Faith

The Good News 

What is the very foundation of our faith as Christians? It is this: we believe that Christ, the son of God, sacrificed himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. This sacrifice opens up the gates of eternal life for us all. And to crown this gracious act of love, God raised Christ from the dead. The Scriptures attest to this, and the thousands of martyrs also attested. This faith, in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, is what transforms us into the love that God is, into the people we were made to be.
"Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles." (1 Cor 15: 1-7)
This is the foundation of our faith. It is a free gift from God just because he loves us. Nevertheless, we do need to receive and "open" this gift. We are first baptized, this justifies us before God. Then, over the course of our whole lives, we cooperate with God's love and grace. The "Good News" brings us into a filial relationship with God, but it is now up to us to allow God's love to take root and bear fruit in our lives. Let us always be open to and challenged by this saving grace.

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The rest of this piece further explores the mystery of our faith. The numbered questions and answers come from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (for more on the Compendium, read the "Introduction").

Who is Jesus Christ?
9. What is the full and definitive stage of God's Revelation? The full and definitive stage of God’s revelation is accomplished in his Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the mediator and fullness of Revelation. He, being the only-begotten Son of God made man, is the perfect and definitive Word of the Father. In the sending of the Son and the gift of the Spirit, Revelation is now fully complete, although the faith of the Church must gradually grasp its full significance over the course of centuries.
“In giving us his Son, his only and definitive Word, God spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word, and he has no more to say.” (Saint John of the Cross)
So many generations from different cultures and times have searched for God; and we believe that God, in all his goodness, has revealed himself to these generations in various ways. But in Jesus Christ, this revelation was made complete. God's fullness was in this human person who walked among us. Christ left us with the "deposit of faith," a body of saving truth for all mankind.

What is the Magisterium?

A very important question that we must now consider: who has the authority to accurately transmit this saving truth to us today? The short answer: the Pope and all bishops who are in communion with him. The Bible is such an important aspect of our faith, but it can be interpreted in too many different ways. Who has the correct interpretation? God also reveals himself to each one of us, on a personal level. We learn so many important truths in this way, but is our understanding always made perfect? What happens if one "spiritual master's" revelation of truth conflicts with another's? Whose right?

We need more assurance than this. When dealing with the truth that leads to eternal life (ponder "eternal life" for a second), we need a clear, non-conflicting source of it. This is why God established his Magisterium. The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church which has the divine authority to definitively interpret God's revelation to man. The Apostles, with Peter as their head, were the first to occupy this office. Today, this office is occupied by the current pope (the successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome) along with the bishops in communion with him.
16. To whom is given the task of authentically interpreting the deposit of faith? The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the deposit of faith has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone, that is, to the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, and to the bishops in communion with him. To this Magisterium, which in the service of the Word of God enjoys the certain charism of truth, belongs also the task of defining dogmas which are formulations of the truths contained in divine Revelation. This authority of the Magisterium also extends to those truths necessarily connected with Revelation.
Many people may have a problem with this. We want to be able to interpret God as we see fit for our own situations in life. We don't want to see the Pope, or any bishop, as having authority on this truth. The error in this objection is that it makes truth relative. Take a moment right now and do a Wikipedia search on "List of Christian Denominations." Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom. Is this what God intended? Pluralism of Christian truth?

Since we in the 21st century were not eye-witnesses to the definitive revelation of God (Jesus), we must rely on others to learn of this revelation. Think about it- God is not going to give his beloved children a full revelation of himself only for it to be soon lost leaving everyone to question and argue over it. To prevent division, God established his true Church on St. Peter, our first Pope.
"And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:18-19)
Christ established a living authority to guide his followers until the end of the ages. Thank God for this authority! Without it, we must constantly struggle to stay afloat in a sea of relativism, where truth in its fullness can never be found. We remain prisoners to what Pope Emeritus Benedict calls "The dictatorship of relativism."
"..relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires." (Pope Benedict XVI)
It is the Church's authority that prevents this "relativism" from taking hold on us. God does not want us to be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine." He wants us to know the truth. Relativism is so dangerous because it steals this truth from us. We then run the risk of remaining dead in our sin, and ultimately having to face our demise.

If you struggle with this idea of authority, pray hard about it. What is the alternative?  Click here for an article that contains many web resources on this topic. Again, considering that our eternal salvation is at stake, we really need to be clear in our understanding of this business of possessing "the keys to the kingdom of heaven."

So what does our Church, shepherded by her Magisterium, teach us?

She teaches us everything we need to know for our salvation (#162). We need to listen to her carefully. Let's begin with the symbol of faith, The Apostles' Creed.

The Apostles' Creed: what we believe.

I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son,our Lord, 
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty, 
from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting.
Amen.

These twelve articles, symbolizing the Twelve Apostles, represent what we as Christians believe. Each of these articles has deep meaning. Take the time to further explore them by clicking here.


What is our faith with regards to the Sacraments?

There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. These all take place in the context of a liturgy, which is the celebration of the mysteries of Christ. The liturgy aims to sanctify mankind (#218) and make present the saving work of Christ.
222. What is the work of Christ in the liturgy?
In the liturgy of the Church, it is his own paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present. By giving the Holy Spirit to his apostles he entrusted to them and their successors the power to make present the work of salvation through the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments, in which he himself acts to communicate his grace to the faithful of all times and places throughout the world.
Christ's saving work is made present among us in the liturgy, especially in the celebration of the sacraments! These sacraments bring the past saving works of Jesus Christ to the present day!

“What was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries.” (Saint Leo the Great)

"The sacraments, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, are efficacious signs of grace perceptible to the senses. Through them divine life is bestowed upon us (#224)."

Are the Sacraments Necessary??
230. For what reason are the sacraments necessary for salvation? For believers in Christ the sacraments, even if they are not all given to each of the faithful, are necessary for salvation because they confer sacramental grace, forgiveness of sins, adoption as children of God, conformation to Christ the Lord and membership in the Church. The Holy Spirit heals and transforms those who receive the sacraments.
The Centrality of the Eucharist

The central Sacrament is the Eucharist. This is where Christ gives us his very flesh and blood. What appears to the senses as mere bread and wine is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord. We consider this sacrament the "source and summit of all Christian life."
274. What does the Eucharist represent in the life of the Church? It is the source and summit of all Christian life. In the Eucharist, the sanctifying action of God in our regard and our worship of him reach their high point. It contains the whole spiritual good of the Church, Christ himself, our Pasch. Communion with divine life and the unity of the People of God are both expressed and effected by the Eucharist. Through the Eucharistic celebration we are united already with the liturgy of heaven and we have a foretaste of eternal life.
289. When does the Church oblige her members to participate at Holy Mass? The Church obliges the faithful to participate at Holy Mass [the Eucharist] every Sunday and on holy days of obligation. She recommends participation at Holy Mass on other days as well. 
How many Christians, including Catholics, go without receiving this awesome sacrament?! Again, as with the with the doctrines surrounding the Magisterium, this is another that can be tough to believe. Nevertheless, it is these tough doctrines that are integral to our salvation. We must take them seriously. Consider Jesus' words:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me." (Jn 6:53-57)
Interestingly, after Jesus gives this "Eucharistic discourse," "many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him." (Jn 6:66). A lack of understanding of the Real Presence of Christ is one key reason why so many don't "accompany him" today. Sad.

Do not let yourself be without this great sacrament! Click here to explore how we can have assurance of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

What does the Church teaches us regarding morality? 

Before exploring the this area, it is important that we are well rooted in the faith, summarized by the Creed, and take part in the Sacraments, "which bestow divine life upon us." (#224). "Indeed, through them [the Faith and Sacraments] the faithful receive the grace of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit which give them the capability of living a new life as children of God in Christ whom they received in faith (#357).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches much on morality. It teaches the centrality of the Sermon on the Mount, the cardinal and theological Virtues, how to live in the human community, the Commandments, and more. By far, the largest of these sections deals with the Commandments. Since they are so fundamental to Christian morality, it is important that we know and follow them.
434. “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). To the young man who asked this question, Jesus answered, “If you would enter into life, keep the commandments”, and then he added, “Come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:16-21). To follow Jesus involves keeping the commandments. The law has not been abolished but man is invited to rediscover it in the Person of the divine Master who realized it perfectly in himself, revealed its full meaning and attested to its permanent validity. 
The Church teaches the permanent validity of the Ten Commandments. She interprets and presents them in light of Christ's teachings.
438. What importance does the Church give to the Decalogue? The Church, in fidelity to Scripture and to the example of Christ, acknowledges the primordial importance and significance of the Decalogue [10 Commandments]. Christians are obliged to keep it.
440. Why does the Decalogue enjoin serious obligations? It does so because the Decalogue expresses the fundamental duties of man towards God and towards his neighbor.  
441. Is it possible to keep the Decalogue? Yes, because Christ without whom we can do nothing enables us to keep it with the gift of his Spirit and his grace.
The Decalogue:

1. I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the LORD’S day.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal. 
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

These Commandments may be known by human reason alone (through the natural law), but because of sin, we may be distorted in our understanding.
417. Is such a law perceived by everyone?
Because of sin the natural law is not always perceived nor is it recognized by everyone with equal clarity and immediacy.
For this reason God “wrote on the tables of the Law what men did not read in their hearts.” (Saint Augustine)
We need to explore the full meaning of each of the Commandments as they are interpreted by Christ and presented to us by the Church, click here (the catechism presents the commandments in light of Christ's definitive interpretation of them).
430. Why does the Magisterium of the Church act in the field of morality? It is the duty of the Magisterium of the Church to preach the faith that is to be believed and put into practice in life. This duty extends even to the specific precepts of the natural law because their observance is necessary for salvation.
Following the Church's teaching regarding the Commandments requires a lot of trust. Do we believe she has the authority from God to accurately unfold these requirements for Christians? Again, we as Catholics believe she does. We are not forced to follow her teachings, but we may be acting in very unwise way if we choose not to.

Jesus' Summary of the Whole Law into a Single Commandment
435. How did Jesus interpret the Law? Jesus interpreted the Law in the light of the twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

And what about prayer?
534. What is prayer?
Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God, or the petition of good things from him in accord with his will. It is always the gift of God who comes to encounter man. Christian prayer is the personal and living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is infinitely good, with his Son Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit who dwells in their hearts.
567. What times are more suitable for prayer? Any time is suitable for prayer but the Church proposes to the faithful certain rhythms of praying intended to nourish continual prayer: morning and evening prayer, prayer before and after meals, the Liturgy of the Hours, Sunday Eucharist, the Rosary, and feasts of the liturgical year.
“We must remember God more often than we draw breath.” (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus) 
572. Why is prayer a “battle”? Prayer is a gift of grace but it always presupposes a determined response on our part because those who pray “battle” against themselves, their surroundings, and especially the Tempter [Satan] who does all he can to turn them away from prayer. The battle of prayer is inseparable from progress in the spiritual life. We pray as we live because we live as we pray.
Jesus teaches us how to pray by giving us the Our Father. Of course the Church does not teach that this is the only prayer Christians use, but she does teach that it is the "prayer par excellence" (#581). For this reason, we must carefully learn it (beyond just memorization of words) and recite it often.
579. What is the place of the Our Father in the Scriptures? The Our Father is the “summary of the whole Gospel” (Tertullian), “the perfect prayer” (Saint Thomas Aquinas). Found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), it presents in the form of prayer the essential content of the Gospel.
Further explore the meaning of this prayer, including each of the seven petitions, by clicking here.
(If we choose to include the daily Rosary into our prayer life, in addition to building tremendous virtue, we contemplate this wonderful prayer six times. To learn the Rosary, click here.)

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Our  faith is very rich, far beyond anything that can be written here. What we do know for certain is that God loves us enough to send us his only son. This son would voluntarily die on the cross for the atonement of our sins. Jesus then rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, but did not leave us orphaned to be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine." He left us with a Church, endowed with divine authority, so that we may have the fullness of the means of salvation. This Church teaches us the Creed which gives us hope. She has been entrusted with the Seven Sacraments, Christ's saving work made present among us today. She teaches us morality so that we can live in accordance with God's law and find peace. She teaches us to pray as the Lord taught. Let our hearts be open to her and the faith she expresses so that the Grace of God may transform us into the beautiful people we were meant to be.

For a complete summary of our Catholic faith, please consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church.