How Can Catholicism Be True When Catholics Are So Dead? SOURCE GARY HOGE Several people wrote to me recently to express their skepticism about Catholicism based on their experience with actual Catholics. Most of the Catholics I know don’t take it seriously. They’re worldly and secular and they don’t seem to care about Jesus or the Gospel at all. G.K. Chesterton once said that the best argument against Christianity is Christians. That is certainly true of Catholicism. Pope John Paul II, putting it politely, says, “The Catholic Church does not forget that many among her members cause God’s plan to be discernible only with difficulty.” (Ut Unum Sint, 11). But is that really an argument against the truth of the faith? I don’t see how. To argue that Catholicism is untrue because it doesn’t transform the lives of those who don’t practice it, is like arguing that aspirin doesn’t work because it doesn’t relieve the headaches of those who don’t take it. My family claims to be Catholic, but they don’t take it seriously, either. Try to remember that many people are Catholic by default. If you ask them what they are, they’ll say, “Oh, I’m Catholic.” But what they mean is, “My ancestors were Catholic.” It’s more an ethnicity than a religion for some people. It’s what they are, not what they believe. I agree with the basic teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church. But, I am still in the Baptist church. That is because I don’t see enough fruits coming from the Catholic Church. Actually, it’s an individual (not a church) that’s supposed to produce good fruit. A church can only proclaim the Gospel and introduce people to the One Who alone can make them bear fruit, but it can’t make people believe its teachings, and it can’t make people live its life. Good fruit, then, is how we tell if an individual is a faithful disciple. The fact is, you can find plenty of good fruit in the Catholic Church, and you can find plenty of good fruit in the various Protestant churches, too. And that’s because the secret to bearing fruit is to have a living, vital relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the source of all grace and life. And because the Catholic Church has been endowed with the fullness of the means of grace that Christ established, a Catholic is able to have the closest possible relationship with Jesus, including even the reality of physical communion with Him. But notice I say, “is able to have,” not “is guaranteed to have.” There are indeed plenty of people who call themselves Catholic, but who refuse to believe the Church’s teachings, refuse to obey its precepts, and refuse to live the life it calls them to live. Not surprisingly, these people aren’t magically converted into living saints just by walking through the Church door. So, if you want to look for fruit, be sure you look on the tree. You can’t expect to find fruit on the dried-up branches that have severed themselves from the tree, and that are strewn all about it. I’ll be the first to admit that the Catholic faith doesn’t work if you don’t practice it. It doesn’t work by osmosis, or by genetics, or by proximity. You actually have to believe it, and live it. You have to have a living relationship with the Lord Jesus in order to bear fruit, and many “Catholics” have rejected that relationship, despite being given every opportunity to embrace it. How can the Catholic Church's claims be true when so many Catholics are so dead? The Church only claims to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ, and it invites everyone to embrace the life of grace He offers. It does not claim that people who spurn its teachings and reject its life will be transformed into faithful disciples anyway. Nor does it claim that being born to Catholic parents guarantees that a person will inherit his parents’ faith. If you want to see the fruit of the Catholic faith, you have to look at the people who are committed to the faith, who take it seriously and put it into practice every day. It’s pointless to look at those who are cultural Catholics only, who say they’re Catholic if you ask them, but who don’t try to live the life, even though they may go to Mass out of habit, or guilt, or whatever. People aren’t magically transformed into good Christians just by walking into a Catholic church (even if they do it every week). Repentance and conversion of heart are the keys to the Christian life. Without them, everything else is sterile and false, whether one calls oneself “Catholic” or not. I don’t see many truly saved people with transformed lives; instead I see many cultural Catholics that think going to Mass one hour a week will get them into Heaven even though they are living otherwise sinful lives. I’ve known such people. It’s truly sad. But to compare the best Evangelicals with the worst Catholics is hardly fair. If you want to see the real fruit of the Catholic faith, look at the people who actually put it into practice. As you know, the Catholic Church has produced some of the greatest, most on-fire saints the world has ever known. Some of them converted whole nations to Christ. We still marvel at their faith and holiness many centuries after they died.