Last weekend, my family attended church at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church near Laurie, Mo., at the Lake of the Ozarks. A visiting priest stirred up quite a bit of controversy with his sermon, leading to a woman confronting him after mass and declaring that he had just given the worst sermon she had ever heard.
What was the cause of all this controversy? The priest had dared to say that the Catholic Church was the original, and therefore, true path to God. While I may not entirely concur with the priest’s assessment, his choice of setting (a Catholic church) was good and his historical facts indisputable.
The Catholic Church is the original Christian church. It was founded when Jesus said to Peter, “I for my part declare to you, you are ‘Rock,’ and on this rock I will build my church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it” (1). Peter became the first Pope of the Catholic church, with the apostles assuming roles which were the precursors of the bishops of today.
The priest’s point that so angered the congregant that day was that if you do not walk the Catholic path, then you are going the wrong way. She said that because St. Patrick’s is filled with visitors in the summer, including many non-Catholics, all he just did was ensure that many of them would never return. He said all he did was speak the truth and if they did not wish to return, that was their decision. This, of course, only served to infuriate her more.
While I do not completely agree with the priest’s belief that the Catholic way is the ONLY way to God, I applaud the fact that he stood his ground. He said we all most defend the Church, a statement with which I most definitely concur.
I think there are many paths to God, but I must acknowledge that the priest did present many valid points in his sermon that day, some of which came as quite a surprise to me. After giving an account of the history of the early Catholic Church, the priest discussed the Protestant Reformation, which led to the formation of many of the Protestant denominations still in existence today.
He said the Catholic Church’s wounds grow a little more every day as more Christian denominations are created, leading to a further dilution of the original message of Jesus. What was started by Martin Luther in 1517 has now grown into more than 39,000 different Christian sects throughout the world.
That’s the number that got my attention — 39,000. I had no clue there were so many different Christian denominations. Therein, lies the problem, said the priest. Just about anyone can start preaching in their basement to three or four friends and call it a church. Many people do this just to avoid paying taxes, since churches are tax exempt.
Based on my research, it would be relatively easy for me to set up my own church. There are even web sites out there intending to help you do just that (of course you have to pay a hefty fee to purchase their “Step-by-Step Guide” to setting up your own church) (2). Once a religious organization qualifies as a “church,” it is automatically exempted from taxes by the Internal Revenue Service.
While the IRS does have guidelines for when a religious organization can be deemed a “church,” and thus be declared tax exempt, “it is not a requirement that a church meet all the criteria. Instead, the IRS offers some flexibility, giving various religious institutions the opportunity to qualify for the highly coveted tax exempt status,” according to legalzoom.com (3).
Who knew it was so easy? Who knew I could just purchase a do-it-yourself-kit and create my own church? Who knew it was just like a giant color-by-numbers’ deal?
No wonder the priest said what he did in his sermon. No wonder. When the talk is more about avoiding taxes, paying for do-it-yourself kits and creating a business that looks easy to some people, and less about Christ and his teaching, there definitely is a problem and the Church is facing a crisis — a crisis of the death-by-a-thousand-cuts variety, or in this case, 39,000 cuts.
Thanks for checking out my article. Feel free to leave any of your comments below. Take care and God Bless You.
(1) The New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition, Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York: 1970.