Why SHOULD we be Catholic and not another religion?
This is a follow up to last week's question: Can We Go To Heaven If We Aren't Catholic? The answer to that question was, yes we can - non-Catholics can still get into heaven.
But that leads us to the next inevitable question - why SHOULD we be Catholic, if we don't have to be to get to heaven?
Well, the first thing we have to recognize is that our motivation to hold a religion shouldn't be about getting ourselves into heaven anyway. If it were, religious observance would be inherently selfish, which it isn't supposed to be. Choice about religion should be about the pursuit of truth, about the discovery of which explanation of the divine makes the most sense and is the most meaningful - and the most RELEVANT.
So, which religion makes the most sense?
Well, in order to answer that question, we're going to have to learn about a bunch of other religions. And we'll find that when we do, there will be some wonderful things that all religions have to teach us. Buddhism will teach us about self-denial and attentiveness to the moment. Hinduism tells us about the presence of the divine in all things. Islam teaches us that there is one God, and we are all one people who must submit to God. Judaism tells us that God is present in history and present in our lives. Native religion teaches that life is permeated with spiritual power. Etc.
But, from my experience there is no religion that tells us that God comes so close to us, that God loves us so much, as the teachings of Christianity. Christianity tells us that God literally loves us so much that he becomes one of us. Other religions tell us of the closeness of God, but not closeness BECAUSE GOD LOVES US. By believing in Jesus as the Son of God, proven by his resurrection, we're saying that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life." John 3:16. No other religion can make such a claim of the unprecedented love and intimacy of God.
So why CATHOLIC as opposed to the other Christian denominations. Well I think it comes down to the Sacraments, for me anyway.
If we want ANYONE to know that we love them, we need to do two things - we need to tell them, and we need to show them. Only then will the message of love be truly communicated and understood as love - we'll feel loved and know that we're loved. Our human nature requires that we be both told, with words, and shown, with actions, that we're loved.
Same has to go with God, in communicating with us humans. We need to be told, with words, and shown, with actions. The words - or WORD - that's found in the Bible - the Bible is God's way of telling us, with words, with stories, with history, with the life of JESUS, that God loves us.
But he also has to show us - and not just show us 2000 years ago - God needs to show us today, in a way that we can see and hear and touch and taste and feel. That's what the Sacraments are - demonstrations of God's love, established by Jesus, so that Jesus could continue to be present throughout the ages. They are God's hug, God's embrace, God's kiss.
Now Christianity is one big happy family - a DISFUNCTIONAL family mind you, but a family nonetheless - all united in common belief that Jesus is the Son of God. But while our Protestant brothers have a really good connection to the Bible, I'd argue that a lot of times, they don't have the same connection to God through the sacraments - belief that God is LITERALLY (not just symbolically) present to us - that God loves us SO MUCH that he would come THAT CLOSE to us.
This having been said, of course, there is much that we can learn from the Protestants too, because in general, they know their Bibles way better than us Catholics do - and they tend to do COMMUNITY a lot better than us Catholics too.
Bottom line, I'm a Catholic because, for me, the Catholic teaching gives us a God that both TELLS US and SHOWS US that God loves us, and loves us with ALL his love - so much that we can only conclude that God IS love. In the Catholic teaching, we see not only the promise of Heaven, but through God's immediate presence, right here and now, in Word and Sacrament, that the Kingdom of Heaven is here, now, at hand, as Jesus himself would say it. For a Catholic, Heaven starts now, because God loves us THAT MUCH.
As for the Orthodox Christian Churches, the Catholic Church recognizes that they too have the Word AND the Sacraments. However, I'm not sure how well their members are aware of the presence of God in the Word and Sacraments, because they use other languages, often ancient languages, sometimes languages that their members don't know anymore. The Catholic Church used to do that too, doing all our rituals in Latin - but then we wised up, realizing how important it is that people understand the Sacraments as signs of God's love. So I'll stick with Catholicism.
One final, important note - its that just as our Protestant brothers and sisters can teach us Catholics about the importance of reading and knowing our Bibles, other religions have important lessons to teach us Catholics too. Like Buddhism can remind us of the importance of self-denial, and the presence of God all around us, as just one example. It isn't so much that Catholic teaching doesn't contain these truths as well, but we sometimes forget them or put emphasis on other things, and so the lessons of other religions can help to remind us of how to be BETTER Christians and Catholics.