(This scene opens in the parking lot of a local supermarket. A man and his family have just finished shopping and are loading groceries into their car when 3 people approach and say...)
Joe: Hello there. We're taking a survey for our church. Would you mind answering three questions?
Max. Sure. Why not?
Joe: Okay, my name is Joe. This is Bill and Dave. They're just learning how to do this and will be observing. Ready?
Joe: First question. Do you attend any church on a regular basis?
Max: Yes. I go to St. Margaret Mary's Catholic Church.
Joe: Alright. If you died today, can you be sure you would go to heaven?
Max: No one should presume to know for sure, but I think I'm pretty much alright with God. Yes.
Joe: Okay, third question- If you were to die, and God asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?
Max: I would say that I can't think of one good reason, but He himself must have a reason or Jesus wouldn't have died on the cross so that I could be redeemed.
Joe: Wow! Good answer. Can I share how I would answer that question?
Joe: I would say, heaven is a free gift and I can't do anything to earn it. By faith in Jesus Christ, I am called to love and serve God.
Max: That's very nice. Now suppose God asked what you've done to serve Him?
Joe: Wait a minute! You're not supposed to be asking me questions.
Max: Sorry. I thought we were discussing the questions. You did say there were only 3, right?
Joe: You're right. Now what was your question again?
Max: You said, "By faith in Jesus Christ, I am called to love and serve God.", and I asked, "what you've done to serve Him?"
Joe: I would say that I serve God by acts of charity, regular attendance to praise and worship, and even the volunteer work I do with the young people of our congregation.
Max: You serve because you have faith, right?
Joe: Right. First you have faith then works, not the other way around. That's the problem I have with your church. They teach that you can earn your faith through works.
Max: Hold it Joe. Where did you get that idea?
Joe: That's what your church teaches. All those special ceremonies and adorations are just your way of "earning" salvation.
Max: That's not true. My church teaches that our actions are faith made visible. In the letter from James, it says faith without works is dead.
Joe: That's what your church taught for the first 500 years or so. Then they began teaching that people could buy their way into heaven through their own actions. Later on that turned into purchasing indulgences. Kind of like prepaying for a hotel reservation.
Max: That's a pretty ugly comparison, and I won't try to deny that my church has been through times when we failed to live up to our calling, but why start with the "middle centuries"?
Max: Yes, humans have been failing to live up to their full potential ever since Adam. The Bible is filled with examples of men and women who experienced failures and were still able to serve God. Moses, King David...
Joe: Hold it. That was all before Jesus came.
Max: Okay. Then what about James and John? The Bible says they argued about who was the "greatest". What about St. Paul? How about St. Peter? He denied Jesus and still went on to be our first Pope.
Joe: Pope?! Jesus didn't use that word?
Max: Joe, I think we're getting sidetracked. Suffice to say that I believe Jesus appointed St. Peter to lead the church, and we call that leader the Pope, but for the moment let's put that aside. A few minutes ago you said that my church taught correctly for the first 500 years or so, right?
Joe: That's right. What's your point?
Max: The point is, if you really believe that, it places you in an awkward position that's kind of a vicious circle.
Joe: What do you mean?
Max: Well, when you say 500 years, I wonder if it could have been less.
Joe: I suppose so.
Max: Then how do you know it wasn't 400 , or for that matter, 300 years?
Joe: Well, I didn't say exactly, and that wouldn't matter because back then there wasn't much difference from one century to the next.
Max: Whether that's true or not, the difference between 3 and 400 years is significant because that's when the Bible was put together. Some people say "written", but the books were already written, the church determined which would be included.
Joe: Okay. Let's say it was sometime after that, but before the printing press was invented.
Max: Is that your final answer?
Joe: Very funny. Now where do you see a vicious circle?
Max: You said the church taught correctly for "a while", and then you conceeded that it was at least until the Bible was written.
Max: Here's the problem. The Church, acting under God's authority determined what books would be included in the Bible. You say that it is the "word of God", but some of it's books describe the authority God gave to a church that you reject.
Joe: Now wait a minute.
Max: Thank you. It will only take me another minute. Now this book, that is the word of God, promises that the Holy Spirit will guide the church. Again, this is good because that's what enabled them to include the books that God wanted in His Bible. If that guidance was missing, then the book might be filled with serious errors. I don't believe that, and neither do you.
Max: Well that presents the last part of the problem. If the Church had the authority and guidance to write the Bible with such accuracy, and that same Bible says, "I am with you until the end...", then how can you believe that same church doesn't still possess that same authority? In other words, if God is not still with the Church, then that passage is wrong, and if that's so, then it means the Church wasn't being guided when it wrote those words. In short, if it's not so now, it was not so from the beginning and our Bible is the product of a church operating in error. On the other hand, if the Bible is... Well, I'm sure you get it.
Joe: Well, what about the indulgences and the inquisition and.....
Max: Not that again. What about forgiveness?
Max: When Simon Peter denied Jesus, he repented and went on to do many great things. Ever since the beginning, the Church has been subject to human failings while at the same time blessed with God's forgiveness and sent out to carry on in our mission. Sometimes people tend to see history from a human perspective, but I think history looks much different through the eyes of God.
Joe: You think God forgave your church for all the bad things they've done in the past?
Max: I think God forgives His church for things done in the past, present, and future and will never go back on his promise that "The gates of hell would not stand against it." Of course that means the gates of hell will probably win a few battles along the way, but when that happens, God is there to heal us of our wounds so we can get on with the work of "baptizing all nations". Hey, my groceries are wilting. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to get home. I've enjoyed our conversation. Maybe I'll see you again.
Joe: Can I ask you one more question?
Max: Do you really want to take that chance?
Joe: What do you mean?
Max: Well, ever since It's beginning, there have been people who doubted the Church and asked questions. In many cases, the answers turned them into Catholics. So I'll ask you again, do you really want to take that chance?