When I began my inquiry into joining the Catholic Church, I had no idea how many preconceived notions I had about the Church that ended up being completely and utterly wrong. Knowing what I know now after my official confirmation into the Church this past Easter, I can say that I have a better grasp on the simple apologetics that usually come up when I tell people that I’m Catholic. There are many reasons why Protestant Christians are wary towards their Catholic Christian brothers and sisters. Some believe that Catholics pray to Mary because she allegedly grants prayers. Others believe that the scripted prayers Catholics pray inhibit their ability to think for themselves and encourage them to aimlessly repeat words over and over without meaning. But in my experience, nothing makes a Protestant more wary than the idea that Catholics mindlessly follow “laws” created by the Church, and that somehow by following these laws, they get into heaven.
The things that Protestants confuse as laws in the Catholic faith are merely the things the Church has determined as the best way to live a fulfilling Christian life. It is a sin to skip Sunday morning church in the Catholic faith, but beyond following this “rule,” going to church on a consistent basis gives Christians the opportunity to hear scripture, pray, partake in the Eucharist, and mingle with other believers. Any teaching of the Catholic Church that seems like a law is simply what many theologians, priests, and people who have been studying scriptures and the Christian tradition have deemed the most accurate and holy way Christians should live their life.
By adhering to the teachings of the Church and its sacred traditions, a Christian subsequently grows in holiness. In simplest terms, this growth in holiness is a direct result of an individual investing in and building up their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not that works in the form of “rule following” will necessarily “get” one into heaven, but it is by intentionally spending time with God in prayer and focusing on living out his plan for one’s life that an individual can grow in their spiritual connection to the Divine. We as Catholics believe that because of our faith in sacred tradition, we have more “tools in the tool chest” when it comes to growing in holiness. These resources include the saints, Mary, the Eucharist, confession, many kinds of prayers, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as many other things. By intentionally using these resources, Catholics grow in their devotion to the Holy Trinity.
In reference to a famous verse written by Saint John, one’s faith in the gospel truth that Jesus Christ is God’s only begotten son, who came down to earth to die for everyone’s sins, so that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life, comes first. It is only after one has this faith that good works, as Saint James puts it, start to count towards holiness and righteousness. By doing these good works in the name of Jesus Christ, one is participating in the Great Commission Jesus gave humanity, which is to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s resolve some of what I said in the beginning. For the record, Catholics don’t think Mary grants prayers. We believe that she, having been assumed body and soul into heaven, is closer emotionally and physically to God the Father than the average human, and thus will be a better advocate for us on earth and willingly pray our prayers to God for us. To tackle the concept of repetitious praying, when someone repeats themselves, it is usually for added emphasis on what was just said. Arguably, repetitious praying is the same concept. When Catholics pray the same prayer over and over it is for added emphasis on the reason behind the prayer.
If you’re not too sure about a Catholic teaching, don’t be afraid to ask one of your Catholic brothers or sisters. That way we can grow closer to one another in understanding and respect and will be better equipped to love one another.