It happened again. Not terribly long ago, I was asked to help a recent convert and now former Catholic deal with one of Rome’s favorite special interpretations of Scripture. As is so often the case, the issue had to do with the Catholic cookie god. I generally respond to persons I believe are honestly seeking answers by interspacing my responses to sections of their original post, as I did in this case. My correspondent’s words will appear in brown.
I never went through RCIA, having been a cradle Catholic. During the years I attended public schools, my family not being able to carry the financial burden of putting three kids through Parochial school, I was required to attend evening Catechism classes every week. As I recall those classes, they were b-o-r-i-n-g.
Until just a few years ago, I would sometimes accompany my wife to Mass. She would do all the things that Catholic faithful do during Mass and I would either read my Bible or daydream until things were over. I recall being in her church when the week's teaching had to do with the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000. This is the only one of Jesus' recorded miracles that is mentioned in all four Gospels. This suggests to me that God gave special attention to that miracle in His written revelation.
Anyway, the priest said that this was not a miracle of multiplication. According to this priest, most of the people who had come to hear Jesus had, in reality, brought enough food with them to meet the needs of their family group. Apparently, he said, others had not provisioned themselves for the day's journey and teaching. As the day wore on, they grew hungry. In order that all might be fed, again according to the priest, Jesus spoke to shame those who had brought food into sharing with those who had not. It was, the priest pointed out, not a miracle of multiplication but one of persuasion.
The priest failed to explain away the four-times repeated clear statement that Jesus worked the miracle using five barley loaves and two fishes. No equivocation at all, as this example evidences:
Notice that the passage does not say that Jesus took the loaves and fishes and used them to shame people into sharing what they had brought. I believed this interpretation to be peculiar to that priest, for it seemed unlikely to me that U.S. Conference of Bishops would have determined to teach what clearly is false. Then, perhaps a year later, while sitting with my wife as she heard Mass in Mexico, the priest in that church repeated the message that it was a miracle of persuasion.
Several years ago, one of our regular posters on one of my early chat rooms posted something that he had been told. This man had worked for a decade in the chancery of a southern archdiocese and, though a lay Catholic, was on friendly terms with many of the priests in that archdiocese. His uncles and aunts all were priests or nuns. One of his uncles was bishop of a diocese in a large east coast city. The man was a fish swimming in a sea of Catholic priests and religious.
My friend had a second job working as tennis pro in a local country club. He told me that, while playing tennis with his bishop and a couple of other priests, the subject of faith came up during a conversation between sets. He told me that one of the priests stated that not only did he not believe in God, but that he knew of no priest who did.
So, it would seem, the declaration by your RCIA priest that he did not believe in Heaven or Hell may not have been unique within the priesthood.
It appears to me that folks tend to be selective concerning what they choose to believe, in religious matters as well as secular. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul explained that natural (unsaved) man could neither know nor understand the things of God. To the unsaved, the truths of Scripture are foolishness, and so such men believe and proclaim things that are not of God, though they may appear outwardly to be. It is not just the Catholic priesthood that holds to false doctrine. Within the so-called Christian church one might find a multitude of preachers and soi disant Christians who subscribe to very strange and quite unbiblical doctrine.
The discerning Christian seeks understanding through study and prayer. He learns how to study Scripture and consistently applies a literal/grammatical/historical hermeneutic in his studies. He knows that the Scriptures explain the Scriptures and that nowhere do the sacred writings contradict themselves. Serious and prayerful study will reveal that what may appear to be a contradiction actually may be no more than a flawed understanding.
Knowing how to measure the teachings of any man or church against the written revelation of God is vital to the process of discernment. There is a little book that I often recommend to folks who are searching for understanding. It is inexpensive, doctrinally and technically sound and should be available at most Christian bookstores. The book, How to Read the Bible for all it's Worth, was written by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. I have found it useful; however, simply reading the book will not result in instant understanding.. Contrary to the way Rome develops what she presents as biblical, there is no magic way to unravel all the wonderful fabric of Scripture. There is no substitute for serious, prayerful study but reading the little book should help.
Your Dad appears to have hit the mark. The Roman Catholic Church spun off of the true church; the church that was founded in the Upper Room on that day of Pentecost nearly two millennia ago. As is well known, Jesus and those anointed teachers who came after Him left scattered behind them local groups of believers who had been raised in Judaism or some Pagan religion. We see in the letters of Paul and others gathered into the New Testament that practices and beliefs of the old ways began creeping into the infant church while the Apostles still lived.
It is clear that the process of corruption continued and grew. Soon, it seems, just about every early local church had incorporated new, often Pagan, ways into its doctrine. When Constantine became emperor of Rome, the church at Rome became the official church of the empire. Over the centuries the Roman Church attained hegemony within the professing church. As the popes and the princes and bishops of the Roman Church grew in power, so also did they grow away from godliness. Over time, it seems, power and wealth became all that truly concerns the Catholic Church. Virtually everything she says or does appears to support a hidden purpose to gain power over all the world and to make her pope potentate and god on earth. .
As you suggested, I visited the True Life in God site and read some of the ridiculous messages proclaimed by that strange woman. The account of her conversion is something I would have expected to see in a low-budget science fiction film. I do not read Italian, so I was unable to read either of Ratzinger's letters to her. I am bilingual, however, and my "other" language is Spanish, which has some small similarity to Italian. From what little I think I was able to decipher it appears to me that Ratzinger's letters were far from being as positive as suggested in the testimonials of two other priests. What I see at that site is far from Christianity.
For those who think that really way-out-there theology is limited to false prophets like Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn, etc., might find reading at Vassula's True Life In God website both entertaining and eye-opening.
I was a practicing Catholic for the first 18 years of my life. In all that time I learned very little church doctrine. Most of the teaching I was exposed to, other than from the pulpit during Mass, had to do with that little bit of information contained in the Baltimore Catechism; and not very much of that.
It has been my experience in some two decades of online apologetics and polemics that very few Catholics -- priests, nuns, apologists or whomever – appear to have much of an idea of what the Catholic Church teaches or holds to be true. The RCC is not really good at spreading the word. From my own Catholic experiences and those of my wife and her friends, it appears that most lay instruction comes in the form of the Sunday Visitor, or the diocesan newsletter. I have encountered only a few Catholics who had read much in the Catechism. Very few Catholics whom I have encountered were able to discuss core dogmas such as "The Immaculate Conception."
People who reason well and exercise discernment generally do not seem to do well in cults.
It is important to bear in mind that Jesus spoke these words as He was officiating at a Passover Seder, a religious event that was and is heavily laden with symbolic words, things and actions. Many modern priests and preachers whom I have encountered seem unaware that breaking one of the loaves and putting aside a piece of it, or dipping a bit of bread with a piece of meat rolled in it into bitter herbs and passing it to others were and are parts of the prescribed ritual. Seder ritual involved two hand washings on the part of the host, one of which involved his washing the hands of each of the others at the table. In the case of Jesus' Seder, it seems that He chose to wash the guests' feet, which was normally the task of a household servant, in order to manifest humility. Rather than go into a lengthy explanation of the process in this email, I recommend you read about it here.
Back to the "apologist's" argument. The passage, when read in context, makes it quite clear that He was speaking symbolically, using the breaking of the loaf to symbolize what soon would happen to His earthly body. Same for the wine, which He referred to as being symbolic of His precious blood that soon was to be spilled in payment of our just sin debt to God. Are we to understand these words literally, ignoring context, simply because our Savior neglected to announce that He was speaking figuratively? I think not, for if this were so, then every time Jesus, or any of the writers of the Sacred Books, used metaphors, similes, anthropomorphic devices or any other figure of speech, we would be expected to read it literally.
Look at the passage in John 15:1-5. In this brief passage, Jesus twice declares Himself to be the true vine. Are we then to believe that Jesus was a human grapevine? I think not. In another example, the prophet Isaiah refers to Jesus as a Branch; are we now to consider Him to be part of a tree or bush?
For one last example, let us look to others words uttered by our God, in which He described false prophets as wolves in sheep's clothing. Surely His listeners did not believe that false prophets were four-footed savage beasts who somehow managed to cover themselves in sheepskins. Yet, He did not declare that what He said was spoken figuratively.
The argument of the Catholic apologist simply does not hold water and, I might say, it is typical of the weak semantic defenses Catholics tend to raise up to protect/justify their flawed understanding and teaching.
I hope all this helps at least a little.
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