Do I really have to believe all the other things the Catholic Church teaches?

Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the front lawn of the Carmelite Sisters' Sacred Heart Retreat House and Motherhouse, Alhambra, CA

Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the front lawn of the Carmelite Sisters’ Sacred Heart Retreat House and Motherhouse, Alhambra, CA

I do realize that the idea of ‘believing all that the Catholic Church teaches’ sounds excessive and even authoritarian to many ears, but it must be remembered that the Church has never asked – much less required – irrational nor blindly credulous faith. The Gospels themselves were written to give believers and ‘seekers’ an orderly and rational foundation for their faith (see Luke 1:1-4, John 20:30-31).  Respect for the rightful place and activity of the intellect in seeking ever deeper understanding of the content of the faith is one of the preeminent glories of the Church. Faith that seeks understanding has been the Catholic model from the beginning and through 2,000 years of unremitting intellectual work of the highest caliber. The teaching credentials of the Church more than deserve a fair hearing even from a strictly ‘natural’ and ‘rational’ point of view. 

 But there is a far more compelling reason to investigate the Church’s claim to authoritatively represent Christ and His doctrine in the world. Compelling, that is, if one claims to ‘believe in Jesus’ as you apparently do – for how can anyone believe in Jesus without also believing Jesus? All the time.  About everything.  Even when He says things that the current culture and its ‘disciples’ may not be comfortable with:

“He who hears you hears Me; and he who rejects you rejects Me” (Luke 10:16).   

These strong words immediately follow Jesus’ commissioning of “a further seventy-two” disciples sent out to preach His message. In the same passage, Jesus also excoriates the nearby towns for their lack of belief.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go then and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you ….”  (Matthew 28:18-20).

In reality, it is the Church in her role as teacher which has prolonged and extended the knowledge of Jesus’ life, ministry and teachings for twenty centuries to the present time. The only reason you or I know anything at all about Jesus of Nazareth is because the Apostles did indeed carry out their commission to teach and administer the sacraments in His name and authority.

He could have done things differently – He could have written a book and left that behind for people to investigate and ‘believe’ – but He didn’t. Instead He chose not just disciples (followers/learners) but ‘apostolos’ (messengers, ‘those who are sent out’). While it is true books were later produced and collected in the New Testament – that very collection of Christian documents contains the teaching of the early Church from Jesus, and about Jesus.  Even the ‘table of contents’ in your  New Testament (the ‘canon’ of scripture) is also a fruit of the Church’s charism to teach revealed truth and discern revealed truth.

This charism of truth as it might be called is outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in no. 889-892, but all of this flows clearly and necessarily from Jesus’ promise to His apostles and their successors:

I have told you these things while I am still with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things. And He will cause you to recall everything I have told you.” (John 14:25-26).

What it really comes down to is – do we merely believe in Jesus – in some sense we determine for ourselves (‘Jesus on my terms’!), or, do we believe Jesus – all the time, about everything?