First, a Brief Biography…

I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher. What am I doing then writing about the
Catholic Church? The answer lies in a not so common experience: I grew up in a
family of Jehovah’s Witnesses and my life was influenced for many years by their
doctrines and the demands placed upon those who believe in them. By a special
grace of God I discovered the Catholic Church and in time I felt moved to defend
my newly acquired faith and to warn others about the consequences of joining
fringe religious groups.

Going back to the time right before I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion I
remember having a conversation with one of the elders. Back then I had been an
unwilling witness to certain scandalous matter. The way this problem was resolved
by the elders was at best questionable. I was so shocked that I quickly ceased to
have any association with the Witnesses.

Some time later one of the elders came to visit me. He said that he was concerned
about my absence. In our conversation the scandalous matter came up and this
man could not show any arguments biblical or otherwise to justify the ways of his
peers. Eventually he said: “God in His wisdom allows us to be obedient to an
imperfect organization so our faith is made perfect by the imperfect men we have
to obey”.

“Nice argument”, I agreed. The only problem with it was that if it were true then we
should all be Catholics since the Catholics were here first.  I told the Jehovah’s
Witness elder this.  However, at the time I did not have the faintest intention of
becoming a Catholic. What I said was a simple quick argument to rebut the elder’s
statement.

Well, the elder’s jaw dropped. Quickly recovering he told me: “You are already
talking like an apostate”. He left shortly after. I was never to see him again. Seven
years later I converted to Catholicism. It took me all those years to realize how
important that conversation was.

A Fundamental Article of Faith Challenged

We Catholics profess our faith in the “One Holy Catholic Church”. The meaning of
this phrase is rather obvious for any Catholic Christian. I am sure we could write a
long treatise expounding on the implications of these four words. I do not intend to
do that. One does not have to study much history to see that the Church has lasted
twenty centuries in spite of having the humblest of origins. One cannot deny that
she is still one in spite of having been put in peril both by external forces and
internal power struggles. Likewise the universality implied in the word catholic is
still evident; the Church is active all over the world from China to America and she
is the spiritual home of men and women of all kinds.

One and catholic we can understand. However, it is the word holy that people of
our time have a problem with. To some that adjective brings a sense of
uneasiness. The list of people with justified and unjustified grievances against the
Church is rather long. There is also the regrettable record of times past. Painful
mistakes that even the Second Vatican Council had to admit. Recently Pope John
Paul II asked forgiveness for the faults of the Church before the whole world. The
history of the Church is so full of these awful memories that some of her enemies
are willing to identify her with the woman in the scarlet dress depicted in St. John's
book of Revelation. We Catholics disagree with that, of course. Yet that is a good
example of the resistance that the Church has to face out there.

The One Catholic Church is sometimes an obstacle for many that would like to
believe that somewhere there is a holy church of Christ. It is, so they say, because
of her long history of internal struggles, and because she has sinned both by
omission and commission, sometimes against the very ones she was supposed to
hold, sustain and protect.

There are very few arguments one can use against this line of reasoning. My
problem with this posture is its very origin. Behind the sad litany of accusations
there is always bitterness. Bitterness that is similar to that of a lover that has found
proof of indiscretion in his beloved. There is no hope for that bitter soul because it
is no longer possible to bring back the original innocence of the beloved. “Oh, if it
could only be like it was in the early days,” he exclaims.

The issue of holiness then requires a bit of understanding. Simply expressed we
believe that the Church is holy not because her members are all perfect saints
living in absolute sanctity. Even though, we do believe that God can make a person
holy no matter what his or her original condition.  However, in forming a Church
composed of imperfect and sinful human beings God makes evident the curious
paradox of His sanctity in the midst of the most evident imperfection. That is what
we Catholics call grace, the ability of God to make a sacred vessel out of this lowly
material that we are all made of. In a way the Church reminds us of the paradox of
grace: we are not called because we are better than the rest. We are called
because we are
NOT better and therefore we can make the grace of God more
evident.

When Jesus walked the earth He was harshly condemned by those who could see
in Him the elements of holiness, the miracles, and the righteous life He lived.
Why? Because those people who were condemning Jesus could not find in Jesus
the element of righteous judgment. The judicial aspect of holiness was lacking in
Jesus. Most scandalously Jesus seemed to enjoy the company of those
condemned by society. Jesus attracted sinners and initiated them in the ways of
holiness. In a way it is that very behavior that makes Jesus so appealing in the
Gospels.

To explain this point I would like to use a very well known episode related in the
gospel of John. A crowd brings an adulteress before Christ declaring: “Moses told
us to stone women like this”.  Imagine (it is only an example) that the woman
represents the Church and the crowd represents those who condemn the Church.
Jesus admits the fact that the Law condemns adultery in very harsh terms.
However, Jesus decides to bring the attention of the crowd to what they all have in
common: sin.

Jesus invites the crowd to look inward and perform some self-examination.  This
leads to a strange result. They leave the Teacher and the woman alone. In time
Jesus pronounces His judgment: “Neither do I condemn you. Go in peace and sin
no more.” Jesus has the authority to do that because He is greater than Moses and
His choice is to highlight human sin by pointing at the role that divine grace has in
solving the problem of sin.

Both the Church and her accusers have in common the element of sin. It is Jesus
who brings sin to the forefront in order to graciously forgive it.

The Sacraments Make the Church Holy

Of course the Church is not represented by the adulteress. We only used this
example to illustrate how Jesus deals with sin. There is a big difference between
the adulteress and the Church and that is the mission of the Church and it is a holy
mission. The Church is an imperfect vessel for a number of holy elements. Those
elements we call the Sacraments. If the Sacraments were absent from the Church
there would be nothing left to justify its existence. If the Sacraments had no
Church to live in, it would be hard to imagine how they could be preserved and
honored. The Sacraments are what make the Church a holy vessel. That is why
Christianity could never be a mere philosophy that men can choose to live by
without ever associating with the Church.

When someone insists in bitterly condemning the obvious imperfections of the
Church, this bitterness reveals the kind of pride that can only come from self-
righteousness. Self-righteousness does not need the consolation that comes from
the Sacraments. Anyone can criticize and divide but, isn’t it better to
build up?

So, does this mean that we are to accept every sinful act passively? No, we can
take an active role in the fight between sin and holiness. We must remember that
we are also an integral part of the Church. If we allow God to build holiness in
ourselves, then we are helping to build holiness in the Church. It is remarkable how
saints seem to surface in the history of the Church at times when the hierarchical
authorities within her appear to have lost the way. We may not be a Church
composed exclusively by saints, but we can affirm that God is graciously giving
the Church the gift of holiness by making room for it in our own lives.

You Can Visit Carlos' Spanish Website on the JWs at
www.voxfidei.com
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The Importance of Being Holy -
The Church as the Vessel of the Christian Sacraments
By Carlos Caso-Rosendi