What is the Catholic Faith – A brief introduction.
It’s impossible to summarise the Catholic faith in a few hundred words. This article will simply give you an idea of the main areas of Catholic belief, and perhaps encourage you to look into some of them more deeply.
There are good reasons for believing in God. Faith is not a superstition or an irrational leap. The existence of the universe points to some kind of creative power that brought it into being and sustains it. The underlying laws of nature cannot have arisen just by chance.
So there is no fundamental conflict between science and religion. Science asks the question:
- ‘How do things work in the world?’
- ‘Why is there any world at all?’
- ‘What is my place within it?’
The Human Person
Many animals are remarkably skilled and inventive. But human beings have a distinctive place in creation. Our openness to truth and beauty, our freedom and moral conscience, cannot be explained in purely natural terms. They are spiritual gifts that reflect something of God’s own likeliness and give us a special dignity.
But human life is fragile and often marked by suffering. We catch glimpses of evil in the world and in our own hearts. We have an intuition that things are not as they were meant to be, and there is a longing in the depths of our hearts for happiness which is not of this world.
God did not leave us alone. He has revealed himself to us. He spoke first to the Jewish people, his chosen ones, through the Law and the prophets. He taught them to wait for the promised Saviour. When the time was right, about two thousand years ago, he fulfilled his promises by sending his own Son to be born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the only Saviour of the world. He is a human being like us but without sin. And he is the all-powerful and eternal God, infinite in knowledge and love.
Jesus transformed people’s lives by his teaching and his miracles. He reached out to them with God’s healing and forgiveness. His greatest act of love was to offer his life for us in sacrifice, in obedience to the Father. He let himself experience the depths of human suffering, even to being crucified. His death on the cross brings us forgiveness and reconciliation. It means that nothing has to separate us from the love of God in Christ.
On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus then revealed himself plainly to his followers and convinced them that he had truly risen from the dead. By ascending to heaven in his glorified humanity he showed that our goal is to be with God for all eternity. After his ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to his followers so that they could share in his divine life and proclaim it to others. In this way, he revealed the mystery of the Holy Trinity: that within the unity of God there is a communion of Divine Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – equal in majesty and glory.
Faith is our wholehearted response to the love of Christ, when we believe in home and entrust our lives to him. Through faith and baptism, our sins are forgiven and we are reborn as God’s adopted children. We share in God’s own life, and the Holy Trinity comes to dwell with our souls.
Faith is a pure gift, given by the Holy Spirit. But faith is also something that we must freely choose, by accepting Jesus as our Saviour and believing in his teaching.
Faith is never lived alone. Jesus gathered his followers together into a new family called the church, founded on the twelve apostles. This community would be a sign of his continuing presence in the world, and a place where people could share in the new life Jesus had won for them.
Jesus gave his church a way of life that is handed on its Tradition. He gave it the inspired words of the Holy Scriptures, in the Bible. This community that Jesus founded continues today in its fullness in the Catholic bishops, despite their weaknesses, continue the work of the first apostles as shepherds and teachers of the church.
Our lives are transformed by the seven sacraments that Christ gave to his Church. A sacrament us a sacred ritual that helps us to see the reality of salvation, and allows the reality to change our lives. The sacraments give us a share in God’s own life through the gift of the Holy Spirit and through our response of faith.
Baptism and Confirmation unite us with the death and resurrection of Jesus and make us Christians. Marriage and Ordination give us specific vocations. Penance (‘Confession’) and Anointing bring us forgiveness and healing. In the Mass, the Holy Eucharist, we share in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship the Father. And in Holy Communion, we receive Christ himself as food and drink.
A living faith involves a commitment to follow Christ and to do the Father’s will. The heart of Christian morality is the twin commandment to love God and to love our neighbour. It is to love as Christ himself loved.
Christ gives us his own moral teaching in the New Testament, which fulfils the teaching of the Old Testament. He continues to guide us by means of the moral teaching of the Catholic Church in every generation. By living a faithful Christian life we help to build God’s kingdom of peace and justice in the world, and we witness to the power of Christ’s love in our lives. If we fail through weakness or sin, we can turn to the inexhaustible mercy of God.
In Prayer, we lift our hearts and mind to God. We praise him and thank him. We ask for his forgiveness and help, for ourselves and for others. All Christian prayer is made ‘in the name of Jesus’. This reminds us that we can only reach the Father’s heart through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians worship only God, but they also honour the saints and the angels and call on their help – especially the Virgin Mary.
Death is a frightening mystery that awaits us all. When we die, our spiritual souls will come into the presence of God. We will see the whole truth of our lives. Those who believe in Christ, who freely choose to accept the mercy and salvation he offers, will enter heaven – even though some may to pass through the purification of purgatory. Those who reject Christ, who freely choose to turn away from the mercy and salvation he offers, will be condemned – condemned by their own actions and choices. For them, there will be no possibility of life with God. This is the tragedy of hell.
At the end of time, when Christ comes again, our bodies will share in the Resurrection. God will reveal the hidden purposes of his creation, and reconcile all things in Christ. The just will live in the presence of God for all eternity. The of heaven gives us joy even in the sufferings of this life and gives us reason to keep close to Christ through lives of faiths and love.