I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son,
our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand
of God the Father Almighty; from there he shall
come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.
I typed that from memory. I prefer this over the Nicene Creed, because it is much shorter and easier to memorize. The Apostles' Creed is also recited at the beginning of the Rosary. Either creed is a simple statement of faith from which all of the Church's teachings flow.
Recently I have been looking for a definite answer to the question, Must we believe everything the Church teaches? Certain experiences I had in RCIA were nagging at the back of my mind, perhaps because I was aware this fall of the beginning of the new class of students interested in becoming Catholic. I had heard from a couple of staff members the statement, "I don't believe everything the Church teaches." This was even said of our priest, but he never said such a thing himself. I did take the question to another priest, because I was concerned about what seemed to be a case of the "cafeteria Catholic", who picks and chooses which teachings he will follow from the buffet. To my surprise, I was assured that there aren't that many teachings that we must believe, so in that respect it would be okay to be a cafeteria Catholic!
Still not satisfied, I sought clarification from our priest on the particular point of birth control, and from the RCIA director regarding the general statements made about not believing everything the Church teaches. I was assured that the program was completely in line with the Church's Magisterium. Some small "t" traditions, which are changeable by the Church to best serve the current needs of the laity at whatever point in history we are at, were cited. Also referred to were the "levels of faith" that one may progress through on one's faith journey, with the result at higher levels of a lesser need for rules and regulations. I was left wondering if the only teachings which Catholics are absolutely required to believe are those items labeled as definitive dogma.
Through this whole experience I felt like I wasn't being given a straight answer. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit will often help us get to the truth in an indirect way, through what is sometimes called synchronicity. In other words, there are no coincidences. Everything is connected, and sometimes we see with uncommon clarity a solution to a problem, or we are led in a particular direction, by a series of events or encounters with people. This is what happened in this case.
I called another homeschooling mother whose child was visiting at my house to get directions to bring her child home. One landmark given was a Catholic church the location of which I had not previously known. I told her how happy I was that I would now know how to get there, so I could visit that church for Mass. It turned out that the other mother had grown up Catholic and was even confirmed, but she is now Protestant. As you can imagine, this conversation was very interesting, and she asked me an unexpected question. Very simply, "Do you believe all of it?" For a brief moment it seemed like a funny question. After all, why would I have converted if I didn't believe everything the Church teaches? So my answer was, without reservation, "Yes".
The subject of the transubstantiation of the Eucharistic bread and wine into the real body and blood of Christ came up, and I shared that it was the Bible that actually led me to believe this was true. I cited the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6. I think that this was the first time since I've become Catholic that I have been a witness of my faith to a non-Catholic. I am certain that it was the Holy Spirit, speaking through my friend, who was asking me point blank, "Woman, do you believe?" Wow, what an amazing experience!
Sure, there are those things about which the Church allows varying opinions. And certainly our faith will deepen, our understanding will grow, and we will have doubts along the way. But even if we don't understand or fully agree with an official teaching, as Catholics we are bound to accept the authority of the Church. Must we believe everything she teaches? The answer is yes. It isn't a question of some arbitrary "levels" of faith, which by the way, is not a teaching of the Church. It's a matter of obedience to Christ through obedience to his Church. Is this the Church which Jesus built upon the rock named Peter--to whom he gave the keys to the Kingdom--against which he said the gates of hell would not prevail (Matt. 16:18)? Is this indeed the Church that Jesus called "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1Tim. 3:15), to which any disputes about the Christian faith must be taken?
When I came to believe that the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus founded, the Church which traces its history (and it is a matter of history) back to the 12 apostles, then there was no other Church to which I could belong. And if I can't answer, Yes, I believe everything she teaches, then I know I've got some serious soul searching to do.