SPIRITUAL DIRECTORS and officers of the Higher councils of the Legion of Mary recently gathered in Warri for their 2nd National Conference, and 3rd Spiritual directors’ forum,

Bishop Afareha of Warri in his homily warned legionaries about the threat of Pentecostalism. He observed that while it is true that Christians profess faith in the same Lord, the uniqueness of the Catholic faith has no comparison because it is the only Church established by Jesus Christ on the confession of Peter’s faith.

What this amounts to is that it seems that our confession of faith in Jesus is the only thing that binds Christians. We know that the expression of this faith is diverse, sometimes opposed and confusing. For instance, while the Catholic Church is built around solid structure and definite practices, many Pentecostal churches are loosely organised in structure and worship. This situation leaves rooms for personal innovations that are at variance with other established Christian traditions, the bishop said.

Catholics are warned that while Pentecostals are often shaped by choruses that Catholics consider repetitious and often lacking in coherent theology such as “Me I no go suffer, I no go beg for bread.” Jesus, he said, asked us to carry our cross and follow him and he taught us how to pray to God for our daily bread.

Pentecostals, like most Protestants, also rely solely on the Scripture but the Catholic Church teaches that both scripture and traditions are essential for faith formation and Christian practices, especially  bearing in mind that the  scripture came out of the  Church and there are many practices not written in the Bible but passed down from antiquity through the living tradition of the Church, he added.

The Catholic Church, relying on Jesus Christ himself is nourished not just with the Word of God, according to the bishop, but with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ who has told us: “Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you  will not have life in you.”

Another difference, he explained, is that while the Catholic is truly universal, welcoming all, young and old, rich and poor, Pentecostals often insist that only adults able to make a personal confession of faith are candidates good enough for heaven and by implication only these could be baptised. The truth of the matter, he informed, is that Catholic Church practises infant baptism because Christ, her founder, showed us how to welcome little children when he drew them to himself, welcomed them and even blessed them. This is a sharp contrast to what the disciples were doing, hence “When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his  disciples.  He  said to them, ‘Let  the  children  come to me. Don’t stop them! For the  Kingdom  of  God belongs to those who are like these children.’”

Furthermore, while the Catholic Church recognises that it is the presence of Jesus on the cross that transformed that ignominious tree, a symbol of shame, into a powerful symbol and a means of salvation, the Protestants and Pentecostals have simply emptied the cross of Christ by removing Christ from the Cross, hence making it unrecognisable from the RED CROSS of the health-care group  or the road sign meant to  guide  travelers, said Bishop Afareha.

Catholics are therefore urged to appreciate their faith, practise it and defend it. A faith is defended well if it is well understood. If it is understood, it will be celebrated; if it is celebrated meaningfully, it will be lived. If it is lived out well, it will inform behaviour and transform life. It is necessary for Catholics to know that imitations cannot be like the original, but more importantly they need to understand  the  treasure  that is  found in the Catholic Church and is made available to them always.

It is also important to know that true worship is directed to God and not to the pastor. More than any Church or even any organisation, the Church shows the loving face of God through her social services such as quality education, health-care services, prison apostolate and many developmental programmes meant to alleviate the living conditions of the poor. This is religion in practice, not some euphoric sentiments that evaporate when the service is over, he said.

There is no gain saying the fact that Pentecostals have used marriage to lure many Catholics, especially ladies, away. It is important to remind Catholics that our love must be for God first since he wants us to love Him above all things.  In the final analysis, if Catholics know their faith they will not be led astray by anyone or anything. Hence, effective catechesis is necessary today especially where many Catholics don’t have access to any form of religious education other  than what they get through Sunday homilies. Our societies must embrace good teachings, Catholics must find time for Bible study and adult faith formation must be an integral part of Catholic life, the bishop said.

-Rev. Fr Richard Omolade

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