some quick comments on these five. First, to some these may be ‘no-brainers’, but not to everyone. Second, others may like to see sou rces like Fr. Robert Barron, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. Scott Hahn, or other writers. While they may be great writers, philosophers, or theologians, their ‘trustworthiness’ is based upon how well they cling to the above ‘five’. The third, is a comment to those who would say that these are too academic - that by suggesting these, it’s just intellectualizing the Faith. Not true, I’m not suggesting that to be saved everyone must be a theologian, but since we are in the midst of a so-called “Information Revolution” - which has shaken our certainty and trust, rather than enhanced it - there is a Lighthouse available to save us from crashing upon the shore! But knowing these is not enough, as they themselves will teach. Love must inflame them, drive them, guide them, and be the goal of everything!! Don’t believe me, read this beautiful passage from the Catechism, which quotes the Roman Catechism from approximately 500 years ago:
“Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love” (CCC 25).
If you have any thoughts or suggestions, I would love to hear them!
The Five by Scott Roy