As “cradle” Catholics many of us took our identity as “Catholic” for granted. We attended Catholic schools, we were often immersed in Catholic culture. It seemed we knew what it meant to be Catholic. Now we discover that putting words on what is “Catholic identity,’ especially in light of moving from a Roman model of Catholic living to a Synodal Catholic experience, has been very challenging often. It has also been challenging for those of us who were not “cradle” Catholics as we seek to understand the Who, What, When, Where and How of this expression of Christian life. I offer the following as brief bullet points that are important to this journey of faith as Catholics. They are by no means exhaustive on the subject, but only morsels of consideration.
Having a Catholic identity means being:
+Eucharistic: All that Catholics do flows toward the "Breaking of the Bread", and all we will do flows out of Eucharist. Eucharist is at the very center of being Catholic. Being a Eucharistic people is the chief identifier of being Catholic. We bring ourselves, and all that we are and do, to the Table. We come with thanksgiving. We recognize Christ and we recognize the Body of Christ in the Breaking of the Bread. We are sent out (“Ite missa est,” Go, you are sent!) to transform creation.
+Incarnational: We Catholics use the stuff of creation to express mystery. We are earthy people and use the stuff of earth to speak to us about God and mystery. We know that the way IN to people is through their senses. Often this stuff is what people think of as showing their identity as Catholics. There is lots of “Catholic stuff”: Holy water, oils, bread, wine, candles, bishops, priests, deacons, ashes, palms, holy cards, rosaries, pictures/icons/statues of saints, liturgical colors, altar, ambo, font, tabernacle, etc. Our symbols need to be "done large" so they speak well.
+Sacramental: Catholics highlight the stages of life through ritual and celebration. These sacraments are transforming, celebrating change; celebrating new life. There are at least seven sacraments, though as our sisters and brothers of the Orthodox household maintain, there are many beyond these seven.
+Graced: Grace is the starting place for our theological understanding of the relationship between God and Creation. All that is created is good. We begin by seeing all humans as created in the image of God. People are basically good.
+Charismatic: Church is based on the active presence of the Holy Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit for the community. The Spirit of God acts in the Church. It is the Spirit of God that acts through the sacraments, blessings, etc. (epiklesis: "Come, Holy Spirit").
+Communion of Saints: There is a continuum of relatedness of those who have gone before us, those who are alive today, and those who will come after us. We are one. We are on a common journey; we are a pilgrim people, streaming through time. Catholics believe in the afterlife, and saints are very good at symbolizing that belief.
+Common Good: Our moral stance is communal, not pelvic. Preference is given to that which is best for the common good, not just to what is best for one individual. Even in individual choices we ask: if everyone did this, what would be the consequences on society as a whole? Social Justice - seeing that everyone gets their share of resources for a good life -- is a key ingredient in Catholic life.
+Revelation: Our faith tradition is based on the fullness of revelation, past, present and future, not "Bible only" (i.e. Sola scriptura). Scripture is incarnational: God's revelation as given through very human means, conditioned by time, place and culture. Our understanding grows.
+Inclusive: A meaning ascribed to Catholic is "here comes everybody." Catholics have unity with diversity; we are the big umbrella. Not only are we inclusive of all people, we are inclusive of all prayer types and spiritualities, from contemplative to charismatic; from "rote" prayers to centering prayer; inclusive of liturgical expressions from chant to dance.
+Absorbent: Catholicism takes in culture and transforms it, rather than rejects it. From Christmas trees to Easter eggs, to spiritual practices, to feast days themselves, we absorb culture and make it part of us. Nothing human is foreign to us.
So, “YES,” we are Catholic in every sense and meaning of the word. Thanks be to God!
The peace of Christ be with you.
As the Presiding Bishop of the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches, I have been called forth by the Communion to serve with our Bishops as "first among equals" to represent the Communion, to articulate the vision and mission of the Communion and to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.