The Catholic Church and its thousand-year history conjure strong feelings in many and add to the luster of the most stable organizational body in the history of mankind.
As the largest religion in the world, most people have an idea of what being a Catholic entails. Unfortunately, most non-Catholics are wrong in their attitudes about Catholicism.
I was not raised a Catholic, but rather raised and baptized as a Baptist. As a rule of thumb, Baptists don’t typically like Catholics. In-fact, the only thing I knew about Catholics was that they were all heretics who worshiped Mary and were going to hell. That and my dad’s time in Catholic schools had left him with an odd obsession with penguins.
As I got older, my dad would take me to mass on Sundays when my mother was not around. It was the weirdest thing I had ever experienced, and it was not long before I began to wonder whether some of the ideas I had been taught might have been wrong.
2000 Years is a Long Time
Many of the faulty ideas I was taught about Catholicism are widely held beliefs by most Protestants. These beliefs seemed to be based more off ignorance about what Catholics actually believe.
The church has a long and rich history, that can be traced all the way back to the time of Jesus. This rich history has provided the church with sufficient time to learn and grow in their faith, as well as plenty of time to make mistakes.
As honorable as the goals of the faithful tend to be, the church has always been run by people. Ordinary people are perfectly capable of making mistakes and the church has made their fair share.
Ironically, these misdeeds are still held against the Catholics by other Christian denominations; religions that are supposed to teach forgiveness and understanding still refuse to look past 1000-year-old crimes.
No organization is immune to scandal or mismanagement. In 2000 years, the church has certainly made its share of bad decisions. Anyone with a basic knowledge of European history is aware that for hundreds of years, the church had ongoing influence over many governments.
The sort of power wielded by the church lead to several disastrous decisions, that have long led to an unfavorable amount of criticism as a result of those past deeds. From these feelings, many misconceptions have arisen about what the Catholic Church teaches.
Many Protestants have formed opinions based on information they received from sources outside of the Catholic Church. Catechism is a class offered by the church to anyone interested in learning more about the church, either out of curiosity or a desire for conversion. These classes are dedicated to making sure people are aware of the truth about Catholicism.
Mary And The Saints
The most common misconception about the Catholic Church is that its members worship Mary and the Saints. This is generally attributed to the fact that Catholics pray to them.
Prayer is the act of speaking to God. This is something all Christians do without reluctance. Many ask for help or guidance in their lives and offer thanks for the good things that come about in their lives.
Catholics recognize this as prayer. They also speak to Mary and the Saints. This can be done for the same reasons as prayer, but it is not the same thing.
Saints have an area of faith that they are specialized. When Catholics are having difficulties with a specific issue, they go to the specialist and ask for their guidance.
We can see applicable examples of this in businesses all over the world. Typically, a CEO of a company oversees all aspects of the business. Underneath the CEO are department heads that specialize in maintaining operations in distinct departments.
While it is effective to go to a CEO with any question about the company and he will be able to offer assistance, sometimes it is just as easy to speak to the person in charge of the department related to your concern.
It does not mean that you have any less faith in the head guy; it just means that you realize that there are alternatives. No Catholic prays exclusively to saints. It is merely something that is done in addition to other practices.
Many Protestants also have questions about the Catholic Church’s admiration of Mary, claiming it is excessive. She gave birth to and raised Jesus, and was probably the most important influence on His life on Earth. She then had to watch as he was tortured and killed. That earned her the respect that Catholics give her.
Many non-Catholics are curious about the practice of confession. Catholics believe that the act of confessing their sins to another enables them to receive forgiveness for those sins.
This is based on biblical accounts calling on man to confess his sins and he shall be forgiven. When Christ granted the gift of the Holy Spirit into humanity, he granted us the gift of forgiveness.
Sitting alone in a quiet room and saying you are sorry for something in your head, does no invoke a true feeling of contrition. It takes no effort to think that you feel bad about something. It requires true faith and courage to list all of your faults and misdeeds out loud to a representative of the lord.
Regular confession not only provides a Catholic with the ability to find absolution, but it also demands self-reflection. You are much more likely to recognize shortcomings in yourself if you actually have to think about your actions on a regular basis.
The idea of purgatory is never explicitly mentioned in the bible, neither is the trinity. These are ideas that are inferred from biblical passages.
Purgatory is viewed as a place filled with people waiting for entry into heaven. I blame Dante and his Divine Comedy for this misconception. Purgatory is more like a process than a location.
The bible clearly states that nothing defiled or impure can enter the kingdom of heaven. People are not pure when they die. Purgatory is the cleansing process that allows them to enter heaven.
Catholicism focuses on improving your relationship with God as well as your fellow man. Helping others understand the true meaning of our faith is important.
These are not the only misconceptions about the Catholic Church. The role of the Pope as the head of the church is a frequently disputed office as well. Protestants don’t accept our assertions that we do not worship the Pope, but it is true that we simply respect him as the leader of our faith.
Catholicism is not the big bad wolf that many Protestants believe that it is. I was once led down the path of paranoia about Catholicism, but I chose not to take the word of outsiders about the nature of the faith. As a convert to Catholicism, I am still surprised by the common mis-perceptions people harbor towards such an honorable faith.