Question: Who are the authentic Catholics? There are so many people, holding such varied opinions, who claim to be Catholics. How can we distinguish those who are genuine from those who are not? (P.L. Chicago)
Answer: There are four "marks" of the Catholic Church, identified in the Creed, which distinguish It from all others. The true Church is "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic." Its true members possess characteristics as individuals that enable the Church to display her "marks" as a society.
The Church is One. Catholics must seek the truth and
profess it to those around them. Only unity of belief in the truth canbring
about unity of purpose and unity of action. Our Lord describes Himself as the
Truth, the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us.(1) Without truth
there is no Christ; without Christ there is no Church.
The Church is Catholic. For the Church to be
Catholic, simply the Greek word for "universal," Her members must have
charity, the Greek word for "love." We will unite all nations under
the rule of Christ the King, only if we love God and only if we love our fellow
man for the love of God.(3) "Charity is not envious, is not pretentious, is
not ambitious, is not self seeking"; it has no room for schismatics making
others look bad so that they can look good.(4)
The Church is Apostolic. Our Faith goes back to the
Incarnation and the Public Life of Christ. Catholics hold the Faith that has
come down to us from the Apostles, as though it were a jewel wrapped in silk.
"Even if an angel from heaven should preach a different Gospel, we would
not believe him."(5) They "stand firm and hold the traditions they
have learned from the Apostles."(6)
Pope Saint Pius X is said to have quizzed a group of seminarians studying in Rome as to how the Church might be identified. They all responded with the traditional four "marks," but Pope Pius demanded another. One bright student added that "the Church must be Roman." Another quickly added, "and loyal to the Popes." The Saint smiled, perhaps condescendingly. "Yes, of course, to both the good ones and the bad ones, but what else." No hands were raised. The Pontiff himself supplied the answer:
"The Church is Persecuted."
This we learn from our Lord
Himself at the first Mass: "If you had been of the world, the world would
love its own: but because you are not of the world ... the world hateth you. If
they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."(7) But, our Lord
would have us cherish this persecution as a beatitude: "Blessed shall you
be when men hate you, and when they shut you out, and reproach you, and reject
your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and exult, for
behold your reward is great in heaven.... bless them that curse you and pray for
those who lie about you."(8)
(1) John xiv: 6; i: 1, 14, 17.