Ten great things about being Catholic
WERE YOU BAPTIZED AS A BABY? If you’re like most Catholics, that’s how you first joined the church. Infant baptism has its obvious advantages: the early vaccination against original sin, guaranteed new life in Christ, and membership in the church—all nothing to sneeze at. But there’s one drawback to starting your life as a Catholic while you’re still in diapers: You have no idea what you’re getting into! In this respect, infant baptism might seem to have all the charm of being drafted. If you happen to meet the criteria—in most cases, just having Catholic parents—you’re in.
Embracing a Catholic identity, however, is a whole lot more than simply being a card-carrying member of the church. Some may settle for a baptism, wedding, and funeral in the church and feel they’ve gotten the best of it. But if you choose to live all the moments in between from the perspective of the Catholic worldview, you can enhance your life beyond your wildest imaginings.
What follows are 10 good things to discover for yourself about the beauty and integrity of authentic Catholic living. See how many of these windows of grace are open to you already, and how many more you may have to explore. You may also want to add to this list the things about the church that move you to awe and wonder.
The word mystery has a particular meaning in pop culture. We may think immediately of detectives trying to solve crimes, or suspenseful movies with some monster hiding in wait for its next victim. Our basic assumption about mystery is that it’s something to be uncovered or resolved.
But the larger and more religious sense of mystery is of something that cannot be solved by human reason or even perceived by human senses. This is our first understanding of who God is—a Being infinite, eternal, and essentially unknowable by limited mortal minds. We can ponder religious mysteries but never come to the end of them. So we meditate on how God becomes a human being, how a virgin can be a mother, how a crucified man rises from the dead, or how one day, the last will be first.
For all Christians, the Bible is the foundation of our faith. But it’s not a history book about how the world came to be, or stories of people from long ago. We believe God’s Word is alive, that these stories are bigger than history and truer than a mere retelling of the past. Catholics don’t look to the Bible to explain or replace scientific knowledge about the world. We accept these stories as the way ancient people shared what they were learning about the God who was leading them to become more fully human. They came to believe that the story of God is also the story of humanity, because our origin and life is in God. When we read the Bible, we find our own story written in its pages.
Without scripture, we might be forced into considering two rather distressing ideas about reality as we know it. One is that things happen in a random way and nothing matters or has meaning. As hard as that sounds, the other idea is equally unhappy: that God is handing out rewards and punishments according to a scale of justice that is coldly precise. Who among us wants to face perfect justice? But according to salvation history—another name for God’s plan as the Bible illustrates it—God’s desire is to save us, not to condemn us. Because we’re not good enough to face even-steven justice, God chooses to exercise mercy instead. If we seek God’s mercy, our sins are forgiven. This is why we call the gospel “the good news"!
We have said God is unknowable, but that’s not the end of the story. God is beyond our comprehension, but God wants to be known by us. God created us out of love, and love always seeks to be closer to the beloved. So God reveals the divine presence and purpose to the people of the Bible, folks like ourselves—part saint and part sinner.
God also expresses the divine will in the ancient law of the Old Testament. Finally, God enters human history directly through the person of Jesus, who is Son of God and one with God in a unique way. In turn, Jesus gives us an enduring way to encounter his presence in what the church now calls the sacraments. In common things—water, oil, bread, wine, words, touch, a ring, a promise—we meet the holy presence of God once more.
Prayer is primarily communication, and there are countless ways to do it. Some pray in silence, mindful of God’s presence. Others like to sing—Saint Augustine called singing “praying twice." Some find themselves naturally drawn to formal prayers of repetition like the rosary or novenas. The Stations of the Cross, a walking prayer, reminds us that we’re all pilgrims on a spiritual journey toward our true home. Group prayer is often made simpler by using a ritual like the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the breviary. The ultimate prayer of the Catholic community is the Mass itself, in which we celebrate the central mysteries of our faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!"
The word church is remarkably broad. We use it to describe a building in which we worship. But it also refers to an authority that governs us—for Catholics, that usually means the Vatican, the bishops or other clergy, or the general body of people who are on the payroll of a parish office. Because we often speak of the church as something or someone “out there," we have to consciously remind ourselves that we are the church, the Body of Christ. We are called by God and empowered through the gifts of the Holy Spirit to carry the presence of Christ into the world today. You take “church" with you wherever you go!
All who are baptized are known as the “People of God," according to church teaching. The People of God have a noble vocation to live out that identity with dignity and integrity. We are supported in that calling through the service of our church leaders—the pope who governs and coordinates the worldwide church; the college of cardinals who oversee broad territories; the bishops in their teaching office in each diocese; and the pastors guiding each parish. Add to their service the work of religious sisters and brothers, monks and cloistered nuns, missionaries, lay leaders and teachers, dedicated parents, and countless organizations affiliated with the church. All together, we are the hands and feet, the eyes and ears and voice of Christ in the world today
Some Christian churches maintain that the Bible alone teaches us the will of God for the world. Catholics believe that the Bible is fundamental in revealing God’s purposes—and that God has made other revelations that are also compelling. Creation is God’s first and largest self-expression, for God spoke the world into being and then created humanity in the divine image and likeness.
Since Jesus told his disciples to “go forth, baptize, and teach all nations," Catholics also view the church itself as having a role to play in expressing God’s will in the world. The teaching authority of the church, known as the magisterium, seeks to express God’s hopes for humanity in every new generation.
We mentioned that “church" is not just a building but also a people. More perfectly understood, church is also something we do and not just who we are. Our vocation to “be" church engages us with a world in crying need of the presence of Christ. And Jesus wasn’t just present to people; he came to town and got to work teaching, healing, blessing, and giving hope to the hopeless. He spoke out in defense of the poor, the suffering, and the excluded. When we involve ourselves in works of justice, working to right the imbalance of power in the world, we are “being church" most profoundly.
Being human naturally means making moral choices. It might seem hard at times, but it’s not rocket science. A Catholic morality is shaped by many principles, including the idea that human life belongs to God and not to us. This is why we take a moral stand away from abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, genetic engineering, and all avoidable warfare. It’s also why we support fidelity in marriage, the welfare of children, and public policies that lead to justice and peace. As Jesus put it succinctly, “Love one another." It’s still the best moral advice there is.
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