Each issue carries an imprimatur from
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
What It Means to Be Catholic
Satisfying 12 Human Needs
by Msgr. Joseph M. Champlin
Being a member of the Catholic Church
helps people satisfy their deepest personal
needs and spiritual yearnings. Here are
12 good reasons for being Catholic.
Fosters a healthy self-image
People with a positive, healthy self-image generally
engage in constructive behavior. Those with
a negative, unhealthy self-image often slip into
There are several signs or symptoms of an
unhealthy self-image. Some of these might be,
an awkwardness in accepting compliments,
a tendency to remember one negative criticism
and ignore nine positive comments, or any
Two basic Catholic teachings, though, can
foster a healthy self-image. The first is to believe
that God made each one of us. In the beginning
the Lord Almighty examined the just-created
world and “found it very good” (Genesis 1:31).
That miracle of creation continues today with father, mother and God cooperating to
produce a new being. This infant is unique,
with the Lord calling the child by name and
saying, “You are glorious and precious and
I love you.” (Is 43:1-4). No other individual
has the baby’s fingerprints or DNA.
The second “image booster” is to
believe that Christ has saved us. By his
suffering, dying and rising, Jesus has made
it possible for us through Baptism to be
washed clean and filled with the Divine
Presence, then, later on, swiftly to be
forgiven when having sinned, and coming
to genuine repentance.
Satisfies our longing for happiness
Priest-physicist-author Lorenzo Alabcete
maintains that the human heart is always
yearning for infinity, the eternal, a life
forever. Moreover, he argues, we seek for
the transcendent, for something beyond
us; we search for infinite happiness and
St. Augustine, 1,500 years earlier, spoke
similarly: “O God, you have made us for
yourself and our hearts are restless until
they rest in you.” The old Baltimore Catechism asked: “Why did God make you?”
Its answer: “God made me to know, love and serve God in this world and to be
happy with God forever in the next.”
The Church teaches that God mysteriously
unites one divine nature and three
divine persons—the Holy Trinity of
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This distant and incomprehensible,
yet close and caring God wishes us to be
happy here and perfectly happy in the
By using correctly and moderately the
gifts of creation we experience a certain
amount of contentment on this earth. But
life here is not perfect; earthly joys are
but a foretaste of the future.
In the hereafter of heaven or paradise,
we will see God face-to-face, with all
our yearnings satisfied and questions
Connects us with our past
The Roman Catholic Church is 2,000 years
old. It is a faith with Jewish roots, Jesus
as its founder, Peter as its first leader, Paul
the worldwide preacher and the present
pope as Peter’s successor.
In the famous St. Peter’s Basilica in
Rome, inside and above the main altar, are
words from Matthew 16 predicting Peter as
the Church’s rock foundation and promising
Christ’s protection until the end of time.
Along a side corridor is a list, carved
on white marble, giving the succession
of 267 popes, beginning with Peter and
continuing through to Benedict XVI.
This Church possesses both a
divine and human element. With Christ’s
divine guidance it speaks on matters
of faith and morals, with the promise of
the Holy Spirit, only the truth. God has
promised that it will always survive struggles from without or within.
Nevertheless, the human weakness
of the Church’s leaders and members has
caused great harm—most recently the
mishandling of sexual-abuse cases,
from which the Church is on the path
Yet history has shown that the Church
is resilient. An English historian, T. B.
Macaulay, has observed that if any other
human institution had known such great
inner corruption or outer hostility, it
would long ago have perished. For him,
the Catholic Church’s very survival is
almost proof of its divine protection.
Preserves and promotes the Bible
The Bible tells us the best of news: the
blessing of God and how God offers us each
salvation through Jesus. The Bible contains
poetry, prayers, songs, genealogies, history,
prophecies, stories, exhortations and
teachings. The Church sees this treasure
of God’s Word not as one book, but a
collection of books: 46 Old Testament or
Hebrew Scriptures and 27 New Testament
or Christian Scriptures.
During the period from formal determination
of the complete Bible at the end
of the fourth century until the invention
of the printing press, the Scriptures were
preserved manually by the painstaking
efforts of monks. They carefully copied
by hand these sacred words.
The Church teaches that God is the
Bible’s principal author, influencing
human authors as they wrote. That belief
is the basis for the rich use of biblical
texts in public worship, especially at
Mass, and the strong encouragement
given to Catholics to read personally the
Scriptures on a regular basis.
The Church also recognizes that the
Word proclaimed is one of the forms of
Christ’s real presence among us: “He is
present in His word, since it is he himself
who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are
read in Church” (Constitution on the
Sacred Liturgy, #7).
The Church admonishes all its members
with words from St. Jerome, the
fifth-century biblical scholar: “Ignorance
of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
Provides models and heroes
Contemporary people admire and sometimes
strive to imitate heroes and heroines.
Bicyclist Lance Armstrong modeled
courage and perseverance as he struggled
with a severe cancer and sought to win the
demanding Tour de France. Our models of
faith guide us to true fulfillment and happiness.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
exemplified a deep love of God and dedicated
service to the poorest of the poor.
But all human heroes and heroines
have flaws. Only Jesus Christ is the perfect
model, Son of God, yet Son of Mary,
divine and still human, like us in all ways
except sin. He walked on water, yet wept
over a dead friend.
We learn the highlights of Jesus’ life,
hear his lessons and witness his model of
heroic holiness during the Church year
through the Scripture readings. We also
hear about those who were closest to
Jesus while he was among us on earth.
Jesus’ mother, while merely human
and not divine, nevertheless was uniquely
blessed by God and without sin from the
beginning until the end of her life. She,
like other saints, is now for Catholics both
human model and heavenly helper.
Teaches us how to pray
Every human being has inner needs or
anxieties. People who are believers tend
to take such concerns to God. That communication
or talking with our Creator
we call prayer: a friend speaking with
a friend in a conversation often about
friends, family or other matters. Sometimes,
however, the period of prayer is
less a conversation and more like two
lovers simply being present to each other.
Prayer allows us to enrich our love
relationship to God and to each other.
The Catholic Church issues minimal
regulations concerning the prayer life of
its members. Many opportunities and
alternatives are offered; very little is
The major responsibilities are participating
at Mass on Sundays and six holy
days of obligation as well as making
one’s “Easter duty” (the minimum
requirement to receive Communion at least once annually, preferably during
In public, liturgical prayer, Church
members gather together and worship in a
formal way according to official approved
rites and texts. The Mass and the seven
sacraments are prime examples of such
The Church, however, also provides
an enormously rich range of alternatives
for personal, individualized prayer.
Every Catholic is free to choose whatever
style is comfortable. These include, for
example, formal or informal prayer, the
rosary, novenas (nine successive days of
prayer for various reasons) and devotional
candles (lit to show honor and call one
Deepens our faith
Faith and prayer are interconnected.
People pray because we believe in a
loving God who listens and responds.
Faith is therefore the foundation for
But people also pray to have their
faith strengthened. The apostles once
quite simply asked of Jesus, “Increase
our faith” (Luke 17:5). Prayer, therefore,
presupposes faith but likewise deepens it.
The term “faith,” however, generally
conveys two meanings: a body of truths
that we accept or a power that enables us
to accept those truths.
Throughout Christianity’s history,
there has been a need for succinct
formulas which clearly summarize the
major beliefs of the Church. We call
them “creeds” from the Latin word
credo, meaning “I believe.” The two
most familiar are the Apostles’ Creed,
dating back to the first Christian years,
and the Nicene Creed said or sung each
Sunday at Mass.
Faith, however, can also be considered
an inner power which enables us to
look beyond and see something more.
In the natural world we look beyond
beauty, for example, and discover a wise,
powerful and caring God.
In the spiritual world, we look beyond
and discover the Risen Christ in the
Eucharist, the sacraments, the Scriptures
and in people gathered for prayer.
Gives us a sense of belonging
In the Acts of the Apostles we read an
ideal description of the early Christian
Church (Acts 2:42-47). That description
seems to blend a horizontal (or community)
and vertical (or sacred) dimension in their
activities. Catholic parishes today seek to
maintain a similar balance.
Horizontal. We see ourselves as a
community of believers, linked together
by a common bond of faith, grace and
Baptism; a body of persons who share the
same life and beliefs. It follows logically
from our understanding of the Church’s
nature that members ought to be one in
heart and mind, living in unity and caring
for each other.
A variety of activities reflect and foster
that community dimension, like welcoming
people before Mass, socializing with refreshments
afterwards, visiting the sick or homebound
and reaching out to those in need.
Vertical. But we also gather to offer
God gratitude and adoration, to manifest
our dependence upon the Creator and to
express our needs. These encounters with
an awesome and transcendent, yet caring
and compassionate Lord are wrapped in
mystery. Silent periods, sacred symbols
and reverent gestures reflect and deepen
that vertical dimension of worship.
Guides us to guidance-empowered freedom
We humans are quite curious by nature.
We, on one level, resent any restrictions on
our freedom, but, on a deeper plane, want
definite rules or regulations for our lives.
We jealously guard our choices, yet yearn
for stronger guidance to keep us from making
bad decisions and misusing our liberty.
An all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving
God allows us freely to use (or
abuse) our world. Although many factors
such as family background, cultural
surroundings or current circumstances
may diminish the degree of our freedom
and consequently our responsibility for
certain actions, we nevertheless remain
free to decide for good or for evil.
Catholics have two guides to follow:
our conscience and our Church. The Church offers the great commandments
(love of God and neighbor) plus the Ten
Commandments, teachings of Christ,
centuries of tradition and nature’s laws.
These moral standards may seem to be
inhibiting and restrictive. But quite to the
contrary, they actually release or liberate
us. These norms both make us free and
lead us to the deep happiness which
comes from following God’s plan.
Jesus said: “You will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).
Conveys God’s forgiveness
When we fail to follow our conscience and
omit something that it commands, or do
something that our conscience forbids, we
sin. That sin, or our state of sinfulness,
ruptures multiple relationships in our
lives. It weakens or severs our connection
with God, with one another and with the
world around us. It also upsets our inner
harmony and peace.
Our sins and the sinful world we live
in can and do cause discontent at times,
but Jesus’ actions and words assure us that
God’s mercy more than matches human
weakness. We know, for example, that
Christ forgave the repentant thief, released
a woman caught in adultery, absolved a
prostitute and forgave the paralytic.
The Catholic Church has always
taught that as soon as we sincerely
repent and seek God’s mercy, all our
sins are forgiven. Yet normally there
remains within those burdened by guilt
a great need to express verbally their
wrong and to experience actual forgiveness
through some word or gesture. The
Sacrament of Penance, Reconciliation
or Confession does just that.
Supplies strength in our weakness
Jesus predicted that because of human
limitations we would struggle each day to
walk faithfully in his footsteps.
However, Christ also instituted or
established special means, called sacraments,
which supply the sufficient grace
God has promised, a power that makes us
strong despite our weakness.
The center of these is the Eucharist,
“the source and summit of Christian life”
(Dogmatic Consitution on the Church,
#11) or, as Pope Benedict terms it in his
exhortation following the 2005 World
Synod of Bishops, “the sacrament of
love” (#75). The other sacraments lead
to and flow from a faith-filled celebration
of the Eucharist.
The Church divides these seven holy
rites into three categories.
Sacraments of Initiation. This
initiation process begins with Baptism, is
complemented by Confirmation and reaches
its fulfillment in the Holy Eucharist.
Sacraments of Healing. These two
sacraments fundamentally deal with
sin and sickness. Penance, also called
Reconciliation or Confession, focuses on
our sins. Anointing of the Sick centers
upon physical, spiritual and emotional
or mental illness.
Sacraments at the Service of
Communion. The final two are essentially
directed to the service of others. Holy
Orders ordains persons to the “order” of
bishops, priests or deacons. Matrimony
unites a man and a woman in a marital
covenant or partnership for the rest of their lives.
Deals well with life’s hard issues
Those who possess an interest in people
and openness to life swiftly learn of the
diverse and crushing hard knocks which
individuals often encounter.
The Church, in both its teachings and
practices, provides effective help in several
ways for such afflicted persons.
By powerful prayer. It prays formally
and publicly for burdened people and urges
members to speak with God in personal
and private prayer about their needs.
By supportive people. Most of the
Church’s official charitable work over the
centuries was done either by the local
clergy or by religious men and women.
However, after the Second Vatican
Council in the 1960’s, there was a
Church-approved explosion of laypersons
performing those same functions
for those in need.
By hopeful truths. The Church
does not offer a simple, pat answer to
life’s perplexing hard knocks. But it does
provide insights that shed some light and
hope for those in darkness and near
despair. For example, much suffering
is caused by our own sinfulness and
mistaken decisions, or by the sinfulness
and bad choices of others.
However, the Church reminds us that
the ultimate healing of such hard knocks
will take place only in heaven or paradise
during the next life.
Next: The Lord’s Prayer (an excerpt from
Pope Benedict XVI’s new book)