“Jesus was a Catholic.”

This was said to me recently by a family friend…an older gentleman who was baptized Catholic but raised Protestant. You might wonder how I responded, and I’ll tell you, but what I want to focus on in this post is what was behind his later comment that, “I’m Protestant, but in here,” and he put his hand on his heart, “I’m Catholic.”

This dear man’s father was Protestant but his mother Catholic, and his last memory of her was at around age 6 as she was being carried out of their home on a stretcher calling to his aunt to take care of him for her. He never saw her alive again.

One of the saddest things in the world is when a young child suffers the loss of his mother, and I can only imagine the trauma my friend endured, and the sadness he still experiences when he thinks of the years with her that might have been. So when he said, “in here I’m Catholic,” I understood, and he confirmed my conclusion. In some way it provides a connection with the mother he loved and lost.

bible-verse-john-146-i-am-the-way-the-truth-and-the-life-2013As I continue to argue against the Catholic Church’s exclusivity claims, I am keenly aware of the emotional component of faith and how the charges I bring against her come across to some as an attack on their mother. The Church is much more to them than a religion that expresses their personal beliefs. She is the mother who taught them what to believe, celebrated milestones in their lives, and poured out love and blessings on new births, marriages, and deaths. She was there in illness and hardship, sorrow and pain, and the one they went to for forgiveness when they disobeyed. She is not just an organization they identify with; in a very real way she is their identity.

So any criticism of her hurts and angers, and I get that. But should I then refrain from calling attention to her errors? I don’t want to cause pain and I don’t care for conflict, but truth matters. It matters in finances, it matters in relationships, it matters in healthcare, commerce, government and politics. No less does it matter in things of eternal significance. Jesus talked a lot about truth, even self-identifying as THE truth, and didn’t hesitate to proclaim it even when it hurt.

My elderly friend’s comment that Jesus was Catholic is emblematic of the success the Church has had in portraying herself as his only true representative on earth, but I’d never heard anyone actually claim that. Turned out he didn’t really ascribe to the idea…it was more an off-the-cuff expression of an unexamined impression. When I reminded him that Jesus was a Jew, and God the Son….not a Christian of any persuasion but the Christ…he agreed.

Taking an oppositional stand in matters of faith is thought by some to be strictly divisive and even un-Christlike. If that’s the case then Truth himself, Jesus the Christ, is strictly divisive and un-Christlike. He opposed the religious leaders of his time quite emphatically with no apologies, calling down woes on them to the point where one was emboldened enough to complain about the insult. But the one who taught us to love our enemies and “do unto others” did not soften the blows in response. He continued the offensive because he was speaking the truth…and truth matters.