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“Ask a Priest: Why Do We Say Catholicism Is the One, True Faith?”
Q: I am a pious Catholic who struggles to square my faith with what I know about humanity. Throughout human history, countless different religions have existed, most long before the beginning of Christianity, and even today Christianity exists alongside a myriad of other religions throughout the world (Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Druidism, Wicca, etc.), the believers of whom adhere to their respective faiths as strongly as Christians do to theirs. And even among Christians, lots of unique perspectives exist, from Protestants to Catholics to Orthodox Christians to Mormons to Episcopalians to Quakers to Mennonites to Seventh-day Adventists, and so many more. That said, considering the enormous multitude of other religions that exist, on top of the mountain of religions that existed before, all of which claim to be the one, true faith, how can we say that our religion, Roman Catholicism, is the one, true faith? I believe it wholeheartedly, yet at the same time I can’t fathom it in the slightest. – G.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Catholics believe we have the one, true faith because it is what was revealed by Jesus Christ, whom we acknowledge as the Son of God. And God cannot deceive us.
Why we do believe Jesus is God? Because he rose from the death as he foretold. Because the Church he established is still with us in recognizable form.
He appointed Peter as the rock on which the Church was built (see Matthew 16:18). The Pope is the successor of Peter.
Christ ordered his disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” (Matthew 28:19). That is what the Church aspires to do.
Christ gave his disciples the power to absolve from sins. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23). This is what the Church does in the sacrament of confession.
Christ gave his very self in the Eucharist at the last supper, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). That is what the Mass is: a celebration of the Eucharist in memory of Jesus.
Moreover, Catholicism has airtight coherence. And it connects all the dots.
It teaches that we have the image of God in us – this helps explain our intellects and our wills.
It teaches that we are body and soul together – this helps explains how we can be affected by our physical state and yet transcend it, through our intellect and imagination and will.
It teaches that we inherit original sin – a damaged human nature – which explains why we are so inclined to sin. Yet we pine for the true, the good, the beautiful. We want to hope – and we can hope, because of the redemption won for us by Jesus and by the mercy he extends to us when we repent.
Now, you mention those other religions and how much people believe in them. Other religions can certainly have glimmers of the truth.
Buddhism, for instance, isn’t totally wrong when it links desire and suffering. We as Catholics recognize that unchecked desires – greed, lust, etc. – can indeed bring suffering. But we also recognize that not all desires are bad.
(Two quick asides: Among other faiths, Judaism is a special case, since it was preparation for what God wanted to fully reveal in Christ. Also, Roman Catholicism is one way of referring to the Roman rite. There are more than 20 other rites in the Church, all of which are as Catholic as the Roman rite.)
You mention how many folks for so many centuries have adhered to some of their other religions. That is a reminder of how blessed we are as Catholics to have the faith that we do.
But there is a price attached to that gift: We have a duty to evangelize others. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). If there are still so many folks who don’t know about Christ and his teachings, the blame is partly on us.
For critiques of other faiths, you might look at Peter Kreeft’s site or the Catholic Answers site. And for a history of human religious activity along with a creative approach to answering the question of what really separates all the religions, you might enjoy a book by my colleague, Father John Bartunek: Spiritual but Not Religious: The Search for Meaning in a Material World.
And remember, Jesus prayed for his followers, “that they may all be one” (John 17:21). He brought one message and established one Church, meant to take in all the nations. Which Church does that sound like?
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