The Catholic Way

FATHER ANTONIUNUS WALL, O.P.

I am frequently asked by concerned persons to explain the difference, if any, between Catholic faith and non-Catholic, Christian faith.



CHAPTER EIGHT

The Catholic Way

  • The faith of Catholics and Non-Catholics
  • Christ is accessible through the sacraments
  • Christ is alive in the world through his Mystical Body
  • An example of finding the Catholic Faith


I am frequently asked by concerned persons to explain the difference, if any, between Catholic faith and non-Catholic, Christian faith. The question is often like one of these: "Are not all Christians really the same?" or "Do not all Christians believe in and depend on the same Christ?" or "Is Christ not the same for all of his followers?"

My response is both yes and no. All true Christians believe in the same Christ, but they do not locate him in the same place or experience him in the same way.

Certainly, all true Christians believe that Christ is both God and man. They believe he was miraculously conceived of a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit.

All true Christians hold that Christ lived some thirty years on the earth, with the final years of his life spent in public activity, teaching and preaching the good news of salvation. They affirm that during his public life he went about ministering to human needs. He attended especially to the needs of the sick and the poor. He worked many miracles in support of his teaching. Christians accept that he developed a community of devoted followers who accepted him as the Messiah.

Christians also accept the truth of the Gospel account that Christ was put to death by his enemies and, three days later, physically arose from the tomb. Note that the bodily resurrection of Christ and his triumph over death have been denied from the beginning, even by persons claiming to be his followers. We find an allusion to this denial in the epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: "Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" [1]

The denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ, then, is not unique to the contemporary world. Its affirmation, however, has been one of the signs of authentic Christian faith from the beginning of Christianity.

Finally, all true Christians accept as fact that the resurrected Christ spent forty days after his resurrection preparing his followers for the next phase of their ministry. After that came the Ascension of the resurrected Christ.

The Ascension of Christ into heaven is the fork in the road where Catholic Christians and non-Catholic Christians separate. For most non-Catholic Christians, Christ is no longer present here on earth.

For many non-Catholics, Christ continues to observe us from the heavens and exercises a loving care directing our lives. In particular, he continues to exercise an influence in their lives when they prayerfully contemplate his teachings in the Gospels and in sacred scripture. They no longer see Jesus here on earth reaching out to us through his human nature. They no longer experience him speaking to us from a human body. No longer is he forgiving their sins through human acts of forgiveness which they can hear and in which they take an active part. No longer is he sitting at the table with them in his human nature and breaking bread with them.

In the view of many non-Catholics, our experience of Christ is totally different from the one enjoyed by his followers two thousand years ago. When two or three come together in his name, he certainly is present in their midst. But they believe that he essentially acts on us from without and from above.

Opposed to this understanding is the Catholic conviction that Christ never left us. The accessibility of Christ to Catholics is through his Mystical Body, the Church. Catholics experience him still fully alive and active on earth as he was two thousand years ago. They can still hear him, see him, walk with him, break bread with him, and do all that Philip and his disciples did with him before his Ascension. Simply put, for Catholics the Church is Christ. In the Church he is fully alive and active in this world in both his humanity and his divinity.

The significance of the Sacraments is that they make Christ in both his human and his divine natures accessible to us. Through the Sacraments, Christ continues to pour the waters of Baptism on us and forgive our sins. He continues to offer his life for us on the cross through the Mass. He feeds us with his body and blood in the Eucharist just as he nourished His disciples.

Christ calls the Holy Spirit down upon us through Confirmation. He empowers us to be loving instruments of his presence through the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony. Recall Saint Paul's words: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." [2]

As the spouse of the Church, Christ would never abandon those whom he loves. He is present to us in the final stages of life with the grace that allows us to surrender our life peacefully back to God through the Sacrament of the Sick.

The Christ that Catholics know and experience is the Christ we encounter fully alive and active in his Mystical Body. For Catholics there is no other Christ. We encounter him in the love of our parents and friends. We encounter him in believing lay persons, priests, and religious. We encounter him in the Church's worship. We encounter him in the saints, scholars, and spiritual authors. We encounter him in the two-thousand-year history of his embodiment in the creeds, apostolic activities, and magisterial teachings of his Church. It is there that we see him, hear him, touch him, and are touched by him.

Even in the inspired writings of Sacred Scripture, our experience of Christ presupposes his living presence. He shares himself with us through the collective memory of his words and actions.

No Sacrament more perfectly exemplifies the ongoing, sanctifying presence of the human nature of Christ in this world than the Holy Eucharist. Catholics celebrate in the Eucharist the physical presence of the human nature of Christ. They celebrate the presence of his body and blood, soul and divinity. They celebrate his offering of himself daily on the altar in that same unending, uninterrupted eternal act of perfect love which he initiated on the cross. Through this act of love, he continues to give birth in a radically new way to divine love in this world.

This is why Catholics make their children leave their warm beds and usher them out into the cold to participate in the Mass. They do not deny that the omnipresent divinity of Christ is already present to their children in those warm beds. They know, however, that their children will never be awakened to the fact of that presence unless they encounter the human nature of Christ. They know the Eucharist is the instrument through which God has chosen to awaken them to that presence.

Jesus said:

Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day... He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. [3]

Catholic faith affirms that this Christ is still fully alive in our world. It finds in his Mystical Body the same mirror reflecting divinity that his disciples encountered in the human reality of Christ two thousand years ago.

All true Christians, indeed, believe in the same Christ and look for salvation through the same Christ. Yet all Christians do not locate this Christ in the same place. All Christians do not experience His healing presence in the same way.

An example of Catholic faith, as distinct from Christian faith, is found in the account of the spiritual awakening in the life of Malcolm Muggeridge.

Malcolm Muggeridge, influenced by his father, was a very resolute Fabian socialist in his younger years. In a pattern typical of many thinking persons of his era, he became enamored of Soviet Russia. When the opportunity arose, he emigrated to Russia. Unlike many of the influential Socialists of his time, however, his commitment to truth overcame his impassioned pledge to the Russian regime. Malcolm unflinchingly reported the cruel horrors of Russia under the Communists.

This commitment to speak the truth became Malcolm's badge of distinction. In his work as a newspaper man, magazine editor, television reporter, and television personality he was noted for penetrating analyses. The scrutiny he delivered was notably not attuned to popular opinion and unfailingly critical of established institutions. His ability to say "the emperor has no clothes" endeared him to audiences worldwide.

In his first job he was a teacher at a Church of England school. Probably as a result of his friendship with a priest there, he became fascinated with the person of Jesus Christ. At first he perceived him, not as divine or the Son of God, but as a wonderful human being.

The Journey to God

by Father Antoninus Wall, O.P.

In his older years he underwent a spiritual awakening. He became convinced that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. He made the decision to surrender his life to the loving care of Jesus and strive to live it in imitation of his example.

But the Christ he chose to follow was the Christ who no longer lived here on earth. He was the Christ who now dwelt only in the heavens. Malcolm looked around him at the Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, and was decidedly unimpressed by what he saw.

In none of the churches could he detect any evidence of the living presence of Christ. So, he described himself as an un-churched Christian, a Christian who was a member of no church, yet a true disciple of the Christ he encountered in the Gospels. Malcolm continued for a number of years in this form of Christian faith.

In his work for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), he was asked to interview a little known nun: Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He was fascinated by her. He arranged to produce a documentary about her work in Calcutta.

In Calcutta he spent a great deal of time with her. He observed as keenly as possible everything about her. As an artist, he wished to get inside the "head" and "heart" of Mother Theresa to find out what really made her "tick." The more intensely he studied her, the more convinced he became that she could only be explained by the fact that Christ was truly alive in her. So he came to believe in the living presence of Christ in at least one person on earth.

His faith later grew to recognize the presence of the living Christ in others of heroic virtue. He began to identify Christ at work in missionaries and holy lay persons. He found that unlike other great figures in history who were now dead, Christ was a living presence in modern times.

In time too he came to recognize the living presence of Christ in the institution of the Catholic Church. This is how Malcolm, the un-churched Christian, in later years became the Catholic Christian. [4]

This account illustrates how the grace of Catholic faith is received when one recognizes and accepts the reality of Christ's presence in the fullness of his humanity and divinity in his Mystical Body, the Church. Catholic Christian faith is precisely faith in the immanence of Christ in his Church. The object of Catholic Christian faith is the Christ that never left this world. He continues as the groom. He continues to be wedded to his spouse, the community of his followers.

This gift of Catholic faith brings one into the second stage of the journey to God. This faith makes it possible, for those so gifted, to discern with varying degrees of clarity the omnipresent God reflected in the wonderful mirror of the Mystical Body of his Son. This gift allows for a seemingly unlimited variation in the degree in which God's reflected presence can be discerned.

For some, the reflection of God's presence in the Church is weak and scarcely discernible. For others, the intensity of reflections of God's presence mirrored in his Church is so great that it overwhelms them and threatens to consume them. These are the saints, the holy ones in our midst, whose heads and hearts are filled with the consciousness of Jesus' presence in his Church. Like Mother Teresa, they go about telling everyone, in one way or another, "Do something beautiful for Jesus." Those who reach the second stage of the journey have a growing consciousness of God's presence reflected in Christ's Mystical Body.

The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the center of their lives. Devotion to his Eucharistic presence is the clearest measure of the intensity of their faith. It is likewise the measure of how far advanced they are in their journey to God.

In this second stage, the encounter with God is still with his presence outside of them. This was true of Christ‘s disciples also. The disciples who had not yet reached the third stage could not look inside themselves and find there a third mirror reflecting God's presence from within.

 

Endnotes

[1]  1 Cor. 15:12.

[2]  Eph. 5:25-27.

[3]  John 6: 53-56.

[4] Since his death in 1990, many of Muggeridge's books remain in print. Among the more prominent titles are Jesus Rediscovered (1969; reissued by Hodder, 1995), Something Beautiful for God (1971; reissued by Harper, 1986), and Conversion: The Spiritual Journey of a Twentieth Century Pilgrim (1988; reissued by Wipf & Stock, 2005).


The Journey to God

Chapter 1 - The Journey
Chapter 2 - The Presence
Chapter 3 - The Awakening
Chapter 4 - The Way of Love
Chapter 5 - The Three Stages of Awakening
Chapter 6 - The Mirror of Nature
Chapter 7 - The Mirror of Christ Outside
Chapter 8 - The Catholic Way
Chapter 9 - The Mirror of Christ Within
Chapter 10 - The Coming of the Holy Spirit
Chapter 11 - The Door
Chapter 12 - The End of the Journey
Chapter 13 - The Face to Face Encounter

 

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Antoninus Wall, O.P. "The Catholic Way." Chapter 8 in The Journey to God (Antioch, CA: Solas Press, 1999): 63-72.

Reprinted by permission of Father Antoninus Wall and Solas Press.

THE AUTHOR

Father Antoninus Wall, O.P., a native of San Francisco, is the son of Irish-born parents, and the brother of the late Fr. Kevin Wall, O.P. Fr. Wall attended St. Ignatius prep in the Bay City and St. Mary's College of California. Entering the Dominican Order, he pursued his sacred studies at St. Albert's College in Oakland and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1950.

Fr. Wall has had a career rich in pastoral and academic experiences. He has served as associate pastor in Seattle and as Professor of Theology at Immaculate Heart and Dominican College. He negotiated the entry of the Dominicans into the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and served two terms there as President of the Dominican School. He currently resides at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland, California. Father Wall is the author of The Journey to God. Father Wall may be reached by phone at 510-596-1800 or by email at antwall@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2010 Solas Press




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