I’m going to try to blog about my Latin mass every Sunday, since I find that my mind tends to wander during the homily. Maybe if I look for one thing in the homily to blog about, I’ll pay more attention.
The priest has been preaching through the Apostle’s Creed, and today his topic was “I believe…in the holy Catholic church.” He told us that the word “Catholic” means universal. Where he took that concept was quite interesting.
Essentially, the priest argued that the Roman Catholic Church is God’s one true church because it is everywhere in the world, and is therefore accessible to all people. He asserted that this occurred from a very early date, due to the church’s rapid spread and missionary efforts. He then quote the Roman Catholic Council of Trent, which was formed in the sixteenth century so that the Catholic church could respond to the Protestant Reformation. The document asserted that the Catholic church is the true church because it’s everywhere, whereas heretical sects are in only a few places.
In a sense, the priest is right: the Catholic church is in a lot of places. Usually, when I heard stories about Protestant missions in other countries, that fact was acknowledged. It’s just that the Catholic church wasn’t seen as doing a good job in bringing people to Christ. In the eyes of the Protestants telling their stories, the Catholic church promoted empty ritualism, superstition, worship of saints and of Mary, etc. That’s why the Protestant felt that they needed to go to these countries so people could become born again!
I wonder how effective the priest’s argument is nowadays, considering that Protestantism has spread throughout the world as well. Plus, how do Catholics handle the “those who never heard” problem, which asks how God will judge those who never heard the Gospel? If what the priest says is true, everyone should have an opportunity to hear, right? Yet, Catholic theologian Karl Rahner talked about the “anonymous Christian,” the non-Christian who had the grace of God and responded to the light that he received. And there are Catholics who say that non-Christians can be saved, if they live moral lives. What problem are they trying to solve, if there’s a Catholic church in every location?
Maybe the answer is that, just because a church may be nearby, that doesn’t necessarily mean people are willing to forsake their culture and attend it. They need grace in order to ask spiritual questions and to seek the answers in the Christian religion. But if God is working on the “anonymous Christian,” why can’t God lead him all the way to his local Roman Catholic church? Maybe God’s revelation is progressive: he prepares people for Christianity, without always dumping it on them at the outset. Yet, there are plenty of moral people who die before they become Christians.