Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What is it to be a Catholic?

I was taken to task gently and courteously by Juventutem. Shawn responds to my attempt to understand the Benedictine generation.
Ches has an interesting post too that is not unrelated.

What is it to be a Catholic?
It is being baptised according to Catholic rites, that makes us theologically a Son of God. That is how the Church comes up with the figure of 1 billion plus Catholics. That is at least the barest minimum, even if no further catechesis or involvement in the Church ever takes place. Even if in fact one rejects everything the Church teaches, even belief in God. According to the statistics one is still a Catholic. In most parts of the western world the actual practice rates are officially about 10%, perhaps much less.

King David loses God's favour after commanding a census to be taken, so maybe it is not too wise explore statistics too deeply but it strikes me people have quite different understandings of what it is to be a Catholic today.
Is it necessary to believe this? or the modern liturgical formula required of converts, "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God."
Or is a being a Catholic about:
  • Calling onself a Catholic - self identification but nothing more
  • Going to Mass occasionally - but not really believing
  • Cultural belief, as someone said to me sometime ago, "I am ***, therefore of course I am a Catholic".
  • Combining "the best" of Catholicism with something else like Buddhism, New Ageism etc
  • Combining all of Catholicism with superstition or heresy
  • Being a Catholic but also practicing in another Ecclesial community - common among Catholics married to Anglicans etc
  • Receiving the sacraments of initiation and wanting a Catholic funeral or death but with nothing in between.
  • Belonging and practicing but wanting to change the Church, especially on its sexual teaching, contraception, women's ordination
  • Believing but notionally - so often people, including clergy, profess belief in everything but it has no effect, it is all head, no heart
  • Believing partially - agreeing with what the Church says but in one's own way - Cafeteria Catholicism.
  • Believing everything the Church teaches but living a lifestyle that publicly contradicts Jesus's teaching - divorced and "remarried" Catholics for example.
  • Believing everything but being unable to break from a particular addictive, identifying oneself with that sin -e.g. I am a Gay Catholic
  • Living a lifestyle that scandalizes other Catholics -e.g. living with a partner because of financial necessity
I don't intend this to be an exercise in the old Catholic game of "how far can you go" but it strikes me that our failure to identify what we mean by "Catholic" causes a lot of mess, what do we mean by "Catholic" Studies at Roehampton, or "Catholic" in the context of admission to Cardinal Vaughan School or "Catholic" when speaking about the participants at the Warwick Street Masses or organisations such as We are Church or even Cafod. It is perhaps worth sharing this link from the Juventutem article but one has to question whether the clarity of St Thomas extends to the Church today.
Are we in two camps? Those who want to define the term  "Catholic" and those who don't. We then get on to the further question: why do some want to make a definition whilst others do not?

Dare we use Apostasy and Heresy? Some young Catholics might but not my generation.


Anonymous said...

ApostaSy Fr Ray..Reading this post made me think Catholicism was all about dos & don'ts & restrictions & rules & regulations & I'm a better Catholic than you are etc etc..I honestly think Catholicism is founded on Love & we need to capture this love of our Faith in all it's richness & fulfillment. Concentrating on the sins of people & liturgical righteousness imho is not as effective as showing & living the joy of the faith ...

Anonymous said...

I shall add in a quote from a book by (of all people) Terry Pratchett:

"Right. Right. That's people for you. Now if I'd seen him, really there, really alive, it'd be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched 'em like a father and cared for 'em like a mother...well, you wouldn't catch me sayin' things like 'there are two sides to every question' and 'we must respect other people's beliefs.' You wouldn't find me just being gen'rally nice in the hope that it'd all turn out all right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin' sword. And I did say burnin', Mister Oats, 'cos that's what it'd be. You say that you people don't burn folk or sacrifice people anymore, but that's what true faith would mean, y'see? Sacrficin' your own life, one day at a time to the flame, declarin' the truth of it, workin' for it, breathin' the soul of it. That's religion. Anything else is just bein' nice. And a way of keeping in touch with the neighbors."

My emphasis.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I don't think you have read the post.
I don't think there is much mention of "dos or don'ts" or "sins" or "liturgical righteousness".

If you are going to comment at least read what is written!

Catholicism is not found on "Love" but on a person, the Lord Jesus, who preached the Kingdom of God, and seems to have suggested we are either in it or out of it.

I am asking what constitutes being "in it".

Lucy said...

I converted in 2008 and feel like I have been going downhill ever since. The closest I can come to on your list is the notional Catholic - I often feel that my faith does not light up my life the way it should. I struggle with many things in life and so while I am in complete agreement with the teachings of the church and want to be passionately in love with Jesus and serve Him with my whole life, I am actually a pretty rubbish Catholic who doesn't get to Mass as often as I want although I want to go every Sunday and dream of going daily when my kids are older, and who seems unable to share God's love with my neighbour. But I guess that not everyone who is a poor example of a Catholic or lets Christ down does so willingly or lightheartedly - many are probably tortured by it as I am but feel stuck and unable to improve.

Juventutem London said...

Father, thanks for the response. Whatever defines being a Catholic, it certainly is the best thing in the world and the greatest gift God gives to us! Gloria laus et honor tibi sit, rex Christe redemptor!

Anonymous said...

Ok Fr Ray..I will go & take the discipline & then put on my hair shirt..& then I will read the post!

Fr Ray Blake said...

We all let Christ down, we battle against life or just drift along with it, circumstances, mental/physical health, depression, constraints of children or dependants, finance etc get in the way, our lack of feeling, sometimes even our ennui or laziness stop us being what we should be.

The good thing is God doesn't judge our actions but our hearts. The even better thing is he is a kinder judge than we can ever be, and HE, not us is our judge.

Ultimately we can only do what we are able to do, which actually isn't even our best generally. Do what you are able to do, and commend yourself to him and his Blessed Mother's intercession.

He is rich in mercy on us sinners, and we are all sinners but he is all Grace.
He did not come into your life to be anything other than burden which is light and a yoke which is easy.
He came to raise you up not to cast you down.

me said...

I don't think you and Jackie are singing on different hymn sheets Father. The grand test of being in or out, as you frame it, that our Lord Jesus Christ will set on Judgment day, is to see how many of our religious observances, works, relationships etc were based on love. Love is not only the foundation, but also the building blocks and the driving force behind the Father's decision to send His only Son, so that Catholics had the opportunity to exist in the first place!

Speaking personally, it is love that changes me, challenges me, enables me to look with mercy and pity on others. Also to forgive myself.

The outcast Catholics, there seems to be a growing number being named and shamed in some Catholic quarters, I do not believe Jesus will abandon them or cease to call them His own. Responding to Our Lady causes a great sorrow and heart felt inclination towards suffering souls, even if one is suffering oneself. His love transforms, make sure we let others know that. People are looking for love in all the wrong places.

I look for this message of Christ's love in the most orthodox sounding Catholic, to the least.

One doesn't always find it, where one would most expect. Shame, as Jesus promised that "Love, covers a multitiude of sins"

We can all be confident that the more love we have, the more Catholic we will become! We won't become wishy washy, love makes you miss a tv program in order to pray for someone, makes you kneel down and offer a decade instead of eating a pie (if you hapen to be partial to pies, I am). Simple results, but good nevertheless. Also, a promise that the world will recognise Christ in this love we share with each other.

To end, as always, pray your Rosaries!!

It reaches the parts that other devotions have failed to reach, fast!

pelerin said...

What a beautiful reply to Lucy, Father. I do hope it helps her.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Your reply to Lucy reminded me of the comment of a Columban, now deceased, in our diningroom in Manila some years ago when we got word of the death in Ireland of a Columban who had worked zealously in the Philippines for many years but who was a bit on the strict side: 'He'll probably find that God is a lot kinder than he thought He was'.

Paul Smeaton said...

I came to Jesus as I was weary and worn and thin and He gave to me a resting place and now I live in Him.

GOR said...

What does it mean to be a Catholic? Well for a start it doesn’t mean you are perfect, impeccable or guaranteed to get to Heaven. Yes, Baptism begins the process, but it is just that – a process. As we develop we learn more and more about what our Faith requires of us and pace Jackie that does include some do’s and don’ts – actually a lot of them! But it is not an issue of mathematics as our Lord pointed out the Rich Young Man in the Gospel.

Acceptance of all that Our Lord and His Church teaches is a sine qua non. We don’t get to pick and choose, slice, dice or parse the truths of the Faith. But acceptance doesn’t mean ‘perfection at observing everything’. We’re human, we’re frail, we’re tempted – and sometimes we fall. But one of the beauties of the Catholic Faith is that Our Lord provided for that. He knew we would be weak and fail, so He gave us the Sacrament of Penance - Confession.

“The just man falls seven times a day…” Proverbs tells us. However it continues: “…but he rises up again”. No matter how many times or how often we fall we can come back into Our Lord’s love through Confession. Yes, we must intend to amend with the help of God’s grace, but we should never despair. Nothing and no one is beyond God’s mercy. We just need to be willing to accept it, continuing to try to do our best.

And if we have doubts about any article of Faith we should know we’re in good company. Doubting goes all the way back to the Apostles and the ‘hard sayings’ of Our Lord. We could do worse than repeat frequently with the child’s father in the Gospel: “I believe Lord. Help thou my unbelief”. And He will.

John L said...

Interesting that your generation would not talk about apostasy and heresy Father - I always wondered why not?

pelerin said...

Readers may be interested to know that I saw details in Westminster Cathedral yesterday regarding the filming there for a future TV programme.

A poster states that a documentary is being prepared to be shown on BBC 4 (if I remember correctly) on what constitutes Catholicism today.

I do hope this won't be a hatchet job.

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