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What does it mean to be an American Catholic in the 21st century? The American bishops have published the new, 637-page United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. No time to read it? Catechism for US is an appetizer and a companion to the new catechism. Each month, learn more about your faith—and how to live it.

CATECHISM for US

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The Church
People, Body, Temple

by Gerard F. Baumbach

Why should I want to belong to this Church? Hearing this question, a parent may search quickly within himself or herself and pray: “Please, God, help me now. Guide my words!”

Sometimes we may search in a similar way. Graced by God, we come to see that “In the life of faith there are always two movements: God in search of us and we in search of God” (U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 109).

We do not search alone. As faithful Catholics, we belong to more than an organization of our own making. Each of us is more than a category on a form or a number on a membership spreadsheet. We are part of the community of the Church.

People of God

Christians note the special ties that bind us to the Jewish community, a people chosen by God for special and lasting relationship with him. We must cherish these bonds and nurture them with mutual trust and respect. Jewish people today continue to strive to live in response to God’s covenant with them, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29).

Applied to the Church, the term People of God is a reminder that we worship as a people God claims for himself through the Son and in the power of the Spirit. We participate actively in Christ’s own priesthood in our daily activities, including setbacks that may shake us but uplift our faith. We witness by example and by word our living as prophets of faith. And we are called to serve others as faithful stewards of the mission of Christ.

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Called to witness

I realize more and more my connection to other believers as I recall aspects of Catholic life that nourish my growth in faith. Grace before meals, family parish participation, adult faith formation, and social outreach help to affirm my identity and heritage in faith.

In a world often driven by self-promotion, we can become a gentle and humble people living in intimate and close relationship with the One who calls all people to himself. We are a people sealed in the new covenant of Christ’s blood. We are a gathering of believers striving to live as witnesses to “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5) as the People of God.

Body of Christ

Imagine for a moment the inviting aroma of a simmering meal. It permeates its surroundings, awakening our senses and beckoning us to come closer. We approach, eagerly and deliberately, each at our own pace.

Our faith beckons us to a lifestyle of deliberate discipleship. Eagerly and deliberately, we participate in the Church’s mission—our mission—of bringing the gospel to all people. We promote virtues and values born of the life of the Church, the Body of Christ. As we assert our common identity on the vast stage of humanity, we draw strength from this community that binds us together as one.

The Church is bound intimately to the Trinity, for “The Holy Trinity abides with the Church always...” (USCCA, pp. 112-113). Each person of the Trinity, distinct yet one in eternal and loving communion with the other two, is related in a dynamic way to the Church. We enter into that love relationship as part of this community.

Visible signs of God’s presence

The Church is a living reality of God’s own life with us—a sacrament. “The Church as both visible and spiritual is traditionally described as the Mystical Body of Christ” (USCCA, p.115).

Most of us can name some visible aspects of what it is to be Catholic: efforts to promote justice; our leadership and structure, including our bishops, successors of the apostles; cherished relationships and practices. In its spiritual sense, the Church lives in faith and love through the Holy Spirit, its constant guide.

I treasure the reality that the Catholic Church is a unity of both the Latin (Western) Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches. There is much to be gained from prayer, conversation and common action as one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

“[W]e, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Rom 12:5). The Church, rooted in mystery, is ever-present to us. We, as the community of the Church, are present to others.

Temple of the Spirit

It is tempting to think of the founding of the Church as something similar to founding a company. Ideas are presented, action steps are taken, results are examined. Simple? Yes. Adequate? No. Viewed through the eyes of faith, this example limps in identifying our witnessing and merciful community. The Church is a living mystery focused on “mission ends” rather than “market trends.”

Jesus promises a gift for mission: the Holy Spirit. The Spirit sustains the Church, guiding it through its long and sometimes tumultuous, sometimes glorious, history.

The same Holy Spirit who came upon the apostles and disciples “[w]hen the time for Pentecost was fulfilled” (Acts 2:1) cradles the Church even today. The Spirit enables both first-century and 21st-century witnesses to faith to proclaim what we have come to believe. “[L]ike a strong driving wind” (Acts 2:2), the Spirit continues to call this community to ongoing witness to eternal truth. We become temples of the Holy Spirit, graced by God and the Spirit who enlivens and lives within us.

The Spirit calls both those who are seeking God and those who have accepted the risk of being found by him. This ongoing call is to new life in Christ, liberation from sin, a new confidence in ourselves and a new day of working together for justice and peace. The Spirit of God prompts us to leave Mass intent on giving away what we have received. We hand on what we cherish, believe and practice. That is part of our mission.

Mary: the first disciple

My introduction to motherhood came when my wife Elaine and I were expecting our first child, who was born sooner than expected. I remember opening and closing drawers repeatedly in a feverish attempt to gather additional belongings for the mother-to-be. But she just wanted to get to the hospital. Elaine knew more about necessities than I did!

I think that mothers instinctively know about life’s necessities. How extraordinary that Mary, a young Jewish woman, responds to God’s call to be the Mother of his Son “with profound faith and trust” (USCCA, p. 143). She gives her life for the eternal gift of life in rejoicing: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46-47).

Mary, ever-Virgin, gives birth to an infant son and, little more than three decades later, witnesses his execution. Through all this, her strength, faith, compassion and “yes” to God’s call are renewed repeatedly.

At the Last Supper, Jesus replies to the questioning apostle Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Mary, the first disciple, teaches us by her living and trusting witness what this way of discipleship can become for us. To be sure, there is joy and pain, sorrow and exaltation. The story of life is modeled for us in this faithful and faith-filled woman of Nazareth.

We honor Mary as Mother of God and Mother of the Church and thank her for how she continues to intercede for us. No wonder that Mary, Blessed Mother and “blessed…among women” (Lk 1:42), is called the greatest disciple.

God’s love and grace

The Holy Spirit and the Church are deeply knitted together. Through the Church we experience the life and presence of the Spirit, gently leading, calmly encouraging and always sustaining us in faith, hope and love.

Why should I want to belong to this Church? “Dear child of God, God’s love and grace are within the very fabric of who we are—identifying us, challenging us and supporting us. Please trust us. God will not abandon you. Neither will we. We are searching with you and will never stop loving you.”

The theme of this article is drawn from Ch. 9, 10, 11 and 12 (pp. 101-149) of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

Gerard F. Baumbach is the director of the Center for Catechetical Initiatives and a concurrent professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. He spent nearly 25 years at William H. Sadlier, Inc., working as an editor and as executive vice president and publisher. A former D.R.E., he holds a doctorate in religious education from New York University.

Next: Celebrating the Mystery

    

Questions

• How does the following statement make you feel? “In the life of faith there are always two movements: God in search of us and we in search of God” (USCCA, p. 109, emphasis added).

• What role has your membership in a community of faith played in your own relationship with God? How would your faith be different if you were not part of such a community?

• What is your response to the question: Why should I belong to this Church? How does your “lifestyle of deliberate discipleship” invite people to Christianity in general and to Catholicism in particular?

 

 

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