|What Does It Mean To Be A Catholic Christian?
Let me begin with a reading from Matthew 7:21….”It is not anyone who says to me,”Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
A Christian is a person who believes in Jesus, develops a personal relationship with him, and lives every day according to his teachings and values. The Christian life is an imitation of Christ, but it is more. It is being transformed into Christ, sharing his life, being here and now his hands and feet and eyes and ears. He lives in us and uses us to do now among men the things he did 2,000 years ago…..”It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me..” (Galatians 2:20) Each Christian, then, is Christ among us. A Catholic is a special kind of Christian. There are also Lutheran Christians, Methodist Christians, Baptist Christians, etc. The term Christian refers mainly to the two inner aspects of faith; that is personally experienced faith by you and day-by-day faith of the Christian community. The term Catholic comes from the Greek word that means “universal.” The term “Catholic Church” refers to the Christian community that is open to all people everywhere and in all ages and that preaches the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ.
“Why Be Catholic?”
The story of John the Baptizer is beautifully told in the first chapter of the Gospel of Saint John.
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (1:6-9)
Every person who is baptized into the Catholic Church bears the same awesome responsibility of the Baptizer himself: to be a witness to the Light. For indeed the Light has come into the world: Christ, the Son of God!
Our task as witnesses to Christ is complicated in an age filled with temptations toward ourselves and material desires. Much of the advertising and entertainment in our culture attempts to persuade us that our earthly life is all there is, so we should pursue the pleasures and successes of this world. The concept of heaven is ridiculed, and the idea of sin is dismissed as archaic.
The Catholic knows that he or she is Not the Light, and that life on this earth is only a pilgrimage toward the life with God promised to those who believe, to those who are faithful witnesses to the Light. We need not despair in our efforts, for we have been given at least three important means of following the call of Isaiah that John the Baptizer made his own, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” (1:23)
The first is constant prayer. Whether it be the prayer of the Church called the Divine Office, the rosary, the beautiful prayers to our Blessed Mother, or the simple prayers of meditation when we seek to do what our Lord himself asked, “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:11) our conversations with God draw us to the Light, revealing him to each of us very personally. Prayer reawakens in us the recognition that Christ alone is the Light to the world. Remember though, prayer does not change God, it changes the one who prays.
The second gift we are given is grace, which comes to us through the sacraments of the Church. Frequent participation in the sacraments, especially the sacraments of penance and Eucharist, brings us the grace of the Light. It is this grace that strengthens us in our resolve to be faithful witnesses to Christ.
Finally, we are given the teachings of the Church. Timeless in their applicability, these teachings proclaim the primacy of the Light, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. Those who are his witnesses are made in his image and likeness.
Catholics believe in the mystery of the church. They believe that God’s son became human. Jesus lived among us and taught us. He surrendered his life for us, saving us from sin and death. He makes it possible for us to join him in eternity. Catholics believe this same Jesus lives today. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian community can discover the risen Lord living in its midst.
The Lord lives in you and reaches out to the world through you. Like your fellow Catholics, you are a pilgrim on a journey. You don’t have all the answers and don’t even know all the questions. However, you know your destination—union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the afterlife. You have the power to herald the gospel, to foster community, to be a sign of love. By serving, you can help others find an institution—the Catholic Church—that loves and serves those in need.
Being a member of this Catholic Church is something we often just take for granted. We expect the church to be there when we need it, without really thinking too much about it. We expect certain services and benefits—blessings for our marriage, prayers for our sick ones, religious education for ourselves- without thinking much about the church that provides these for us.
Think now about the role of the church in your life. When you were baptized, the priest asked your parents, “What do you ask of the church?”
Belonging to the church, like belonging to any group or society, is a two-sided coin. We can’t expect to receive from a group unless we are also willing to put something of ourselves into the group. What are you willing to give the church? How much of your time, your talent, and your treasure are you willing to spend on your church and its people?
It isn’t easy to be church. It isn’t possible without Jesus. But he promised that when we gather in his name, he will always be with us.
”Why remain Catholic?”
The answer is Catholicism’s rich 2,000-year tradition of living the gospel. And this tradition is a “wisdom tradition.” Unlike some of the younger churches which sprang up after the Protestant Reformation and often splintered into further divisions, Catholicism has maintained unity and diversity over the course of 20 centuries. It embraces the wisdom of the ancient world, the Middle Ages and modern times.
To be a truly Catholic Christian means to enter into the Catholic wisdom tradition. It means appreciating all of creation and looking at the world from a universal perspective. It means adopting a holistic outlook that encourages personal growth and social transformation. It means building community and learning from history. It means not being afraid to ask questions about faith, about the Church, or about the world in which we live.
Yet all this heritage is pointless unless it also points us to Christ, and to living the gospel. The reason for accepting the Catholic tradition is to learn better from our rich past how to live our faith more deeply today.
I’ve talked about “Being Catholic and remaining Catholic.” Now I would like to introduce some “Catholic Values.”
We hear a lot of talk today about values from politicians to religious leaders. Simply put, values are the qualities that guide our lives. Let’s call them our “governing values.” There are positive values that move us in healthy, helpful ways. There are also values which hinder our growth and move us in unhealthy ways. Understanding how positive “Catholic” values can guide or govern our lives and learning how to live these values in our everyday lives is important for our happiness today and in our future.
I would like to end with a Reading from John 1 which tells us about the central beliefs of the Christian faith……..John 1:1-14
I want to give you some time now with your small group leaders to give you an opportunity to identify your most important values, explore the values we receive from the Scriptures and the Catholic Church, and discover ways to live these values in our everyday lives.