If you boldly ask a group of your Protestant friends why they are not Catholic, you will likely get a variety of answers. But—if you listen carefully—you will notice that many of their reasons often have a common denominator, a singular underlying thread of misunderstanding: that Catholics attribute to creatures what is due to God alone.
Indeed, along this common thread, the objections against Catholic doctrine and practice can quickly pile up and even overwhelm. In fact, some of these criticisms might even seem reasonable:
“You pray to the saints,” a Protestant friend might remind you, “but Paul writes that ‘there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus‘” (1 Tim 2:5).
“You call your priest ‘Father’ but the Bible says to ‘call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven‘” (Matt 23:9)
“You believe Jesus gave Peter ‘the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,’ but the Book of Revelation says that Jesus holds the keys“ (see Matt 16:18; Rev 3:7).
Indeed each of these objections demand a good answer. But the Catholic answer need not be as complex as one might think.
Here’s the key: to be effective evangelizers in the face of criticism (and all evangelists will inevitably and necessarily face criticism) we must peer carefully through the murkiness of disagreement to pinpoint the true, deeper objections—the “Big Fish” as it were—that underlie the whole thing; and in this case it becomes clear that this non-Catholic objection is really a rejection of God’s true desire to make us active co-workers, participants and beneficiaries in His divine plan of salvation or an enforcement of strict limitations on what God wants us to have a share in.
But indeed—as the Word of God attests—the Almighty likes to share abundantly. Even infinitely and eternally.
But can we give examples of this “Almighty sharing”? Does the Bible really support this? Absolutely.
The Scriptures are literally bursting with examples of God sharing His authority and power with His people so that they might serve God and neighbour better, becoming extensions of Him in the world and in the Church. The great story of salvation history is the ultimate testimony of how God involves men in His divine work.
Consider the following points:
There is one Creator (Is 40:28). Yet God allows us to participate with Him as co-creators in the natural order through the act of procreation (a divine process that requires one man and one woman).
There is one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). Yet the Scriptures are clear, especially through the writings of St. Paul, that God allows us to function as co-mediators by praying for one another (1 Tim 2:1-3). This invitation to intercession is extended to the entire Body Of Christ which is not separated by death (Rom 8:38-39), and therefore includes the angels and saints in heaven (Rev 5:8; Rev 8:3-4).
We believe that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man because He is God and man. We also believe that “going straight to God” in prayer is a beautiful practice; but most especially when we go straight to Him harmoniously united as members of one mystical Body.
There is no other foundation than Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:10-11; 1 Pet 2:6-7). Yet St. Paul writes that the apostles are the foundation of the Church (Eph 2:19-21). Of course, he is clear that Jesus is the “chief” foundation or cornerstone. Through his emphasis on “the foundation of the apostles” St. Paul is calling to mind the authority bestowed upon the apostles and their successors (see Matt 16:17-19: Matt 18:15-20; Luke 10:16; Luke 22:32; Acts 1:20; Acts 20:28).
There is one Father in heaven (Matt 23:9). Yet God calls many men to be fathers in different contexts (family, ordained ministry, etc). Of course, the context in the biblical passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel is that God is the Supreme Archetype for all types of fathers on earth. However, some non-Catholics hold that this passage reserves the title “father” for God alone, thereby condemning the practice of calling our Catholic priests “Father Jim” or “Father Mike” or whatever the case may be. But this interpretation is evidently out of sync with the intended scriptural meaning, in light of the fact that Jesus called Abraham “father” (Jn 8:56), St. Paul called himself a “father” (1 Cor 4:15), and Steven called the Jewish leaders “fathers” (Acts 7:2).
There is the chief Shepherd (Jn 10:12; 1 Pet 5:4). Yet Jesus explicitly invites Peter to become a shepherd for His people (Jn 21:15-17). This is clearly a sign of Peter’s special role in the Church instituted by Christ. This special role or office is indicated most evidently by Peter’s reception of “the keys” (Matt 16:17-19). Since the reign of King David, the keys of the kingdom were always understood to be a conferral of the king’s authority to his steward or “prime minister” who was entrusted to keep order in the king’s absence until he returned (see Is 22). Peter’s keys are an extension of the keys held by Christ (Rev 3:7), and as such, empower him as the Vicar of Christ until He comes again in glory.
Tertullian, among others, emphasized this in the early 3rd century:
“What kind of man are you, subverting and changing what was the manifest intent of the Lord when he conferred this personally upon Peter? Upon you, he says, I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys” (Modesty 21:9–10 [A.D. 220]).
We have one High Priest (Heb 7:22-25). Yet we share in a universal priesthood by virtue of our baptism (1 Pet 2:5-9). Christ also established an ordained, ministerial priesthood (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6) to carry out unique duties in the Church, and chiefly, to perpetuate His once for all Eucharistic sacrifice in persona Christi (Mal 1:11; 1 Cor 5:7-8; 1 Cor 10:14-21; 2 Cor 2:10). The ordained priest, by the Sacrament of Holy Orders, becomes an instrument of God’s grace.
Jesus is our one true Saviour (Heb 7:27). Yet Christ invites us to participate in His ongoing work of salvation (1 Tim 4:16; 1 Cor 9:22). All Christians agree that conversion comes from God alone as the result of His grace (Eph 2:8-10). Yet, the precise aim of our activity in evangelization is to effect conversion; thus we become, in a sense, co-converters or instruments of conversion. Furthermore, Christ invites us to unite our sufferings with His for the sake of the Church (Col 1:24). Indeed, and in a fundamental sense, God alone suffered for our redemption. Yet our personal suffering can be united salvifically to His once-for-all-suffering for the sake of the Church as the Scriptures clearly attest.
Catholics do not reject the primacy of God’s divine authority by recognizing His gifts of spiritual power and authority among men. Rather, the beliefs and practices of Catholic Christianity hold fast to two thousand years of Church tradition and exalt the grace of God by celebrating what He can do through, with and in creation.
This is the essence and beauty of sacramental Christianity; and it is only through sacramental Christianity that one can experience the most complete “closing of the gap” between God and man in this life—a Eucharistic collision with the divine.
This sacramental reality—the possibility of total physical and spiritual union with God—is essentially why Catholics evangelize.
Indeed we believe that as children of God, our ultimate destiny lies in the fact that God plans to give us Everything; to make us “partakers in the divine nature” so we might experience the perfect love of the Blessed Trinity for all eternity. As St. Athanasius was moved to write:
“the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (CCC 460)