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Catholicism: Who Are We? - What We Believe

Many of the Gospel Stories describing the crowd's reaction to Jesus of Nazareth point out: "They were all astounded, and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this." Most of us find it pretty hard to be astounded at anything any more, but I suppose if Jesus were to physically return to the world in today's day and age, we too would experience the same thrill and excitement as those who saw Him for the first time. We sometimes take our faith - and our Catholic Church - for granted and don't realize that what we have believed for all or most of our lives, can be totally new and strange for someone else.

Those of us brought up Catholic from birth may not realize how difficult it is for a person to truly discern whether God is calling them to Catholicism. They have very legitimate questions about church structure, mission, devotion to Mary and the Saints, and even questions about our belief in the divinity of Christ. Hopefully, this series can assist those who are interested in becoming Catholic; it can also serve as a starting point for those of us who need to "brush the dust off" those tenets in which we believe, and enable us to point the questioning soul in the right direction.

Catholicism: An Overview
What is "Catholic?"
The word "Catholic" is generally taken to mean "universal," although the Greek roots of the word mean "according to (kata) the whole (holos). In the ancient Church, it was used to refer to a single, visible communion, separate from others, bonded together through faith in Jesus Christ.

As far back as the ninth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem stated: "The Church is called Catholic, because it teaches universally and infallibly each and every doctrine which must come to the knowledge of men, concerning things visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly, …because it brings every race of men into subjection to holiness, …because it universally treats and heals every class of sins, and because it possesses within itself every conceivable form of virtue, in deeds and in words and in the spiritual gifts of every description." From our earliest roots, the Church has always considered Herself to have been blessed by God, through Jesus. And because of that gift, she is a community of mission: the mission of the Gospel.

In modern times, this self-understanding is presented in the Dogmatic Constitution on The Church (Lumen Gentium) of the Second Vatican Council. The church must continue the work of the Good Shepherd, who came to serve and not be served - and who didn't hesitate to lay His life for His sheep. "Established by Christ as a fellowship of life, charity and faith, it [the Church] is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth." (article 9)

This is the aim of the Church today. Weak and frail though we are, we are confident in God's Love, which guides our steps along the journey. When the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965, sixteen documents had been published: four Constitutions, nine Decrees, and three Declarations. Pope John XXIII's hope to open a new window enabled the Church to reaffirm her vision of the Gospel Message: "...the Church has a single intention - that the kingdom of God may come and the salvation of the human race may be accomplished." Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, article 45).

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