A Priceless Treasure
There have been many stories recently of various reform groups attempting to change the Church. Lots of people have taken the opportunity of the recent scandals to push for a radical transformation of the Church, especially in matters of doctrine. If only we had women priests, or allowed stable homosexual relationships, or got rid of celibacy, or allowed abortion and contraception, then all of the problems of the Church would evaporate.
What people don't realize is that the solutions would destroy the very Church that they want to save. Stop and think for a minute what our mother the Church really is: she is the sacrament of our salvation, and is the only means by which we can be sure to reach it.
Let me speak personally. I was probably a typical college student in that I left my faith behind. I was too smart for it. Those silly Catholics couldn't see all the problems in with their faith that I could see. I quit attending Mass for about three or four years, and started searching for some kind of truth. What was the world like without God?
If there is no God, there is no hope. Those who disbelieve in God because of the problem of evil have it wrong: evil doesn't disprove God, God disproves evil! Without God, evil is all there is. With God, there is salvation. A precocious young relative of mine (I think he is six) recently told his mother "If all this Jesus stuff is false, we are in big trouble!" He is duplicating my thoughts, only fourteen years early. As I sat in my apartment at graduate school trying to figure out what I ought to do with my life, it didn't seem to matter. Wherever I turned, life was nothing but darkness. It was just a matter of choosing which shade of darkness I preferred. I could do great things or terrible things or venal things in the world, but the world all ends in ashes, so what does it matter?
At this point, a light shone in the darkness. I had some friends who are ordinary Catholic believers, who used to drag me to Mass with them. I used to visit their family, and I discovered joy in their lives. (There is joy in my family as well, but I was too close to it to see it.) The father always calls his wife "my sweet angel," and there is a palpable love in the house. Or at least that was the way it seemed to me. I sat and thought, "What is the difference between these joyful people and miserable me?" The difference was that they had faith.
Thanks to the last vestiges of good catechesis in the 1970's, I had a good background in my faith, so that when I returned, I had something to return to. I dug up all the books I could find and read everything I could about the claims of the Catholic Church. Do you know what I found? The world is indeed a mess, and truth is very hard to find. In fact, if there is truth, it can only be in the Catholic Church.
Our faith claims that God so loved the world that he became man for our sake and died on the cross for our sins. He redeemed our debts and provided us fountains of grace called sacraments. If I do my part and stay in the state of grace, I can be assured that at my death, God will count me (as unworthy as I am) as one of his adopted sons. Furthermore, all the worthless activity of the present life takes on eternal value, since the whole world was created for the sake of the salvation and eternal beatitude of human beings.
How do I know any of this?
I only know that God became man for me because the Church tells me so. The bible speaks of Jesus, certainly, but the bible was compiled and written by members of the Church. But there is more. I know that I eat and drink the body and blood of Christ because I take them from a minister ordained into the valid apostolic succession preserved in the Catholic Church. I know that my sins are forgiven because the Church interprets the promises of Christ as entailing the sacrament of Confession. If it wasn't for the Church, I wouldn't know anything for certain! I wouldn't even have the bible.
How do I know that the Catholic Church is identical with the Church founded by God? I know this because it doesn't matter how hard someone looks: the Catholic Church has never taught falsehood in its official teachings. There is a remarkable, nay miraculous uniformity and consistency of teaching from the Church as preserved by the bishops of Rome. Pick any saint you want. Justin, Athanasius, Augustine, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas: they were all Catholics, and believed just as I believe today.
Why 'reform' destroys the Church
Those who seek to reform the Church by changing some part of her 2000-year-old patrimony of teachings will destroy her miraculous unity and consistency. If we ordain women, or allow homosexual behavior, or change the teaching on contraception, divorce, or abortion, then we will no longer be able to claim to be Catholic. Or rather, whatever Saints Athanasius and Thomas Aquinas were, they won't have been members of the same faith to which we belong. We will lose our historical continuity with Christ. We will all become schismatics or heretics, because we will no longer believe the faith that God himself handed on personally to St. Peter and the apostles. There will be no longer any reason to be Catholic rather than Episcopalian or Baptist or Lutheran.
We cannot change our core teachings. If we do, we lose sight of Christ, and we become ships without rudders, without any compass to help us get to the blessed shores of the Kingdom of Heaven.