By Caryn Tennant “There are not a hundred people in [America, Africa..etc.] who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” Fulton Sheen I have been taking a religious studies course at my university and I’ve come to appreciate the dialogue we can have about different religions. I have been fascinated by Judaism and how I, as a Christian, share their common roots and forefathers. The rabbi who was our lecturer, was an inspiration to me in his orthodox lifestyle which is a reflection of his honest yearning and waiting for the Messiah. Although my Messiah has already graced this earth, I too, can relate to that waiting – waiting to be finally and utterly complete and satisfied by Jesus one day. My fickleness is proven by my even newer fascination with Islam. The prophet Muhammad reminds me (especially when I find it difficult to pray) that prayer is simply a call to unity – with God and with others. His message was that we are one people and we share one God. How we need to hear this message of oneness in this war-torn and socially disparate age! One comment that did irk me came from the front row of my lecture when we were on the topic of Christianity. The professor had been explaining that in order to understand Christianity, we need to understand Catholicism first because this is where the faith started. The voice said, “But how can we even compare Christianity to Catholicism? They have like rituals and stuff and pray to Mary.” That comment isn’t original. I’ve heard it many times. Sometimes I’ve entertained the thought which is not what Christians/Catholics/Buddhists/most people condone – and that is to, I don’t know, throttle her maybe or throw her back to last week Thursday? Jokes aside. I understand that this individual is simply churning out a commonly held misconception which she has heard from many other Christians, maybe ignorant Catholics themselves, who have not taken the time to discover what Catholics actually believe, but it’s particularly those people who I want to encourage. Can we please take note of our commonalities, first, rather than our differences. I have been nurtured and fed by the beauty and strengths of other Christian denominations. Some of my closest friends have been from other churches, and we shared in the questions and the joys of striving to know God. This time last year I was studying in California and had the privilege of going on a conference with an inter-denominational group. Despite our different nationalities, I could feel at home with them knowing that we have each had a personal experience of Jesus – whether in the whisper in our hearts or in the visible love and beauty around us. So these are the main beliefs we share: Firstly, Anyone who is Catholic is first and foremost a Christian. We are from the original church to which all Christians once belonged, the rock upon which Christ commissioned Peter to build His Church. So I guess we’re pretty vintage. We believe in one God who is mysteriously three-in-one, the Trinity. Did you know that the term Trinity does not appear in the Bible? It was coined by a Catholic (Christian – before the whole Reformation thing happened) post-Scripture being written! I found that out in my course Secondly, We believe that salvation comes through Christ, and that we are not saved by our works alone, but by God’s unconditional love and mercy. Thirdly, We, along with our Protestant brothers and sisters, belong to Christ through Baptism. What Catholics don’t believe: We don’t pray to Mary. Mary is not another god of ours. She was the mother of Christ, and we believe that her motherhood continues, just as my mother would continue to be my mother after she’s gone. Just as I would ask my mom to pray for me on earth, so we believe that those in heaven can continue to pray for us. Who better to ask for prayers than from the earthly and heavenly mother of Jesus? So no, we don’t pray to her; she prays for us. We too are impacted and grieved by any abuse – whether physical, emotional or sexual. But, our family is so big, we are unfortunately bound to have a bad uncle… or a black sheep. This causes our family great heartache. But please don’t let the media close your eyes to all the good that is going on in the Catholic faith, that has been going on for the last 2000 years. We must remember that the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a sanctuary of saints. I am not perfect which automatically makes the church I belong to imperfect! But why do I continue to go back? It’s because of the Groom. An ancient middle Eastern text (a.k.a. the Bible… my friend, Seb, jokes that it would be cooler and more accessible to refer to the Bible in this way) bears a book called ‘The Song of Songs’ which speaks metaphorically of Christ being married to the Church. No matter how sick His bride gets or how she fails, He will love her and He will never give up on her. We don’t worship the pope. He is equal in dignity and humanity to you and I. He is simply the guy who is called to mirror Christ’s actions. Aren’t we all? And seeing that the Church is made of more than 1.2 billion people, we need someone to speak on behalf of us. Can you imagine a school that large without a principal? With a church so large and so humanly capable of stuffing things up, we need someone to counsel us, to acknowledge the needs within and outside the Church. We need a coach to give us hope so that we can carry on and try again. What is great about Pope Francis is his call to unity. I picked up an evangelical magazine which is calling born-again Christians to take note of his message. There is an article which illustrates the three main points we have in common, and it is an urge to us all to see ourselves as one nation. There is probably more to chat about with regards to ‘rituals’ and doctrine, but I think it’s safe to say that nothing we believe in contradicts Scripture. In fact, nothing should offend our fellow Christian family if they were to attend Mass, and many of the prayers we say will even be appreciated by our Jewish brothers and sisters who will recognize prayers like the Psalms from the Torah (our Old Testament). And most importantly, what we share with our Christian family is the belief that the Old Covenant was made new: God reached down to humanity, rewrote the ultimate law as love, and became the sacrificial lamb to demonstrate His personal love for us all. All – meaning each and every one of us. About the Author Caryn Tennant I was raised Catholic, but had a deeper encounter with the faith when I spent my gap year in Australia ministering to teenagers. It changed the course of my life completely and I am grateful for the adventure and joy I have found in living my life with God at the centre. I have had too many hometowns, but currently I’m living in Cape Town, South Africa, where I finished my BA degree and am now teaching English at a high school. Disclaimer: Teach Me articles are not necessarily written by trained theologians and are merely aimed at enlightening the reader and prompting discussion and dialogue. If you would like to share your opinions or give us feedback, please contact us via email, Twitter or Facebook.