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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Regaining Our Catholic Identity

As we move forward into this Year of Faith, this New Evangelization, one subject that certainly merits our attention is the importance of maintaining our Catholic identity.  

In this ever-increasing secular world, we seem to be experiencing an identity crisis when it comes to our Catholic faith.  This is not unlike the identity crisis that many a teenager experiences during adolescence.  The youngster knows who his family is. He know about academics and pop culture, but, he might not know much about himself.  Sometimes, he might wind up experimenting with new things, hanging around with different kids and taking on a new attitude that may or may not be for the better. 

Can we not say the same thing about ourselves as Catholic?  Many of us were baptized in the Faith of our ancestors.  We know about God the Father, Christ, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Yet, our knowledge of the Faith tends to stop after Confirmation.  Some of us, like the adolescent, want to explore new things, hang out with different people and seek another route. 

The former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger accurately diagnosed this problem on April 18, 2005, when, during the holy that he preached at the Mass to start the Conclave, he said that we faced the "dictatorship of relativism."  When we lose our identity as Catholics, we might tend to think that everything is alike and allow ourselves to be thrown by every wind.

Yesterday's daily Mass reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, the same Epistle proclaimed at that particular liturgy seven years ago, pulls no punches:

"And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried by every wind of doctrine, buy the cunning men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles."

The situation is critical, but, the man who would emerge from that Conclave as Pope Benedict XVI gives us a solution, Christ Jesus.  Christ is the cornerstone of our identity as Catholics. His Church, built on the firm Rock of St. Peter's faith, constantly invites us to moor our little boats unto the Barque of Peter.  If is no coincidence that the logo for the Year of Faith, which I posted in my previous blog post, depicts no less than the Barque of Peter, that strong steady ship which is not easily rocked by strong winds.  

But, how do we go about regaining our Catholic identity?  Again, we turn to Pope Benedict XVI for the answer to this crucial question.  In the homily that he preached at today's closing Mass for the Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father seemed to have picked up where he left off back in 2005.  He gives us the beginnings of what I consider to be the Benedictine plan of action:

"I would like here to highlight three pastoral themes that have emerged from the Synod. The first concerns the sacraments of Christian initiation.  It has been reaffirmed that appropriate catechesis must accompany preparation for Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  The importance of Confession, the sacrament of God's mercy, has also been emphasized.  This sacramental journey is where we encounter the Lord's call to holiness, addressed to all Christians.  In fact it has been often said that the real protagonists of the new evangelization are the saints: they speak a language intelligible to all through the example of their lives and their works of charity.  

"Secondly, the New Evangelization is essentially linked to the Missio ad Gentes.  The Church's task is to evangelize, to proclaim the message of salvation to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ.  During the Synod, it was emphasized that there are still many regions in Africa, Asia and Oceania whose inhabitants await with lively expectation, sometimes without being fully aware of it, the first proclamation of the Gospel.  So we must ask the Holy Spirit to arouse in the Church a new missionary dynamism whose protagonists are, in particular, pastoral workers and the lay faithful.  Globalization has led to a remarkable migration of peoples.  So the first proclamation is needed even in countries that were evangelized long ago. All people have a right to know Jesus Christ and His Gospel; and Christians, all Christians - priests, religious and lay faithful - have a corresponding duty to proclaim the Good News.

"A third aspect concerns the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism.  During the Synod, it was emphasized that such people are found in all continents, especially in the most secularized countries.  The Church is particularly concerned that they should encounter Jesus Christ anew, rediscover the joy of Faith and return to religious practice in the community of the faithful.  Besides traditional and perennially valid pastoral methods, the Church seeks to adopt new ones, developing new language attuned to the different world cultures, proposing the Truth of Christ with an attitude of dialogue and friendship rooted in God who is Love.  In various parts of the world, the Church has already set out on this pat of pastoral creativity, so as to bring back those who have drifted away or are seeking the meaning of life, happiness and, ultimately, God.  We may recall some important city missions, the "Court of the Gentiles", the continental mission, and so on.  There is no doubt that the Lord, the Good Shepherd, will abundantly bless these efforts which proceed from zeal for his Person and his Gospel."

This last aspect hits particularly close to home, especially in our country.  It seems to me that well-meaning Catholics seem, at times, to be tossed around by "every wind of doctrine", especially during this election season.  Rather than using the Church as their guide, these individuals follow the dictates of a particular party.  Many of them seem to be more familiar with party platform than with the Church's catechism and her teachings.  It's as though the party has substituted the Faith.  

Lamentably, it's not necessarily the faithful's fault.  In many of our local churches, catechesis ends the minute that the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred.  We don't do enough to educate the adults in the Faith of the Church, whether young or old.  It's no wonder that when political parties come calling, or people from other religious denominations come knocking on the door, these folks do not know how to respond when the Faith is challenged.  They wind up being swayed by the other side, almost as though the proverbial winds from every doctrine have capsized their little boats.  How can we engage in dialogue when our Faith is challenged when we do not know enough about our beliefs to be able to explain it ourselves?  As I noted in my previous blog post, we need to learn about our Faith so that we an know Jesus.  Spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  Even if you sit there in silence, that is a good first step.  He will lead you to what you need to do.  Take part in your parish's activities.  Volunteer for the next festival coming up or sign up for an adult religious education class if you believe you need a refresher.  Above all, learn about the Mass.  While this is the Church's most sacred, public prayer, this also affords us with the most intimate time spent with Jesus, when we come into direct contact with him.  

The work of the New Evangelization should not rest squarely on the shoulders of bishops and priests.  It is part of our baptismal responsibility.  As St. Paul notes in the aforementioned excerpt from his Epistle to the Ephesians, we may not all be called to the same role (we can't all be Apostles, Teachers and the like), we each have a responsibility in this sacred act of evangelizing, whether it's serving as a catechist, writing a blog or just giving simple witness in the public square.

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