Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge
On a weekly basis, it seems, there is news of yet another challenge to our freedom to live our Catholic faith. Many of these arise from those social, cultural and political trends that I have discussed previously with respect to our need for a New Evangelization.
Recent years have now seen various efforts by federal and local governments to obstruct or limit our ability as Catholics to live out our Gospel mandate. Where we have crossed a very significant fault line is the latest campaign to denigrate as “bigoted” or “mean-spirited” those who do not embrace the new social order. In other parts of the world – in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, for example – our Christian sisters and brothers are facing violent persecution simply because they are Christian.
It is against this background that I have written a new pastoral letter entitled Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge. These reflections, which were published on Pentecost Sunday, concern who we are as Catholics – our identity as disciples of Jesus – followers of Christ – adopted children of God. It is my hope that this message will help people in their awareness and understanding of what it means to be a member of God’s family – the Church.
Through the uniqueness of being baptized, all sin – original and personal – is washed away and the person is made into a “new creation.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are united so closely to Jesus that we are actually identified with him, we become Christ-like. We live not merely with our own meager merits, but with the divine life and virtues of Jesus himself as we are incorporated into his body in the world today, which is the Church he established.
By Baptism, we are also initiated into the mission of Jesus. He tells us he is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), the light of the world who testifies to the truth which sets us free from sin and death and brings hope to a humanity struggling in a dark world (John 8:12, 32, 18:37). In Confirmation, as with the Apostles at Pentecost, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in a special way to give us the strength and other spiritual tools we need to be Christ’s witnesses here in our communities and to the ends of the earth.
The very heart of our message is God’s mercy, his desire to reconcile humanity to his healing love. As needed as this message is, still our mission is not always easy. In our age, as in every age, the Good News and the Church as its messenger can be challenged and even distorted from both outside and inside. Saint Paul warned the early Church of this when he wrote the Galatians, “there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ” (1:7).
We must remain true to who we are. If we call ourselves Christian, then Christ must be recognizable in us, both personally and in the institutions of his Church. Amidst calls from many quarters that the Church change, we know that we have received something that is not ours to do with what we want – the Church is the Lord’s.
Catholic teaching presents a beautiful vision for life even as we struggle to live it – even as we struggle fully to understand it. The Church does not require others to believe or live by her teaching. But we do insist on the freedom to do so ourselves and to ensure that those who share in the ministry of our institutions also do so. We simply ask that the freedom of Catholics to be Catholic be respected.
In these times, I invite you to read this new pastoral letter, Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge, and discuss it with others. The wider community benefits from the presence of authentically Catholic institutions and faithful disciples because the richness of Catholic teaching can engage the secular culture in a way that the light of the wisdom of God is brought to bear on the issues of the day. By being vigilant, working to remain true to our Catholic identity despite the challenges placed in our way, we can help manifest and realize the kingdom of God here and now, a kingdom of truth and love that truly sets us free.