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A Potpourri of Confusion About Catholic Teaching

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 30, 2023

Most priests will recognize this composite exchange between a benevolent non-Catholic and a priest. Confusion about the Incarnation is at its root. The Word of God is not disembodied; the Word we proclaim takes flesh in the Church.

Isn’t the claim that the Catholic Church is “the one true Church” arrogant?

Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6) Jesus founded His Church on the rock of Peter (cf. Mt. 16:18) Why would anyone belong to any religion if he didn’t think his belief included the fullness of saving truth?

So are only Catholics saved?

The Catholic faith is a reliable roadmap to salvation. Catholics proclaim Jesus, His life, His laws, and His Church. In the mystery of His providence, God’s grace works outside His visible ecclesial structures, but He prefers that His Word take flesh in the Sacraments. St. Paul warns, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)

I know I’m saved because I was “born again.”

Catholics are born again in Baptism. Jesus redeems us and we encounter the risen Lord in the Sacraments. His Word directs us to salvation. Salvation comes with a lifetime of cooperation with God’s grace and can be lost by unrepented mortal sin.

I don’t follow the traditions of men, I’m a Bible-believing Christian.

The Bible didn’t float down from heaven. The sacred words of the Bible “took flesh” under the watchful eye of the Church. The Church assembled the biblical testimony and, with God’s grace, bound the scrolls into one big book. The Church is the guardian of its authentic interpretation. Tradition, Scriptures, and Magisterium—logically locked together—form a synthesis of God’s inerrant Revelation. Even the words of popes need the validation of Tradition and Scriptures.

Where do you find “Purgatory” in the Bible?

The Book of Wisdom, the Book of Maccabees, and the words of Jesus in the gospels hint at the place of purification after death (cf. Mt. 12:32). Early Christians prayed for the dead in the Roman catacombs. Purgatory concisely expresses the reality. Every Christian believes in the Trinity, but we cannot find that term in the Scriptures.

The preacher at my mega-church is more appealing than any Catholic priest I’ve heard.

The Catholic Church preaches the Word and administers the Sacraments of personal sanctification. The Mass continues after the homily and reaches a high point: the Consecration during the Eucharistic Prayer and Holy Communion.

Our preacher has attracted thousands.

Jesus was rejected and crucified. St. Paul was a poor speaker. Catholics are—or should be—motivated by the desire for the salvation of souls by proclaiming the truth of Jesus. Catholics do not believe in salvation by rhetorical flourish alone. The Word takes flesh in the Sacraments. Mega-churches usually become mini-churches when their powerful preachers move on.

My pastor preaches the integrity of marriage and opposes pornography and the LGBTQ agenda.

Good, as far as it goes. But most evangelicals never teach the immorality of contraception that deforms the marital act. If contraception is OK within marriage, why can’t those with same-sex attraction have the same fun? Authentic Church teaching on the Sixth Commandment is integral and consistent.

Many priests consistently fail to preach the basics of God’s law.

Some priests are ill-educated, clumsy, afraid, or disagree with Church teaching, just like some Protestant ministers.

Why do Catholics endure deficient doctrine?

As sinners, all have difficulty in enunciating the truth. Catholics should avoid unfaithful priests if the encounter seriously threatens their faith. (As with the false prophets of old, unfaithful priests with rhetorical flourish often command a big following.) But the Mass overshadows and transfigures the proclamation.

Masses are boring.

Masses are as dull as a treasure chest covered with dust. The Mass beckons us to enter into the Sacred Treasury. The purpose of the Mass is to worship God and sanctify souls. The Mass fulfills and replaces Jewish worship. The Mass re-presents the one Sacrifice of Jesus and applies the Sacrifice throughout history in ritual form. Jesus becomes present at every Mass—body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Why do so many Catholics fail to appreciate the Mass?

“Liturgy” means “work.” The Sacraments are not magic. Our engagement in prayer, reverence, solemnity, and attentiveness to the Real Presence takes effort.

Why shouldn’t we confess our sins directly to God?

We should confess our sins to God, especially before we go to bed. But it is difficult to articulate and admit our sins. So Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Penance (cf. Jn. 20:23) to formalize our expressions of sorrow. When our rejection of sin meets the words of absolution, the Sacrament of Penance gives us the certainty of forgiveness.

I left the Catholic Church because a priest spoke about Purgatory at a funeral.

A priest should pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased as well as the consolation of the family; and he should preach the Cross and Resurrection. He should not imply the soul is in heaven or hell. The default presumption is Purgatory. Purgatory is a spiritual “finishing school” for sinners. A funeral Mass is unpleasant, but we should not lie about its purpose or neglect our obligation to pray for the repose of a loved one. Belief in Purgatory consoles us because it extinguishes our unresolved faults after death and prepares us for entry into heaven.

Can’t we do without Purgatory for ecumenical purposes?

The doctrine of Purgatory forms the crossroads of all of Catholic theology. Original sin wounded us. Our sins continue to deform us. Our encounters with Jesus in the Sacraments heal our spiritual disfigurements. Only those completely detached from sin enter into glory immediately after death. Purgatory is a way-station for most who die in the state of grace. Purgatory is a bellwether term of authentic Catholicism.

I disagree with almost all of your explanations.

The Word of God takes flesh in the Church and her Sacraments. My purpose is to witness to the Catholic Faith for my salvation.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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