Although this is a question many of us ask on a timely basis we never seem to gather the courage to analyze why we ask ourselves this or why when anyone else mentions the question that we doubt our belief. Just put simply because the question exists or even that others ask it shows that we as Catholics are not living up to the expectations we profess.
For one to call himself Catholic fist of all means one is a member of the Catholic Church. Although be it by conviction, by tradition or by ignorance we are members of the Church. In the perspective of many the question is more provoked at being a member of the church more so than one who practices the belief, but one can not be one without the other or at least that is what most people tend to believe. Being a devout Catholic does not always mean one is an active member of the Church or vice versa, yet they still go hand in hand. There are others, however, who think they can be a Catholic and a non member of the Church. This perspective is what modern society has accepted and has lead to many divisions among the people. Everyone wants to be right and have others join their train of thought thinking that they revelations that deny the wrongs of others and that grant them permissions to act or behave differently than was stipulated by the rest. This behavior is never acceptable for any act of rebellion is childish and only leads to outbreaks of misunderstanding and chaos. There are plenty of examples across the prior centuries of this and yet the Catholic Church seems helpless at preventing them. Others may see this as though the Church no longer cares for when there is a formation of a new sect or schism, but this is not true. Modern laws in most countries allow the freedom to practice ones belief without any pressure of abiding or belonging to any one church. This has fast spitted the formations of division, but we can not state that this is the only reason for the formations. The Catholic Church has had and continues to have faults that provoke the doubt in its members and encourage them to leave. The avid church is saddened when it learns that there are others who openly profess them no longer wish to refer to the Church, but this sadness is not all engulfed by the loss of physical members it is more towards the reasons for why they decide this. Here is where we see the Church's helplessness, for the reasons can be provoked by either external or internal causes and there is not enough doctrine or firm belief among its members to prevent them.
There are some among the Church who have given up on their fellow members and do not care. Others give thanks for when "obstructions" are removed from their presence. These members are not worth having for they are provokers of internal affairs. We see them as modern Pharisees only looking for personal gain and well being. It is a pity but we must accept this. Who then would say say should belong to the Church? Depending on the person answering, one will get a conglomerate of responses and critiques. There is only one correct answer and most of us know it, and if not consciously then it is still locked deep down within us. If we accept that God is creator of all, then all are members of the same family. Man is the one who creates the divisions we see around us today, not God. Biblically at the beginning God did create divisions among man, but these divisions were more than personal interest or favors. The divisions were to bring about peace and to encourage man to mature in faith and faith. The divisions man creates today do not have these purposes in mind. On the contradiction they encourage jealousy, superiority, competition, oppression and ignorance. We are far from the ways of God (Is 59: 8-9). So should man rise up to destroy these divisions if they are so undesired? No, we instead have to transform the purposes of our modern divisions. In making this analysis in applying God's intuition for causes of division we can determine which ones are acceptable and which ones need to be removed. The proper course for removing the unneeded divisions needs to be illuminated by God so as not to cause further harm than what is needed. For most of us, all we can do is pray to God for these divisions to stop manifesting themselves in others and in ourselves but we also have to have a personal effort to prevent the formation of new divisions.
If we are all members of the same family we are all members of the same Church. Weather all the members accept this or not, it is the sole decision of each member. The moment we accept those who do not accept to be something else, is a moment when a new division is created. When this happens we no longer see them as brothers, we see them as other people. We wrongly fall to criticize them and fail to analyze why they do not wish to be our brothers anymore or why we no longer see them as brothers. In this way we wrongly accept the existence of other churches, but it also shows that those who proclaim that they are members of a different church to only do so out of ignorance or rebellion while they continue to be members of the Church. One of the missions left to the Church by Jesus is to spread the good news to all people (Mk 16:15). This is not limited only to places where people have not heard of Jesus, but this also includes those who near near us that have yet to know Jesus. There is plenty of work ahead of the Church but in some occasions it looks as though it is a game of freeze tag. We manage to recuperate brothers in some locations and in other areas they leave. There is no stability within the Church but even this is expected. We can not always be the good son that stands at the side of the father, we often also have to have episodes where we become the prodigal son that leaves the side of the father (Lk.15: 10-32). The Church always has hope that ever we will all become one family, but this is only possible if our faith is the correct one. Even among Catholics, there are those who do not preach or give example of the correct faith. This is more evident today than in past generations for there are far fewer people that have the desire to return to the Father and even less that desire to know him and live according to his mandate.
How does one gain faith? Primarily it is a gift from God (1Cor 12: 9). God allows us to believe in other forces we can not see with our own eyes so that we can become aware of his presence and actions, but we do not always interpret them as he wants us to. That is why our beliefs lead us to practice different faiths when there is only one faith we should all have. How can we distinguish what the correct faith is? Some can say they can determine it from studying the scripture, some by philosophizing about the truth, some by trusting the actions of others or some by performing certain religious practices. All of these have the potential individually to illuminate what the correct faith is but alone they do not have enough elements to do so. The correct faith is not the one professed by any one church, the correct faith is the one given to us by God. When we open ourselves to connect with God and allow him to speak to us, is when we understand what his faith entails. We must fist have a divine connection with our creator to be able to trust that all the events of the world happens according to his will, and out of this trust feel as though we are also being guided by him. Only once we come to this realization are we able to study scripture, philosophize, trust the actions of others and perform religious practices to strengthen and clarify our faith. God will give us these and other elements to correctly identify the faith he has given us. Each of us has a different perspective on life and so ones beliefs will be different, but if we trust that God is guiding us all then there are bound to be similarities among our beliefs that will eventually lead us all to practice the same faith (Jn 10:16). The more often we pray to God asking him to strengthen our faith, the sooner will our beliefs resonate with others.
In taking into action spreading the good news of God to others, the Church has made a great advancement in the past with the Second Vatican Council. This advancement was not limited to allowing others to receive the word of God in a vernacular language but it also bought those of other beliefs to discern with us on what the true faith entails. Some mistook this action of discernment as an imposition of the Catholic Church to return everyone under the sole control. How sad it is for those who thought this and continue to think this way. The purpose of the unification of the people is not for us all to be delegated by one body, but for us all to live as one family under the guidance of God. Some may say this brings about the same means, but there is a key difference between them. One allows the election of a governmental body to rule over us and grants us equality, while the other allows us to be guided by God and allows us to treat others with equality. Now that we approach the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, many of us ask if that was enough for the Church to gain purpose and provide a rubric for the coming generations. It is evident that the effects of the Second Vatican Council can still be found, but the overall euphoria has died down. The Church has once again fallen into a rut and once more needs to ask the Spirit for illumination. Many of us pray for this on a daily basis but our prayers seem to not be enough. At my local level of involvement with the Church and knowing what the Church is asking of me, I feel as though the tasks it has placed before it is not what the Church needs in this present day. We need a new movement that can once again get us out of the rut we are found in and renew the Spirit found within us all (Ps 104: 29-33).
There are great wounds still left open from the previous difficult matters that have been made know by fellow Church members across the world. We thank Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and all prior Popes for acknowledging some of these wounds, but that is only the first step towards healing. There have not been many movements from the Church to atone for the wrongs it has allowed and continues to allow. There have not been structural changes or doctrinal revisions to appropriately mend and or prevent future situations from getting out of hand. Those at local levels of church involving with possible ties with difficult matters are fearful of joining groups, joining ministries or speaking up because the immediate response from most of the clergy in charge is a blank wall. The clergy in charge wish not to take risks so as not to provoke further harm or future incidents. They over exaggerate doctrinal documents in defense of this decision to not take further involvement with difficult matters. In doing so they provoke further harm, for instead of receiving council, direction or accompaniment one receives ignorance, confusion and abandonment (Wisd 6: 1-11, Jer 23: 1-4, Mt 7: 21-23).
Who has authority in the Church? This question is interesting to ask because it brings about a truth that is accepted on most levels of understanding. We have already reviewed that everyone is a member of the Church but when it is stated that the Church decides on something or decides to do something, it is not every member who is involved but only those in the hierarchy. The division in authority is so great that in some occasions when mentioning the Church we only refer to the hierarchy as the Church. Only with a few examples or when it is most convenient are all members involved in a statement of the Church.
Any return to the question, the maximum authority is solely held by God himself as creator of all but from the Son some of that authority is delegated to the apostles and they in turn delegate some of that authority to others as they see fit (Jb 38 1: 2, Jn 5: 19-27, Lk 22: 25-30, Mk 6: 7-13, Mt 10: 1, Mk 16: 15-18, Mt 28: 18-20, Jn 20: 21-23, Mt 16: 17-19, Jn 21: 15-17, Acts 1: 21-26, Acts 6: 3-6). The delegated authority is to be used in the service of others. It is not a responsibility that can be handled by everyone nor does everyone have the qualities to correctly manage it. It is true that many are provided this responsibility without possessing the desired qualifications, to which all we can do is ask God that he grant them the missing qualities to better fulfill this responsibility. It is to note however, that those who receive authority are no more important than the rest who do not have authority. The greatest among God's people is he who makes himself the servant of all (Mk 10: 42-45).
The Church is in the hands of the hierarchy but more so of those of the Magisterium. The Magisterium is one of the three pillars of the Church. It is tasked with providing correct interpretation of the scripture and maintaining the traditions of the Church. In them we trust that the hope given to us by Jesus the Son is kept alive, but more so that they are capable of manifesting the presence of Jesus among us and transmitting it Spirit to the rest of us. We need to continue to feel that Jesus is alive, that he still walks amongst us, that he is there to console us, and that he is there to encourage us to do better. Mercy and grace accompanies him wherever he goes, and that is what our soles reach out for. Mercy and grace are what allow us to move mountains in faith and allow us to truly feel ourselves as children of God (1Jn 5: 1-12). If we have the Son we have direction, meaning, purpose, strength, clarity, encouragement, redemption, and life, we have everything. May those who are entrusted with guiding us, be able to do this always. To make this a reality it is not enough to simply ask "what would Jesus do?" but also "what does Jesus ask of me?"
With all of this, I still have to answer the main question. Do I have enough elements to firmly decide to remain a member of the Catholic Church? I accept that the Catholic Church has not always been perfect nor at times has it been the best transmitter of the presence or will of God. I accept that its members are controversial and problematic at times. I accept that not all those in charge are the best suited for their positions. I accept that the doctrine has holes that need to be filled and that there are topics that need better discernment for an appropriate answer to be provided. I accept that most members are only so superbly and do not have a firm desire to find God. I accept this and more, but my faith is not shaken because I do not place my faith in the Church I place it in God. Because I have the advantage of having made contact with the Son, I am able to accept his baptism and everything it implies. I can not be less a Catholic than I can stop being a child of God or a follower of his son (Eph 4: 4-6). I have received everything from the Father because of the Son, and I trust that the Son is the way back to the Father. Although as many I may find myself in a state of sin, this does not hold me down nor does it tire me nor does it limit me in the pursuit of the Son. It instead motivates me to know that his Spirit continues to act within me for this state (Rom 8: 8-16). I can feel the Spirit whenever I share the word of God, when I help proclaim his word, when I pray, and when I receive a sacrament. Because of this action of the Spirit I have high hopes that the Church will be able to live up to Jesus' and our expectations. I pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and for the unification of the faiths. I pray that his Spirit continues to illuminate us all and that his presence never leaves our side. I am grateful to be Catholic.