The worst place to get into a heated debate with someone about the Catholic Faith is in the work place. It’s a different story if the discussion is cordial and one topic at a time is being discussed; but there are many people who unfortunately have several misconceptions about Catholicism—and Christianity in general—which in turn leads to many conversations going off the rails.
I found myself in one such conversation, where my interlocutor was rapidly firing a whole litany of charges against the Catholic Church. One of those charges went something like this: “The Catholic Church is so corrupt with all the money it takes from people, so it’s clear that this church isn’t authentic or pure Christianity. True Christianity can be found in the garage of a man sitting alone at his work bench, reading a Bible. It’s so different from what Catholics do.”
Well, he got one thing right: a man sitting alone in his garage with Sacred Scripture is definitely different from how Catholics view a relationship with Jesus Christ. Catholics see themselves as part of the mystical Body of Christ. This is why we worship together in our “purest” act of Christian love, the Sacrifice of the Mass. So without going into this person’s other fallacies, we should ask ourselves the following question: is it better for Christians to worship and share their faith by coming together in a community, or is it better for Christians to use the “Jesus and me” or “Bible and me” model when trying to live a robust life in Christ?
To find the answer, we can turn to Scripture. There are many examples within the New Testament that point to the need of fellowship among Christians. This can be manifested either in small groups or in large assemblies like at a Pontifical High Mass. Keep in mind that there is always a time and a place for personal and private prayer. However, the communal life of Christians is also something which must be given its proper place.
Christian Community in the Bible
Probably the first Bible verse that immediately jumps to mind is one found in the Gospel of Matthew. Our Lord says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). So the best part about gathering together as Christians is that we can be assured that Jesus is there among us. This, of course, can still be experienced in some sense outside of Mass or Eucharistic adoration. Remember how the Body of Christ was mentioned above? Christ is in our hearts by virtue of our baptism; by virtue of our incorporation into his Body. So in a very real way, encounters with other Christians during a Bible study, or a Rosary meet up, or a faith-sharing session in a small group all constitute a legitimate meeting with our Lord.
Another aspect of the Christian life that is of the utmost importance is the building up of the Body. We already see that this happens through gathering in community with each other to worship our Lord in common. But this building up also happens through encouraging each other. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is very explicit on the importance of both points in the life of the Christian:
“[L]et us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
So first off, he reminds us not to neglect meeting together. Obviously, he’s referring to the Mass here. But he takes it a step further and asks that we as Christians “stir up one another”. Now, he’s not telling us to stir the pot and antagonize our brethren. Instead, we are to encourage and embolden each other to carry out good works in love. The Book of Acts also makes it clear that the baptized had “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) This encouragement and fellowship is sorely needed today, especially when many Catholics who, for instance, enter secular life on a college campus find themselves without any kind of support for their faith.
Community Increases Love
But there’s also another reason why it is imperative that Christians interact with each other, and it’s contingent on the other reasons laid out above. The more we get to know our brothers and sisters in Christ, the more comfortable we become with them. The more comfortable we become around our brethren, the deeper our personal relationship with them grows, leading us to know each other inside and out. These people become the ones that can hold us accountable. They can let us know when we’re straying off the straight and narrow path. These friends know our struggles, and they can then encourage us as we strive to become more Christ-like. The example of the paralytic man in the Gospels is a good allegory for this. Although he was physically sick, we can easily put ourselves in his shoes as we have all been spiritually sick at one time or another. We’ve been so bogged down by sin that we feel like we can’t do anything right on our own.
But if we have a circle of friends within the Christian community that can rally around us with prayers, we too can be healed due to their intercession just as the paralytic was healed on account of his friends’ intercession. Just as they lowered the paralytic down into the home where Jesus was at, so too our friends can lift us up in prayer as we are all one body in Christ. For as St. Paul said in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 26-27)
No man is an island to himself. Without friends, especially brothers and sisters in the Lord, around us, we become lonely and isolated. There’s a reason why God gave Adam a partner, after all. It doesn’t do us any good to go through life without a support system, and what better support system than the Body of Christ?! Without that support we find through our community, we have no one around who can build us up, or better yet “stir us up” to love and do those good works that our Lord asks us to do.
So the next time someone tries to tell you that you only need a Bible to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, make sure you let them know that the Body of Christ extends outside of ourselves. We were made to complement each other, and we were made to serve God by bringing as many of our friends and neighbors to him as possible.