Straight Answers from Fr.
William Saunders HERALD Columnist
I sometimes meet people who say,
"Oh, I used to be Catholic. "Then they ask,
"Why do you stay in the Catholic Church?"
Please give me a good answer to respond to the question,
"Why are you a Catholic?"
A reader in
Each Catholic should be able to provide
a solid, well-thought answer to the question, "Why
are you a Catholic?" Granted, for each individual
the answer is very personal and may be somewhat different
from other peoples answers. Hopefully, none of us
who are adults and confirmed would simply state,
"Well, my parents baptized me Catholic," or
"I was raised Catholic," or "My family has
always been Catholic." No, for each of us, the
answer must be personal, heart-felt and full of
conviction. Therefore, I will give you my answer to this
First, I would say I am a Catholic
because this is the Church that Jesus Christ founded. Any
good historian worth his salt must admit that the first
Christian Church existing since the time of Christ is the
Roman Catholic Church. The first major rupture in
Christianity does not occur until 1054, when the
Patriarch of Constantinople had a dispute with the pope
over who had more authority; the Patriarch excommunicated
the pope, who returned the favor, and the
"Orthodox" Churches were born. Then, in 1517,
Martin Luther sparked the Protestant movement, and he was
followed by Calvin, Zwingli and Henry VIII. Since then,
Protestantism has splintered into many other Christian
Nevertheless, the one Church and the
first Christian Church that Christ founded is the
Catholic Church. This statement does not mean that
goodness does not exist in other Christian Churches. It
does not mean other Christians cannot go to heaven.
However, it does mean that there is something special
about the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council, in
the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,"stated
that the fullness of the means of salvation subsists
within the Catholic Church because it is the Church
Christ founded (No. 8).
The second reason I am a Catholic is
because of apostolic succession. Jesus entrusted His
authority to His apostles. He gave a special authority to
Peter, whom He called "rock" and to whom He
entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Since the
time of the apostles, this authority has been handed down
through the sacrament of holy orders from bishop to
bishop, and then extended to priests and deacons. If
possible, our own Bishop Keating could trace his
authority as a bishop back to the apostles. Just this
past May, we had the priesthood ordinations at our
cathedral. In that sacred ordination, Bishop Keating
imposed his hands on the heads of the men to be ordained.
In the quiet of the moment, the apostolic succession was
handed on. In the vision of faith, one could see not just
Bishop Keating, but Sts. Peter and Paul, even Jesus
Himself, conferring the holy orders. No bishop, priest or
deacon in our Church is self-ordained or self-proclaimed;
the authority comes from Jesus Himself and is guarded by
The third reason I am a Catholic is
because we believe in truth, an absolute, God-given
truth. Christ identified Himself as "the way, and
the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6). He gave us the
Holy Spirit, whom He called the Spirit of truth (Jn
14:17), who would instruct us in everything and remind us
of all that He taught (Jn 14:26). The truth of Christ has
been preserved in sacred Scripture the Bible.
Vatican Council II, in the "Dogmatic Constitution on
Divine Revelation,"stated that, "that
which has been asserted by the human authors of sacred
Scripture must be said to have been asserted by the Holy
Spirit so that the words of sacred Scripture teach
firmly, faithfully and without error that truth Christ
wanted put into sacred Scripture for our salvation"
(No. 11). This truth is guarded and applied to a
particular time and culture by the magisterium, the
teaching authority of the Church. As we face issues like
bioethics or euthanasia issues that the Bible
never specifically addressed how fortunate we are
to have a Church that says, "This way of life is
right or this way is wrong in accordance with the truth
of Christ." No wonder the Catholic Church makes the
headlines of the Washington Post or New York
Times; we are the only Church to take a stand and
say, "This teaching is true in accord with the mind
Another reason I am a Catholic is
because of our sacraments. We believe in seven sacraments
which Jesus gave to the Church. Each sacrament captures
an important element of Christs life, and by the
power of the Holy Spirit gives us a share in the divine
life of God. For example, just think what a precious gift
we have to receive the holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood
of our Lord, or to know that our sins truly are forgiven
and our soul is healed each time we receive absolution in
the sacrament of penance.
Finally, I am a Catholic because of the
people who make up the Church. I think back to so many
saints: Sts. Peter and Paul kept the gospel alive in the
earliest times. During the Roman persecution, the early
martyrs of the Church like Sts. Anastasia, Lucy,
Justin or Ignatius, who in the year 100 called the Church
"Catholic" defended the faith and
suffered torturous deaths for it. In the Dark Ages, when
many things were truly "dark," there were the
great lights of Sts. Francis, Dominic and Catherine of
Siena. During the Protestant movement, when heresy was
ripping the Church apart, the Church was defended by Sts.
Robert Bellarmine or Ignatius Loyola, genuine reformers.
I think of living saints like Mother Teresa or Pope John
Paul II, who day in and day out do Gods holy work.
There are so many saints that inspire each of us to be
good members of the Church.
But there are others, too. At Mass,
look around your Church. See married couples who strive
to live the sacrament of marriage in an age of
self-indulgence and infidelity. See the parents who want
to hand on their faith to their children. See the young
people who struggle to live the faith despite a world of
temptations. See the elderly who have remained faithful
despite changes in the world and the Church. See the
priests and religious who have dedicated their lives to
the service of the Lord and His Church. So many good
people make up our Church.
Yes, none of us is perfect. We sin.
That is why one of the most beautiful prayers in the Mass
occurs before the sign of peace; we pray, "Lord,
look not on our sins, but on the faith of your
Church." Yes, despite human frailty, the Church, as
that institution founded by Christ, continues to carry on
His mission in this world.
In a nutshell, these are the reasons I
am a Catholic and a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
These reasons are not flippant. Rather, they reflect much
careful thought and struggle, having been baptized
Catholic, having attended St. Bernadette grade school,
having graduated from West Springfield High School, and
having really wrestled with the faith through my college
days at William and Mary and then in the Seminary. I hope
that each Catholic can proudly provide a solid, clear
answer to the question, "Why are you a
Fr. Saunders is dean of the Notre
Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of
Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria.