Content and Confident Being Catholic
by Lois Donahue
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I’m not a Christian, I’m a Catholic”? I have, and when it happens I always seem to have the same two reactions.
First I am a bit saddened that they, as yet, have not come to realize they are both Catholic and Christian since being Catholic certainly encompasses all that is found in the dictionary definition of Christian. Secondly, I am delighted to hear them openly declare they are Catholic – something which they, and we, certainly have reason to do – and to do with great pride. Now I’m not talking about a kind of haughty pride where we strut around with our nose in the air looking down on others. Instead I think it should be what someone once called ‘acceptable pride’ which they said meant – it should be grounded in something truthfully deserving, should be believed with the heart as well as the head and should be balanced with humility. There are many things about being Catholic which call for ‘acceptable pride’ – things such as these–
We can certainly be proud of the fact that the roots of our Church can be found by tracing an unbroken line of succession back to the very first Apostolic representative to whom Jesus Himself gave the position of leadership in His church when He said to Peter “You are ‘Rock’, and on this rock I will build MY church..”. He immediately followed those words with others giving authority to that church… “I will entrust to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt.16:18-19) and, a very few chapters later in Matthew’s presentation of the ‘Good News’ Jesus completes what obviously is the significant, far-reaching and on-going mission He gives His church — to make holy, to govern and to teach — “…go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you…” (Mt, 28:19-20). We can indeed be proud – however, knowing that God expects each of us, as individual Catholics, to play some role in the ‘mission’ of His Church, we are often humbled, not only in questioning our own ability and even our willingness to perhaps, in some way, ‘teach’, but also in having to admit that our own actions do not always set a proper example for ‘carrying out’ what He has commanded.
We can be humbly proud, too, as we follow the path of this catholic, universal church. People heard the preaching of the Apostles and faith-filled men and women of all ages and from all walks of life believed and followed and served.
When Peter died, Linus immediately succeeded him as Pope. So, too, others followed in the leadership footsteps of the Apostles and were assisted in meeting the needs of increasing numbers by selected believers.
Martyrs, St. Stephen being an example, began to demonstrate to the world the unlimited dedication of Christians to their God and the message His Church proclaimed.
St. Paul, as did others, began spreading Christianity “to all nations”.
But there is more to having pride in being Catholic than simply knowing this is the Church foundationed on Peter and the Apostles. I think it also comes from knowing that each one of us, by God’s own choice, is His child — the child of a most loving, unselfish Father. Relating to that in human terms, it only makes sense to me that any such father, while wishing to give his beloved children what they might want, when forced to choose, would do what was best for them by giving them what they would need. For example –
God knew His children would need His grace, His forgiveness, His spiritual nourishment and, unquestionably, His presence so He gave us the Church of Sacraments.
He knew we would need access to all of His truth so He gave us the Church which, in time, gave us the Bible (His permanently written truth) which from then on would stand with tradition (His ongoing truth spoken through the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit) and together they would, as one, give us the ‘fullness’ of truth.
He knew we would encounter confusion, contradiction and challenge so He gave us the Church which would be His voice to the world whenever any message of His needed to be properly stated, adequately explained or accurately interpreted.
I think these are the kinds of things which make me ‘confident’ in being Catholic. What makes me ‘content’ in being Catholic is more apt to come from things like – the intimacy of our Mass, the quiet sorrow of our Stations of the Cross, our shared humanness with the saints, the friendly feel of my rosary, the reassuring sight of our Pope, the gentle touch of our wordless symbols, the family connection with our Mary, the joy of our religious humor, the specialness of our Holy Days, the one-on-oneness of our private devotions and especially the treasured moments of joining, in any way, with others to whom the word CATHOLIC ‘says it all’.
Now let me give you just one more example of what I think calls for ‘acceptable pride’ along with ‘appropriate’ humility. To reverse things this time, let’s first humbly admit that within our universal Church there will always be those of us – whether we be found in the pews, in the Chair of Peter or anywhere in between – who act as weakly human as Peter when he denied Jesus, as Thomas when he doubted Him or as Judas when he betrayed Him.
However, just as we know the failings of those three did not in any way change the reality of who Jesus was – and is, so too, we know the short comings we find when we look around us, when we look at national and international headlines or when we look in a mirror do not alter one bit the truth that the Roman Catholic Church, Jesus’ Church, will forever remain as authentic as He.
Our pride should come in ‘knowing’ that. But it should also come in the reality that the Catholic Church is still in existence – that it still remains alive – with strength, influence and conviction – despite centuries during which it had to deal with both bloody and unbloody persecution, heresies, major breakaways, splinter separations, protests, disagreements, scandals, inner struggle and outside attacks. If through all these years our Church had been dependent only on its human component, today it would be little more than a few pages in some history textbook – if even that.
We can be proud that the Church to which we are fortunate enough to belong is and always will be such an essential part of God’s plan that He has given it a Divine heartbeat. He has promised to it, and therefore to us, His unending protection and presence– “..I will build my church and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it.” (Mt.16:18) “And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!” (Mt. 28:20)
Indeed we have reason to be proud, to be confident and to be content in being Catholic but we must also be humble enough to admit that simply bearing the name Catholic, is not sufficient for salvation. More than that, we must make a sincere effort to live as a Catholic.
So much for my thoughts – except it did occur to me that I needed to add another ‘c’ to ‘content and confident’ and that other ‘c’ is for ‘comfortable’ because, for me, being Catholic brings with it such a wonderfully warm, safe, ‘at home’ kind of feeling.
In saying ‘goodbye for now’ just a reminder — God has given us, in love, a legacy that is not only challenging but also rewarding. May each of us, through prayer, – recognize it, live it, proclaim it and be proud, humble — and thankful.