On Being Catholic

Did you catch the piece in the Washington Post last Saturday called “On Faith”? It featured an interview with a woman writing a book on Catholics on the Supreme Court. If Judge Sotomayor is confirmed there will be six Catholic justices. The author, Barbara Perry, opines that the number of Catholics is related to liberal and conservative politics more than religion. When asked how she thinks Judge Sotomayor’s Catholicism will play into her decisions if confirmed, she describes Judge Sotomayor as someone who attends church for family and special occasions, guessing she will be more liberal—a social justice type of Catholic. Whereas justices like Scalia and Roberts are conservative on issues such as abortion and church and state matters.

This kind of conversation is so common in political discussions and in church conversation and it is really misguided. There is only one kind of Catholic; the person who is baptized saved by God’s grace and called to share in the very mission of Jesus Christ. Happily, once baptized a Catholic, or baptized in another Christian community and later received into the Church through Confirmation, one is forever a Catholic.

The only real Catholic is the one who daily strives to love God through prayer, love the people God sends into one’s life, and regularly receive the sacraments, beginning with Sunday Mass. The sacraments are not magic and though Baptism is forever, one must continually grow in faith and love, one’s faith needs to mature in much the same way we mature physically, psychologically and socially.

Unhappily, we know that there is a wide range of ways in which people stop growing in the faith. In the field of Evangelization we try to identify (one might say label) stages in the practice of the faith in hopes that we can call all Catholics to full and active participation in the faith.

We speak of unchurched Catholics who were Baptized and maybe received Eucharist and confirmation but were not raised in the faith and so have no real understanding of what it means to be Catholic. We also speak of inactive Catholics, those Catholics who identify themselves as Catholics but go to Mass no more than a few times a year outside of weddings or funerals. A third group is called alienated Catholics and they are Catholics who though they call themselves Catholic, they stay away from participation in the church because of a negative experience of some sort. In many case there is a desire for reconciliation and healing in order to feel welcomed or at home in the Church.

Like a family, all of these people are Catholics and considered part of the Catholic family. We who are fellow Catholics or work for the Church have a responsibility for seeking out, listening, inviting, and encouraging these sisters and brothers to deepen their faith and rediscover the gift of the Catholic tradition.

Labels like liberal, conservative, cultural, or radical Catholic tend to suggest that it’s possible for an individual Catholic to decide what it means to be Catholic. When I think of some of the American Catholic saints, life Mother Katherine Drexel or Elizabeth Seton I discover women who would defy all of our popular labels. They were passionate in their love of God, their love of the Church and their love for others, especially the poor and the marginalized. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., once Master General of the Jesuits captures the passion that faith brings to life in this prayer.

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination,

will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you will do with your evenings,

how you will spend your weekends,

what you read, who you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”

Who is a Catholic? Enjoy this video displaying the rich Tapestry of the Catholic Church!

2 Replies to “On Being Catholic”

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