I have the privilege of corresponding almost every day with people who are curious about coming into the Catholic Church. I also spend a lot of time with Catholics talking about the state of the Church and the world—what to hope for, what to worry about, whom to trust. For people outside the Catholic Church, there are often questions about what it would really be like if they came inside. For people inside, what the Church really is can become obscured by what we think it should be, imperiling our efforts to seek and save the lost, and to bring our separated brethren into full communion. For the sake of our evangelistic efforts, and the health of our own souls, I offer my fellow Catholics five useful words.
As the Lord departed from his disciples in Matthew 28:18, he reminded them and us that we are empowered for our work in the Church and the world by a power proper to him alone: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” But even from the very beginning of the Church, Christ’s authority was never exercised in the abstract or according to competing visions of what it should be, but in the living authority of the Apostles, with St. Peter at their head. For Protestants looking to come into the Church, the pope can be an obstacle; but he also solves the problems of formal disunity and doctrinal disagreement that plague other ecclesial groups. After all, if we don’t obey a living authority in the faith outside ourselves, then we obey our own interpretation of the faith. When I became Catholic, I was liberated from being my own pope. During Pope Francis’ reign, as in papacies of the past, Catholics should not spend time publicly criticizing the pope or dismissing his authority.