There is something wrong in the world, something terribly wrong. All around us people are hurting, suffering, in pain, and using each other. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the human race is broken, and this is nothing new. The modern world didn't create this problem, it just amplified it.
The ancient Hebrews understood this all too well, and they recorded it in their Scriptures. There is a word for this. It's called SIN.
Now to some people the word "sin" may sound like something dirty and wicked, but in truth sin can be summarised in another word -- selfishness. You see, when God designed the human race, he made us to be giving and generous creatures. We were designed to serve as a bridge between the spiritual world and the natural world. The first humans were made to exist in both realms, and were God's most special creation. However, the difference between a spiritual being and a natural being is the ability to make free choices. Natural creatures (plants and animals) are made pre-programmed with DNA and instincts which tell them what to do. Human beings have this too, because we are half natural, but unlike plants and animals, we have an added spiritual component, which is supernatural: the ability to make a choice. We can actually go against our natural design if we want, and that presents for humans a danger that plants and animals don't face. We can defy God's will for us.
The Hebrews recorded a story about our first ancestors. The people were real, but the details were more legendary. What's important is that we get the general gist of what happened. God gave the first humans everything they needed to fulfil their purpose, but he also provided a way for them to opt out, if they so chose. These first humans were deceived by the devil, a fallen angel, who told them that they didn't need God, nor his rules about right and wrong, but could become their own "gods" to make their own decisions about right and wrong. These first humans, our primordial ancestors, believed the devil and chose to abandon God, placing themselves in God's place as their own judge between right and wrong. This simple rebellion, this simple decision to "do it my way," is the selfishness that set the whole human race into chaos. The term for this primordial act is called Original Sin, and it radically changed the whole human character. It would be passed down, spiritually and genetically, throughout all subsequent generations.
God warned humanity about the consequences of sin before they were tempted by it. He assured them that failure to follow his designed purpose for us would bring about both physical and spiritual death. Human beings are both physical and spiritual creatures. Therefore the death of a human has two parts. The first is physical death (biological termination and decay of the body) followed by spiritual death (separation from God and eternal hell for the soul). In a very real sense, God sends nobody to hell. People send themselves there. Hell is that spiritual destination of every soul that is bound to the misery of serving itself more than others. Each generation compounds Original Sin with their own Actual Sins, meaning choices they make based on selfishness. Original Sin disrupted our physical and spiritual design, making us crave sin. Every child is revealed as a sinner the moment he learns that one word nobody ever taught him -- "Mine!" It all goes downhill from there. Human beings, having been corrupted by Original Sin, are constantly committing their own Actual Sins, based entirely on selfishness, which is the desire to serve the "god" of self, rather than the God of Nature.
However, God is a compassionate God, who is love. He did not make the human race only to watch it completely destroy itself. So in the fullness of time, after preparing a people and a nation capable of comprehending him and receiving him, the Hebrew nation, he sent himself into the natural world to save the human race and reveal himself as Trinity.
God is eternal. God is love. God existed before there was anything else, even before there was a universe. The definition of love is self-sacrifice or self-giving. But if God is love, who did he love before there was anything else? To say that God loved only himself, in eternity past, defies the very definition of love. To love one's self is not love. It is rather pride or selfishness, which is the very definition of sin. So how can God be love, and exist before all things, without loving himself? The answer is the Trinity. God is one God, but within his oneness, there exists three divine Persons. They are; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Each of them loves the other, throughout all eternity. Each of them gives of himself, to the other, throughout all eternity. Thus God is eternally self-sacrificing, and eternally self-giving.
To share this self-sacrificing and self-giving nature with humanity, God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, came to earth and was born as a man. This is what we call the Incarnation, and what that means is this. He became fully man in every way, but at the same time, he retained his full divinity. Thus he was fully God and fully man at the same time: the God-Man. His name was Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary by blood, and the Son of Joseph by adoption. Jesus was called the Christ (or Messiah) which means "Anointed One." He was the one anointed to deliver mankind of its sins, and to become the eternal, living King of all human beings.
In the ultimate act of self-sacrifice and self-giving, Jesus Christ willingly gave up his human life on the cross. This happened just outside the old city gates of Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago. In this act, Jesus took upon himself all the sins of the world, representing all of humanity before the Father, and paid the penalty for all sins, both Original and Actual. In doing this, Jesus opened the gates of heaven to humanity, and effectively made hell optional. Henceforth, those who choose to identify with him, and follow his ways, may now opt out of hell, and instead go to heaven upon death of their mortal bodies. As if that were not enough, Jesus also made physical death optional too, giving those who follow him new perfected physical bodies at the end of time. To prove that all of this really happened, Jesus rose from the dead, appearing to his apostles and to more than five-hundred people at one time. He then ascended into heaven, where he reigns over humanity from his heavenly throne.
To insure that people would know and understand how to opt out of hell, and receive the gift of salvation, Jesus left behind his Church to show us the way. Since Jesus is the King of all humanity, his Church is like a Kingdom, or at least, it is the organisation through which his Kingdom is most clearly manifested on earth. Every King must have a prime minister, and Jesus chose St. Peter, and his successors, to be his prime minister on earth. We call this prime minister the Pope. He appoints successors to follow him in his prime ministry to Jesus, who lives and reigns forever. The rest of the apostles appointed their own successors, who are called bishops. Together with the bishops, the pope governs Christ's one and only Church here on earth -- the Catholic Church.
Over the last 500 years, many Christian organisations have arisen which call themselves churches (Baptist, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Methodist, etc.). These are relative newcomers onto the religious scene. Even those churches that just call themselves "Christian" or "Church of Christ" are less than a couple hundred years old. Only the Catholic Church has been around since the time of Jesus Christ, and any history book will show that to be true. When it comes to the salvation of our souls, it's best to stick with the Church that Jesus Christ founded. That's not to say you can't find good stuff in these organisations. You most certainly can. It's just that when it comes to matters of eternal consequence, it's best to stick with the organisation founded by Christ on St. Peter the rock (Matthew 16:18-19).
To help us opt out of hell, and get to heaven, Jesus provided for us special means of assistance, called Sacraments, through which the grace of God touches humanity in a real spiritual and physical way. These sacraments serve as steps on a ladder, so to speak, that help us move closer to God. When we are ready to begin receiving these sacraments, we should prepare our hearts to receive God's gifts and move closer to him. We do this through prayer. Some Christians use a simple prayer like this...
God our Father, I believe that out of Your infinite love You have created me. In a thousand ways I have shunned Your love. I repent of each and every one of my sins. Please forgive me. Thank You for sending Your Son to die for me, to save me from eternal death. I choose this day to enter into (renew my) covenant with You and to place Jesus at the center of my heart. I surrender to Him as Lord over my whole life. I ask You now to flood my soul with the gift of the Holy Spirit so that my life may be transformed. Give me the grace and courage to live as a disciple in Your Church for the rest of my days. Amen.If you would like to begin receiving the sacraments that will bring you closer to God, start by praying the above prayer now, slowly and sincerely.
The next thing to do is locate a Catholic parish nearby and talk to a priest. This can be done by calling the parish office and setting up an appointment with him. If you have not yet received baptism in the name of the Trinity, then this will need to be scheduled as soon as possible. Finding a nearby Catholic parish is easy enough. All you need do is look in the yellow pages of a local phone book under "Catholic," or you can just click here to use the national Catholic parish finder.
Baptism is the first sacrament of initiation into the Church. This is what makes you a Christian and identifies you with Jesus Christ. Through baptism all of your sins are washed away, and you become a new creation in Jesus Christ.
If you have already been baptised, in the name of the Trinity, then that sacrament is already complete. Your path will instead include a confession for Reconciliation. The sacrament of Reconciliation (also called Confession) is when one who is already baptised expresses remorse for Actual Sins committed after baptism, which need to be repented of. Through Reconciliation Christ absolves you of your sins through the ministry of his ordained representative -- the priest. Some people ask; why do I need to confess my sins to a priest when I can confess them directly to God? During the sacrament of Reconciliation we do confess our sins directly to God, and we ask God for forgiveness directly. It is the priest's job to help us make a good confession, offer spiritual advice, and then act as Christ's voice in pronouncing our absolution from sin. Jesus gave this authority to his ordained representatives (John 20:21-23, 2nd Cor. 2:10, James 5:14-17) and to nobody else.
Finally, once you have received either Baptism or Reconciliation, depending on what is needed, you are ready to receive the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion.
Confirmation is the sacrament that seals you in the Holy Spirit. At confirmation, a bishop, or his representative, will lay his hands upon you, and ask the Holy Spirit to come upon you, and empower you to live as a disciple of Jesus (Acts 1:5, Matthew 3:11, John 20:22, Acts 8:14-17, Acts 19:6, Ephesians 1:13).
Holy Communion is the sacrament wherein you are fed the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, so that he may indwell within you physically as well as spiritually. The bread and wine of Holy Communion are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ by the priest, who acts as God's ordained representative, though they maintain the outward appearance of bread and wine (John 6, Acts 20:7, Luke 22:19-20, Matthew 26:26-28, 1st Corinthians 11:23-29). He is the only one who has the authority to ask God for this miracle to happen. Once the change occurs we call it the Eucharist, which is the Greek word for "Thanksgiving." Jesus told us that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to come into closer communion with him, and that it was necessary as part of our journey to heaven.
At this point, you have become a Catholic Christian.
It is now your responsibility to do the following...
- Attend mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.
- Confess your sins no less than once a year.
- Receive Holy Communion at least once a year, between Easter and Pentecost.
- Observe all the proscribed days of fasting and abstinence.
- Assist in the material needs of the Church.
- Pray daily and as much as possible during the day. This can be done both as spontaneous prayer, and/or organised devotions, such as the Rosary for example. Catholics are not required to use organised devotions, such as the Rosary, but many Catholics have found them to be very helpful.
- Read the Bible and Catechism regularly. You have to continually learn the faith to understand it.
- Get involved in your local parish. There is more to Church than mass. Talk to the parish office and see what's available to you.
- Share your newly found Catholic faith with others.