I recently bought one of those “Read the Bible in a Year” books. My husband pointed out that it was a Christian Bible and not a Catholic Bible, but I figured it was close enough. I can read the other books next year, I guess. In any case, a fire got lit in my soul when I realized that I was unable to defend my faith from a Scriptural perspective. No, I do not need to know chapter and verse. I just want to be able to say, with a grounded certainty, that such-and-such a topic or situation is in the Bible.
Catholics are often accused of being a “non-Christian” religion, and I think I finally understand this accusation. Unlike our protestant brothers and sisters in Christ, we do not know Scripture. And yet, the Catholic faith is based on Scripture and Tradition! Most of us get the Tradition part (“Tradition” meaning “that which is handed down to us”) from our families, teachers and Pastors. We come to Mass, and we enter into an ancient rite, which follows the Tradition of the Church. Notice that “Tradition” is capitalized? I am not referring to “traditions” in the Church which develop over time, often out of popular devotions (e.g. Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, etc). These are beautiful practices which serve to enhance our faith, but they are not the Tradition of the Church, which has been handed down to us from the Apostles. There is one Tradition of the Church, and yet many divisions have crept into the Church in recent years.
Many Catholics have fallen into the fad of labeling themselves or others. One says, “I am a Conservative Catholic”, whereas another says, “I am a Progressive Catholic”, and so on. This is a sad reality, since the Catholic Church is not something that should need distinctions. These labels divide the Church from within. If I say that I am a Traditionalist, for example, many people will immediately size me up and judge me as a sexually irresponsible (or ignorant) home-schooling parent or at least 12 kids, who wears long skirts and wants to shelter her children from reality, while making them little “holier-than-thou” picture-perfect weirdoes. Come on folks…really? I have to admit that this label is most troubling to me, since it has such negative connotations in the “modern” Church. But, when we really stop and think about it, Catholics are Traditionalists, in the sense that we follow a 2000-year Tradition!
Let’s put aside the labels and stereotypes and start to be Catholic. Many Catholics today are so caught up in the “label game” that they have lost focus of what it means to be Catholic. If we are striving for Heaven, why are we trying so hard to create divisions when Heaven is union with God? Contrary to some popular jokes, there will not be separate rooms in heaven for the different “types” of Catholics. Oh, and allow me to be so bold as to mention that Christians and non-Christians can actually make it to Heaven to! And they will be united to us, in the very love of God! The Catholic faith must be believed and practiced in its entirety in order to be a Catholic. Yes, at times we will struggle with this aspect of faith or another, but that does not mean we are to simply put it aside. We see this with our protestant brothers and sisters who belong to a particular community because of its beliefs and customs. Different communities exist because of different beliefs. The Catholic faith is one (“I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”). We profess this in the Creed, and yet we label groups or individuals.
And so we are left with a question: what does it mean to be Catholic? Pope Francis recently commented on this identity when he said that, “To follow Jesus requires renunciation of evil, of egoism, and choosing good, truth, justice. It also requires sacrifice and a renunciation of self-interest.” (August 19, 2013) He went on to say that, “faith is not to decorate life with a little religion, like a cake is decorated with a little frosting.” Labels add decoration to our lives, as icing adds decoration to a cake (think of a label on clothing or appliances, for instance). If our faith is just a label, it will not provide any spiritual sustenance or nourishment to our soul, or to the souls of those we encounter. If we label ourselves or others within the Church, we are missing the Gospel message. Reading Scripture has opened my eyes to see that God indeed calls all to Himself. He longs for us to be in Heaven with Him, but he respects our free will to choose or reject His proposal. Calling someone (or yourself) by a certain term (e.g. Modern, Traditionalist, etc) says that so-and-so is not fully worthy to be my brother or sister in Christ. It is an act of injustice against the dignity of the human person, and it creates a splintering in the Church. If Christ wanted a divided Church, He would have made that clear. Instead He cried out to God the Father His desire, “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee…” (Jn. 17:21). And so, the systematic reading of Scripture is teaching me this: I am Catholic. No excuses or explanations needed.