Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Who is a Catholic and What is the Catholic Church?

Father John J. Lombardi 

Our friend the animal rescuer and webmaster-none other than Michael Hillman-recently asked: What does the Catholic Church teach, and Who is a Catholic today? Michael designs web sites for religious institutions, but amidst the variety he said he has not found a simple description of the Catholic Faith. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misinformed, new-millennium Catholics. So, with Mike's inspiration…

A Catholic is someone who loves God with all his heart, mind and soul, and his neighbor as well-heroically and without end well (cf. Mt. 22: 37). She or he is a person who is guided by the revealed teachings of the Holy Bible and Catholic Sacred Tradition (the Church's doctrines linked to the Apostles, regarding moral and spiritual issues). Catholics and the Catholic Church are comprised of four essential elements of Faith, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:


These are the doctrines (below in bold face) which Christ and the Catholic Church teaches (credo means "I believe"). Catholics believe and teach that: God is a Trinity of Divine Persons--Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that the Father created the world out of nothing (Creation--ex nihilo), and thereafter created the first man and woman. Man chose sin and rebellion against God ("there's no Original Sin without original people"). God then sent prophets to bring conversion, and finally sent His only begotten Son (the Incarnation) into the world (born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we venerate) to save and Redeem us (Jn. 3:16), by Jesus' sacrificial death (Atonement), and to make us divine-like (2 Pt. 1:4= deosis). Jesus rose from the dead (Resurrection) and taught for fifty days until His Ascension, body and soul, into Heaven; He sent the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) Who is now guiding us into truth.

Christ spiritually extends Himself through the Catholic Church, founded upon the "rock" of St Peter the Apostle (first pope-Mt. 16:18); His established pattern and unity of believers in Heaven, Purgatory and Earth, in clergy and laypersons (the Church), unites and helps us. We live in a Communion of Saints whereby "friends and family in the Faith" are united to us through prayer and a "common treasury" in the Holy Spirit; we believe in the forgiveness of sins. We believe that Jesus will come again to judge the world (Second Coming) according to its faith and love; and that some will be eternally separated from God (Hell), and others united forever to the Trinity (Heaven); and that those souls already in Heaven will be reunited with their bodies.


Catholics celebrate their Faith with others thru physical and spiritual symbols and ceremonies-this is the way God "designed" us. When this is done with love we can more readily know, love and serve God and our neighbor. There are Seven Sacraments, which are all outward signs, instituted by Christ, to give grace. They save and "super naturalize us."

  • Baptism: God de-stains our souls, tarnished by Original Sin, and adopts us into His family the Church
  • Holy Communion/Eucharist: Jesus gives us Himself--and continues to do so in the Mass, which is a re-presentation of His Last Supper and Sacrificial death under new forms
  • Confirmation: an adult affirms their belief in, and love for, the Holy Catholic Church.
  • Reconciliation/ Penance: sinners are encouraged to confess their sins to Jesus thru the priest (cf. Jn 21:20ff ).
  • Holy Orders/Priesthood: Similar to Jesus initiating the Apostles into His ministry at the Last Supper (Mt. 26:26ff), the bishop ordains men to priesthood in the Mass.
  • Marriage: a man and a woman become one and married, for life.
  • Anointing of the sick/Last Rites: ill or dying persons are anointed with sacred oil to bring the comfort of Christ.

And so a Catholic is encouraged to frequently celebrate and receive these "sacred chains" to Heaven from God.


Catholics are called to obey (the Latin word means, "to listen to") what God has commanded. Like a sturdy guardrail which helps us safely across a bridge traversing difficult straights, so the Ten Commandments guide us thru life's challenges. The Commandments are (memorize them):

  1. abhor idols and honor God;
  2. honor God's Name;
  3. honor His Sabbath-Sunday;
  4. honor father and mother;
  5. do not kill;
  6. do not commit adultery;
  7. do not steal;
  8. do not lie;
  9. do not covet neighbor's wife;
  10. do not covet neighbors' goods.

The "Code" commands a sometimes rebellious human nature (and marred conscience), which have been marred by sin, and trains us in God's ways (i.e., Christ-like virtues).


Catholics should foster a frequent, loving, relationship to God thru the "conversation of prayer." This consists of many kinds, including: adoration, intercession, contrition, silence, meditation, liturgy, aspirations. The most important prayers include: Our Father," "Hail Mary" and "Glory Be"-we aim to "pray unceasingly (I Th. 5:17). A Catholic should devote much time and effort-daily--to cultivating both public and private prayer. St.Therese said: "For me, prayer is a surge of the heart, it is a simple glance towards Heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy."

As Catholics today, we are all tempted to pick and choose what we want to follow or believe. Why should a Catholic avoid this kind of "cafeteria Catholicism"? Because God never gives us impossible commands or instructions (whether embracing sufferings or rejecting contraception and materialism); because we can do everything in Christ Jesus Who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13); and He graced the martyrs who so loved Jesus' teachings that they died rather than distort them. There is, to our Religion, a "veritatis splendor"-a splendor of truth which attracts, inspires and frees us to Love God and neighbor… "The Church does not need reformers, it needs saints." -George Bernanos

Why Pray the Rosary?

Dominican Theologian Ennio Staidi, in Zenit: "In our time, when everyone is running around, it is difficult to pray. Moreover, many educators in the faith are afraid of the 'devotionalism' in which this magnificent devotion is encased. My teacher, the great theologian Enrico Rosetti, O.P., used to say , 'A Christian without devotion has not yet been supported by the experience of any saint, not by the authoritative teaching of the Church.' Wherever this de-sacralized, unpopular, inhuman, heartless Christianity has been applied, it has only brought disasters for the faith. I was able to see this in certain areas of Brazil, where the people, deprived of genuine devotions, have turned to magic…"

On the Moral Life

Because conscience is like an inner shrine within each person, which "perceives and speaks" the truth, we traditionally say conscience has rights and is unviable. But conscience also has responsibilities. Catholics should form their consciences according to the Bible and to Catholic teaching and principles the Church has consistently, insistently and persistently taught: i.e., that murder, rape and lying are evil.

Recently a Catholic was elected governor of Michigan who publicly supported "abortion rights". Prior to the elections, Detroit's Cardinal Maida stated that, Catholic politicians cannot be personally opposed to abortion and publicly for it. Later, three Catholic priests supported the candidate thru a Detroit newspaper editorial, basically saying the woman's conscience is unviable and that she could, consciously, as a Catholic, "be personally opposed and publicly for" abortion.

Pope John Paul has critiqued this seductive mistruth of being "personally-opposed-but publicly for" the legislated killing of the unborn, in "Evangelium Vitae". When any leader or disciple disagrees with a teaching of the Church, they should:

  1. try to ascent to it by molding their consciences around the teaching;
  2. refrain from public disagreement with, or dissent from, it.

The governor-elect should not be forced against her conscience; we are not spiritual fascists. But neither are we religious relativists: while the governor-elect's conscience is objectively in error, neither God nor the Church will violate it. But: would some be so apathetic if such leader supported child pornography, slave trading, and racism? Conscience has rights, yes; but it also has duties. (Story in The National Catholic Register).

Life after Life, and Death

"More than being confiscated, death is hidden. It is the result of many social tendencies that have arisen in Western societies; in particular, the present concept of medicine. Concealment, which banishes the reality of death from social life, favors the extreme professionalization of funeral services…In this connection it may be said that death-our death-is turned into a confiscated reality. And…this confiscation has particularly grave human and religious implications." -Christian deCacquereay, French Funeral Director; Zenit, Paris.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi