To be a Catholic is to hold certain beliefs. We need to understand, claim and celebrate our Catholic identity.

The Conversation Corners at Every Day Catholic were discontinued beginning with the January 2004 issue.

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CATHOLIC IDENTITY
Jesus: Our Starting Point
By Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.

Being Catholic starts with Jesus Christ. In fact, everything begins with Christ.

Jesus is the "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Revelation 22:13). He is "the firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15). He is the "Word through whom [God] made the universe" (Preface, Eucharistic Prayer II). Everything starts with Jesus.

I wasn't around the day before the first day of creation, but from my human perspective I can imagine things happened something like this: God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—was sitting at the breakfast table when God the Father said, "Being God is wonderful but, you know, eternity can sure get boring." The Son replied, "So, let's do something different. Let's create!" "What's —create'?" asked the Spirit. "It's —to make something out of nothing,'" said the Son. The Father asked, "Can we do that?" "Sure," said the Spirit, "we're God, aren't we?" The Father said, "O.K., what shall we make?"

And (this is the crucial point) what did God make? Jesus Christ—the beginning of all that is, the firstborn of all creation, the Word through whom God made everything else that exists.

If you are not accustomed to thinking of Jesus in this way, perhaps an analogy will help. Forty years ago when I was teaching at the Franciscan high school seminary in Cincinnati, one of the hobbies popular among the young students was making model airplanes. On long winter evenings the hobby shop would be crowded with boys gluing together various sizes and shapes of balsa wood pinned to the diagrams on the table before them.

When asked, "What are you making?" the seminarians never said, "I am gluing piece A7 to H5." They would always respond, "I'm making a P-51 Mustang" or "I'm making a B-25 Mitchell." From the very beginning of the project, their mind's eye was on the finished project. Similarly, if you asked God at the very beginning of creation, "What are you making?" God would have responded: "We're making Jesus Christ."

God's Masterpiece

Jesus Christ is God's masterpiece. God, who is Love itself (1 John 4:8), created Jesus Christ out of love. And Jesus Christ returned perfect love to God. We can see this in everything Jesus said and did while walking among us here on earth. We see this most clearly in Jesus humbling himself, "becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). And on the cross "he handed over the spirit" (John 19:30) to the Church so that we who are baptized into Christ put on Christ and become his body. We are taken up into the Christus totus (the whole Christ) to use a favorite expression of Pope John Paul II's.

At Mass we ask God to grant "that we, who are nourished by [Christ's] body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ." Our incorporation into Christ is the principal petition at every Eucharist. We pray that we (in the words of St. Augustine) "be what we see on the altar and receive what we are—Christ's Body" (Sermon 272). Through Christ, in him and with him, our lives have meaning. We live for more than ourselves. We are taken up into that great and mysterious plan of God that is Jesus Christ.

God's Co-Workers

And what is our role in God's great plan? We see our vocation as a mission of reconciliation. While God has definitively reconciled all things in Christ, "making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20), with our incorporation into Christ God has "given us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians. 5:18). We are to free creation from slavery by working to improve the quality of life for all, to alleviate hunger and disease, injustice and conflict.

And while this task may appear so large and complicated that it may seem impossible, we Catholics know that it is possible. In fact, we are certain that it will be achieved because it is God's plan. This is what gives us our inherent optimism—another mark of Catholic identity. We Catholics are optimistic because we know that grace is more original than sin. God's great plan of love did not start with Adam and Eve, or the apple, or the snake, but with Jesus. Everything starts with Jesus.

Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., has a doctorate in liturgy and sacramental theology from the Institut Catholique of Paris. A popular writer and lecturer, he teaches courses on the sacraments at Saint Meinrad (Indiana) School of Theology. His latest book is The Sacraments: How Catholics Pray (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Next: The Catholic Community

Questions for Reflection:
• How does the statement,"Everything starts with Jesus," alter your worldview?

• Have you ever been part of a community that experienced being "one body, one spirit in Christ"? Share the experience.

FAMILY CORNER
Jesus Is the Way
By Judith Dunlap

One of my favorite Scripture passages about Jesus is from John's Gospel. Jesus tells his disciple, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). It is a powerful summation of all that Jesus is. Each word holds so much meaning and significance. Consider the statement, "Jesus is the way."

Jesus is the Way to find out who God is. Jesus was God in person. When he spoke and acted, it was God speaking and acting. If you want to find out about God, find out about Jesus.

Jesus is the Way to the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not just something in the future. It has been with us since the beginning of time, most decisively in the person of Jesus. The Kingdom is also now, wherever we see someone acting in Jesus' healing love, offering reconciliation or working for peace and justice.

Jesus is the Way to all that is true and all that gives life. Make Jesus a reality for your children. Let them hear you talk about him as if he were a member of your family. Let them know that he is their champion and that his love for them will never end. But also make sure they understand that they share Jesus' mission and they are called to champion others. They are asked to share Jesus' love in very practical ways with everyone they encounter, especially those in most need. Help them understand that they are called to be the way for others—the way to find the Kingdom, the way for others to find out who God is.

Jesus is the Way Maker. Let your children know that Jesus will clear the way for them. With his help, no matter the obstacles, nothing can stop them from finding his love and sharing that love with others.

For Family Response:

As you gather around the dinner table to share a special meal, read the words from John 14:6. Ask each family member to finish this sentence: "Jesus is the way...."

Media Watch
In America
By Frank Frost

How do you define the American Dream? This is the question raised by In America, which opens with an Irish couple and their two little girls entering New York City to the soundtrack of "Do You Believe in Magic?" The whole family is in awe of the movement and color and size of this city where they have come to start over following the death of their youngest member, two-year-old Frankie.

For them it is an adventure, which they face with great optimism, despite their lack of legal status and money. The only place they can find to live is a tenement that serves as a haven for drug addicts. As they first inspect the ramshackle penthouse with a broken skylight, the irrepressible 6-year-old Ariel (Emma Bolger) dashes about and pleads, "Can we keep the pigeons, Daddy?"

The story is largely seen through the eyes of 11-year-old Christy (Sarah Bolger), who records their life on a cheap camcorder. She feels she is ultimately responsible for the family, counting on three wishes she believes she will be granted by her dead brother. Frankie is the hidden character in the story, a child whose death has set in motion the parents' search for a new life and whose unseen presence is key.

The American Dream is redefined in this movie. Here the dream achieved is not material success, but riches of hope and family, of keeping going in adversity—and of love.

Christy's father, Johnny (Paddy Considine), is an actor who auditions endlessly without success. Her mother, Sarah (Samantha Morton), takes a job as a waitress, and the girls start school. Johnny takes to driving a cab. And soon Ariel complains that she has no one to play with. In an attempt to keep the family happily together, Johnny almost blows everything they have at a carnival. But what truly challenges family unity is that Sarah is now facing a difficult pregnancy.

Sparked by Ariel's absolute trust and optimism that makes everyone a friend, she and her sister are soon looked after by everybody in the seedy neighborhood. Two floors below the family lives a reclusive man who acts out by screaming but who comes to play a key role in their lives.

He has painted "STAY AWAY" in giant letters on his door. But the ever-friendly girls insist on knocking at the "screamer's" door for a Halloween trick-or-treat, and discover Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), a threatening giant of a man, whose anger melts and who becomes their friend, much to the nervous dismay of their father.

The family's relationship to Mateo, who as it happens is dying of AIDS, turns out to be a lesson in the importance of opening oneself to others. Johnny, gregarious as he is, has been blocking his feelings by refusing to accept the death of his son. The real magic, as each family member realizes in the end, is not in make-believe, but in accepting the world the way it is with honesty and love.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?



SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

Blessed Jacinta and Francisco Marto

We know so little about them, but their brief lives and their amazing story are riveting. What better way to describe the young shepherd children to whom the Mother of God appeared six times 87 years ago near Fatima, Portugal? Since then, the name of Fatima has become synonymous with devotion to Mary.

And all because of three simple, uneducated children who captivated the world with their reports of a lady bathed in white who appeared to them on the 13th of the month from May through October 1917. Within two years, two of those children—Blessed Jacinta and her brother Francisco Marto—were dead, the victims of influenza. Lucia, their cousin and the third "seer" (as the children were often called), a Carmelite nun, turns 97 next month.

The lady's message to the children was profound and powerful: Pray the rosary so that the world may see an end to war. Pray for sinners. Pray for the conversion of Russia (which had just fallen to Communism). She also urged them to honor her Immaculate Heart.

Why would God, through Mary, choose young children—children accustomed to tending sheep and playing in the fields by day—to convey a message meant for the ears of the world? How could they do justice to her words? Would the children even have credibility?

Perhaps the question is: Why wouldn't God, through Mary, choose young children? Francisco was almost nine; Jacinta was seven; Lucia was 10. Each heard Mary's urgent pleas. All three displayed a love, wisdom and spiritual depth far beyond their years. Pope John Paul II beatified Jacinta and Francisco in 2000. Their feast day is February 20.

Matthew Kelly

Anyone who has visited the shrine at Fatima 14 times in nine years is...well...drawn to be there. Or is it called?

To be at Fatima, says Matthew Kelly, 30, is to feel "rejuvenated, more focused, more grounded." Each visit to the shrine, he notes, is a sacred, soulful, transformative experience.

It's also one the Australian-born writer and speaker on spirituality seeks to share with others. Each year, the Matthew Kelly Foundation, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, hosts a retreat to the world-famous shrine where participants join millions who have gathered to express their devotion to Mary. "It's a pilgrimage retreat," Matthew told Every Day Catholic, "not an on-and-off-the-bus trip." Prayer, Bible study, daily Mass and workshops make up the heart of the day. (This year's pilgrimage runs August 3-11.)

"In our age," says Matthew, "there is phenomenal skepticism about anything that can't be scientifically proven." But, he maintains, it's an undeniable fact that the shepherd children "had an experience of a supernatural phenomenon" in 1917. The message of Fatima—return to a life of prayer, make it the center of your life—is as central today as it was 87 years ago.

Pope John Paul II certainly reinforced that when he credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving him during the attempt on his life on May 13, 1981—the 64th anniversary of Mary's first apparition to the three children.

Despite his own faith in Fatima, Matthew does not try to win over skeptics. "Fatima is not for everyone. It's not necessary for salvation. You can make the journey without it. But if you do," he says, "you miss out on a real treasure!"



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