[Post-Event] Splendour of Truth: Difficult Questions about the Catholic Faith

Can you defend your Catholic faith?

Do you know why you believe in what you believe?

When it was announced that KA was running a formation programme by Permanent Deacon Sherman Kuek entitled “Difficult Questions about the Catholic Faith”, response came in very quickly even before the organising team was truly ready. Up to the day of the opening of the programme, the total was an overwhelming 145 sign-ups.

Run in collaboration between the KA Formation Team and the Splendour Project from 11 to 13 May, the programme covered 8 topics, namely:

Relationship of the Catholic Church with other Christians
Difficult Questions about Church History
Difficult Questions about Scripture and Tradition
Difficult Questions about the Sacraments
Difficult Questions about the Papacy
Difficult Questions about the Priesthood
Difficult Questions about Mary and the Saints.

The highlights of the programme include the following issues. And to understand what the Church believes in and practises today needs to be seen from a Catholic and historical perspective of the Church.

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In the beginning Christ started the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church which was to remain intact for 400 years after Christ’s Ascension despite disagreements on minor issues. However, after this period, came 3 major splits in the Church over major doctrinal issues and political power struggles. In 451AD, during the Patristic period, there came a major split within the Eastern Church with the Alexandrian school being ex-communicated. Today, they exist as Alexandrian Christians or as the Oriental Orthodox Church, its largest population being found in Ethiopia. This branch is also found in Brickfields, KL (originating from Kerala, India) and in Melaka (originating from Egypt).

In the Medieval Period in 1054, a major split occurred between the Western and the Eastern Church. At that time both Churches had recognised the primacy of the Pope in Rome. But as the following in the Eastern Churches was larger, the four Sees set up earlier by Peter’s contemporaries, together with the patronage of Emperor Constantine, who built the Hagia Sofia Church for the Christians, decided to break away and to have their own Head. The straw that broke the camel’s back in this conflict was over a clause in the Nicene Creed. Each ex-communicated the other.

The 3rd spilt was within the Western Church itself and it was brought about mainly by Martin Luther a former Augustinian priest who fought against the authority of the Catholic Church. Being fairly learned, he felt that his own interpretation of Scriptures was “more correct” than the Church’s. During that time, Germany was made up of small states under the different rulers who were unhappy that most of Church collections went into the coffers of Rome. Amidst this discontentment, Martin Luther then proposed to the rulers that his Church be accepted as the official Church of the German states in return for church collections. Having gained rather substantial political support, he started the Protestant Reformation in 1521.

On whether the Crusades were justified at all Deacon Sherman Kuek gave a perspective that was seldom popularised by secular historians. In the 9-11th centuries, the Pope sent out armies to fight against the Saracens who had conquered Christian lands. The Crusades were actually in response to the cries of the suffering of the captured many of whom were converted and not allowed to practise their faith. Another objective was to liberate the captured Christian lands, two-thirds of which had been overrun by the Saracens by the time the Crusades were initiated. That the Christian soldier committed heinous acts of war and looted, records showed that he came from a simple working class background, left the family ready to die in the war and the Pope had said that going to war was an act of penance. Isolated cases of Christian cases of atrocity that inevitably resulted in the battles were condemned in a Papal edict. It was pointed out that when these lands were recaptured the people were allowed to live in peace without coercion to convert to Christianity.

On whether Catholics should rely on Scriptures alone, a distinction was made between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Was it enough for the Christian to just live by the Scriptures alone? In his explanation, Deacon Sherman Kuek likened the Scriptures to a car manual which would be quite difficult to follow if one didn’t know and understand the circumstances in which the car would be operated. The circumstances and the context in which the Scriptures become operational is the Tradition. One needs to understand that not everything Jesus taught could be written down, for example, the signing of the Cross. Sacred Tradition which precedes Scripture in the early Church was mostly oral traditional practices handed down through the ages giving support to the Sacred Scriptures. Sacred Tradition includes gestures, prayers, and sacred art as the community was not literate at that time. He stressed that both are bound together and move towards the same goal. Thus the Catholic Church does not advocate “Scripture Alone” or Sola Scriptura.

On the issue of whether the Catholic is saved by faith alone, it was revealed that the Church does not teach that salvation is earned by just our faith in believing alone, but it does teach that we have to work out our salvation. In the Council of Trent’s decree on justification, man receives the initial justification for salvation from God by his faith, but this is only a deposit. One needs to work out one’s salvation to bring it to full fruition. Man still needs prayers after he is dead because you need salvation to go to heaven. Pope Benedict XVI had said that it is not just by faith alone (sola fide) that we are saved by just accepting and believing the faith but that faith has to be formed by works of charity.

All 7 Sacraments are Bible based and can be found in the Gospels and the Epistles in the New Testament. In particular, the Sacrament of Marriage was important to Jesus because the earthly marital relationship was a reflection and basis of a union relationship of Christ to His bride the Church. The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist on the other hand, in original Greek meant not only just a celebration in remembrance but a re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ. It is Christ acting through the priest. The priest/celebrant is not the “star” of the Mass, rather Christ is. That’s why all priests need to follow a script, making no room for personal variations or interpretations in the rites of Mass.

Why do Catholics claim that the Pope is infallible? It was clarified that infallibility of the Pope in his proclamations relates to faith and moral issues that have to do with salvation. The concept of infallibility is also supported by Scriptures. In Luke 10:16 Christ says: Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you, rejects me; and he who rejects me, rejects the one who sent me. Jesus promised Peter that when he is teaching, the Holy Spirit will guide him in what he has to say. Infallibility is treated with care and the Pope is very careful in the proclamation of dogmas as it has to be free from error.

For the church to have women priests? – No way, for the Church recognises the different roles that men and women play best in Church hierarchy and functions, and they often complement each other. Also when a priest is ordained he becomes “another Christ”. It is recognised that some of the apostles were married men, but this was explained by the fact that most of the men during those times were already married. But upon following Christ most of them lived apart of their wives.

Deacon also pointed out that while we pray to Mother Mary and the Saints, we do not worship them. Worshipping involves sacrifice or latria. We do not direct our Masses to Mary or any of the Saints, as the Mass is the worship of God. But we do offer devotions and prayer as in the Novena and the Rosary, which does not involve sacrifice. Why do Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints? Mary was the first and highest of all the saints. When we ask for Mary and the Saints to intercede for us, it is because they share a relationship with God which is different from that of ours. Their prayers to God on our behalf are “more perfect”, as they have achieved perfection.

The sessions were made interesting by the very down-to-earth explanations and analogies of Deacon Sherman Kuek. His knowledge of church history and background research into church documents helped the participants see the faith they had been practising in a better light with a better understanding of why we do what we do in the practice of the faith. Most historical accounts and non-Catholic versions of events and beliefs were often lopsided in its justifications and views lacking the truth behind them. Often practising and non-practising Catholics were not able to justify and explain the reasons why we believe in what we believe as the “Catholic truth”. Such information was not easily available unless one took up serious study in the many areas of the faith.

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Some feedback from the floor:

Lucy Tan: I found the course enriching and helpful in better understanding of my Catholic faith. I hope to attend future formations to deepen my faith and would truly recommend my friends to come for such programmes as well.

Magdeline Loo: A very good and comprehensive programme for Catholics who do not fully comprehend their faith in many areas, like Church History and why it is so steep in Traditions What is the Catholic explanation for Purgatory, Infallibility of the Pope and our veneration of Mary and the Saints. Often I was not confident enough to explain clearly to questions posed by non-Catholic friends. Now I have a better understanding after the 3-day programme. More Catholics should attend this programme for when one is well heeled in the faith, one walks closer to God.

Victor Miranda: The contents of the programme are relevant and helpful in strengthening my faith. In fact, open discussions on some of the topics like the practice of “selling” indulgences, on whether transubstantiation really happened and why women cannot be ordained as priests, were not encouraged in the past. It is refreshing that these topics are addressed by a knowledgeable person like Deacon Sherman. Thank you for the programme.

Mary Mercy: I grew up in the interior of Sabah and lacked the privilege of attending Catechism classes. The 3-day seminar has shown me clearly the basis of my Catholic faith because now I understand the HISTORY of the Catholic Church and how God had guided the development of the church in the last 2000 years. This programme has given me a sense of pride in being a Catholic. The talk by Deacon Sherman is one of the best talks I have ever attended.