I appreciate all the mail received each week from readers of this column and am rather amazed at how wide the readership is! When messages come from New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates, Australia and England, India and the deep south of the United States, I realize that the Toronto Sun and Canoe website are well read.
Four questions that have been put to me lately from readers across the world include the Catholic interpretation of the Bible, the teaching authority of the church, the salvation brought about by Jesus Christ, and the role of the Pope in our church. The questions have been pointed and good. Allow me to try to answer them in this week's column.
It is often the case that a Catholic's first reaction to a fundamentalist's probing may be to respond in terms of church teaching -- explaining the doctrines of our faith (the mass, sacraments, papacy, Mary and the saints). More often than not, such responses only confirm the fundamentalists in their opinion that Catholic beliefs are totally foreign to the Bible!
I'm often asked why Catholics don't see the scriptures as containing the fullness of God's revelation. Why do we have to turn to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church for God's truth?
The Roman Catholic Church considers herself a biblical church in the sense that she acknowledges and proclaims the Bible to be God's word. The church believes and teaches the sufficiency of the revelation witnessed by the Bible and believes that neither a new revealer nor new special revelations are necessary for men and women to find the will of God and the grace of salvation.
Another frequent question: The Bible teaches us that we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, our sole mediator. Why do Catholics contradict this by teaching that people can be saved through good works or by praying to saints?
The Catholic Church proclaims that, just as the Bible indicates, justification and redemption come through the grace given by God because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Human beings cannot earn redemption or salvation. Neither is it won through good works. Good works are done though God's grace in response to God's redemptive work in Christ. Accordingly, Christ is the unique mediator between God and human beings.
Roman Catholicism has recognized the intercession of the saints. That is part of its understanding of the biblical injunction that we must pray for one another. The 'we' includes not only believers on Earth, but also those who have gone before us as saints in God's presence in heaven. Such intercession is useful and life giving, but in no way necessary to the same degree that the mediation of Jesus Christ is necessary.
Why don't Catholics recognize that we are saved through a personal relationship to Jesus Christ, not through membership in a Church?
The Catholic Church acknowledges that Christians must respond in faith and commitment to Christ so that God's redemptive grace may transform them as children of God. We believe that Jesus Christ redeemed a people -- that is why we belong to a church -- and one becomes part of that people by belonging to Christ.
Finally, why do Catholics say that the Pope is the head of the Church when scripture says that Christ is the head?
Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is the head of the Body, the Church. The Pope has no authority independent of Christ nor is he in a rivalry with him. Even as the New Testament speaks of overseers or bishops guiding individual churches, the Pope is an overseer through whom Christ supplies guidance to the whole church, keeping it in the truth of the gospel.