There are certain incorrect ideas and misunderstandings about what Catholics actually believe. Sometimes Catholics themselves are confused by ideas they have heard. Other times a Catholic may simply not have learned a belief through no fault of their own. Often non-Catholic sources teach the wrong thing about what Catholics really believe. The following are some misunderstandings and false ideas that people may think:
1. FALSE: Catholics pray to statues and worship saints
TRUE: Catholics never pray to statues and never worship saints. They pray to God with the saint. The statue is nothing more than a work of art, no different from a painting, photograph, or pencil drawing. Catholics may use these works of art in either of three ways:
1. As a teaching tool for teaching a religious event or idea by illustration.
2. As an inspiration to follow the example of the person depicted in the work of art because they are such a great example of how humans can follow the example of Christ.
3. As a means of focusing one’s mind on a saint, their virtue and holiness, as an aid to prayer.
When Catholics “pray to saints” what they are really doing is asking the saint to pray to God with them for their intention e.g. a man doing home remodeling in his home may pray to St Joseph the carpenter to ask Joseph to pray with him to God for guidance and strength to do the job well. It is essentially having the saint as a prayer partner.
2. FALSE: The pope and bishops can change anything they want in the Catholic Church.
TRUE: The pope and bishops cannot change a single item of Catholic beliefs. They can change only what we do about those beliefs, how those beliefs are acted upon, and how they are taught. They can clarify existing beliefs, but the beliefs themselves they cannot change.
3. FALSE: The pope can establish new beliefs in the church
TRUE: The pope can clarify and ratify existing beliefs, i.e. make them official, but he can do this only under certain conditions. This has been done only twice in 2000 years.
Those conditions are:
The belief must have existed since the early days of the church
The belief cannot contradict or restrict any already existing belief
There must be a biblical basis for the belief
The belief must be meaningful to all cultures, not contrary to any culture, and practicable among Catholics in all countries.
4. FALSE: Church councils create new beliefs or change beliefs in the church
TRUE: Like the Pope, church councils can only clarify and ratify existing beliefs. They may change what we do with those beliefs. They cannot change the beliefs themselves nor create new ones. When church councils clarify and explain beliefs, the Pope, who is always an active bishop, must be a participant and the same conditions apply to the councils of bishops as apply to the Pope.
5. FALSE: Right and wrong are determined by our conscience. Therefore if you always act in accordance with your conscience you will never sin.
TRUE: Right are wrong were determined by God through eternal law long before humans were ever created. Attempting to decide right and wrong ourselves is the effect of original sin and leads to multiple sins. We must always act on Gods idea of right and wrong, not our own.
The right to use our conscience is contingent upon our conscience being correctly formed. If our conscience is not correctly formed, then we have no right to use it. A correctly formed conscience is one that is aligned with God’s knowledge of right and wrong. Our conscience is correctly formed by the development of virtue. Each person has a responsibility to correctly form their own conscience. Since the teachings of the church come from God, disagreement with the teachings of the church is disagreement with God and therefore evidence of an incorrectly formed conscience.
6. FALSE: Catholics believe that charms, medals, etc, can help you to heaven
TRUE: Religious medals, scapulars, blessed images, etc are only aids to faith. They serve as practical and personal reminders of our faith, identify people as Catholics, and also serve the same purposes as other religious art. While there have been private revelations to saints about certain images and medals, their effectiveness comes from gifts of grace from God himself, as well as the grace and faith of the person who wears or uses them, and certainly not from the object itself.
7. FALSE: Catholics believe life on earth is a test or challenge by which you earn your way to heaven
TRUE: Heaven is not a reward. It is our default destination. We are created to go there. The Catholic Church teaches that people are created to “know, love, and serve” God on earth and “to be happy with him in heaven”. Knowing, loving, and serving God are simply the means by which we carry on his work. Therefore life on earth is our opportunity to apply our knowledge, love, and obedience to God, so that we can carry on his work for a while here on earth. Then, when our earthly time is finished, we will have eternal life in total happiness with God in heaven. This is the reason for our existence. It is what we are created to do. It is not a reward, but a fulfillment of God’s purpose for creating us. Whenever we sin, we turn our backs to God’s purpose for creating us and in doing so we hinder our own fulfillment. Thus, sin is not merely a rejection of God’s rules of conduct, but a rejection of eternal life in heaven. Therefore sin leads us to the alternative, which is eternity in hell.
-written by Deacon Ron (Contributor)-