Throughout history, people have puzzled over fundamental questions: Why was I born? What happens after I die? Does life have meaning? In 2006, Every Day Catholic will address these questions and explore the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic faith.

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Why We Need the Church
By Thomas H. Groome

Ever wonder why Catholics put so much emphasis on “going to church” by way of keeping holy the Sabbath? Of course Protestant Christians, too, are committed to Sunday worship, but we Catholics add a note of obligation. For us, participating in Sunday Mass is a great privilege but also a serious responsibility. We may not “miss” Sunday Mass—except for some good reason.

Further, Vatican II helped us to realize that all Catholics are called to “full, conscious and active participation [as] demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation is [our] right and duty by reason of baptism” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #14). Far more than attending as spectators, we must function as active members in a bonded community.

This sense of Sunday obligation is only one instance of the communal emphasis that is core to Catholicism. Catholic Christian faith is essentially communal; we are ever disciples in community and a community of disciples. We’re convinced that God reaches out to us in and as community, and that we most effectively reach out to God—together. So, we may not simply watch Mass on TV or go instead to the mountaintop for our own personal religious experience.

It is in and through Christian community that we have access to the Scriptures and traditions that forge our identity in faith, to the sacraments that sustain us in Christian living, to the models of holiness in the saints before us, to people to pray with us and for us when needed, to companions to uphold us on the journey home to God. Indeed, Catholic spirituality calls us to our personal relationship with God, but this should be in and through Christian community.


In Our Very Nature

The Bible highlights the communal nature of faith. Indeed, it seems that God designed our very human nature as relational. When God differentiated the lonely Adam into male and female, God made them “companions” to each other. Then, beginning with God’s call of Abraham and Sarah to parent a people, Hebrew faith is lived in and as community. No sin or success is purely personal. God makes every covenant with the Hebrews as a people, not as individuals. That “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:12) was their sustaining conviction.

Likewise, the first Christians favored communal metaphors to describe their shared discipleship to Jesus. Paul’s image of the Church as Body of Christ was the loveliest and most compelling. Within this body, the hand and foot, the eye and ear, and all individual parts are vitally important; yet all the organs must function together as one body (see 1 Corinthians 12:26). By Baptism, we are bonded together as one with Christ and each other; “we, though many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5). And all members must contribute their particular gifts for “building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

Rooted in History

During the Reformation, the great Protestant leaders rebelled against the exaggerated power of the Church, charging it with replacing rather than representing God. As a consequence, they de-emphasized the communal nature of Christian faith. When the Catholic Church regrouped at the great Council of Trent, it agreed that people must have their own personal relationship with God but that our faith must be realized in and through Christian community—the Church. Catholicism is so intent on the communal nature of faith as to propose that even death doesn’t break the bond of Baptism. So, we can ask those in the eternal presence of God to pray with and for us—with Mary holding pride of place among this communion of saints. Likewise, we can intercede for departed loved ones who may need some “purgation” in order to enter the eternal presence of God. In death, “life is changed, not ended” (Preface, Mass of Resurrection) and certainly not the bond of Baptism.

This communal emphasis of Catholicism requires that we be active in a local parish. If we don’t like our assigned regional one, the 1983 Code of Canon Law gives us permission to “shop around” a bit. It is imperative that we find a local Catholic community to call home, and share of our time, talents and treasure to sustain its mission and ministries. For us Catholics at least, we’re all in this together.

Thomas H. Groome is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. His most recent book is What Makes Us Catholic (HarperSanFrancisco).

Next: Why Is It Important to Be Catholic?

Questions for Reflection:

• How active are you in your parish? If you are active, what benefit do you gain? If you are not, why aren’t you?

• Talk about the best celebration of the Mass you remember attending. What made it special?

Church and Family Ties
By Judith Dunlap

There is a remarkable similarity between the family and the Church. In fact, since early times the Church has been referred to as a family, and the family has been called the “domestic church.” Both communities share similar visions and tasks. Church members are called to learn, pray, play, celebrate and serve together; so are families. Both communities are called to be welcoming and reconciling. Family and Church both have the responsibility of nurturing, supporting and challenging their members to grow to their full potential.

In our world of overextended schedules, it is sometimes difficult to find time for church. It is similarly difficult to be “family” today. It takes commitment and intentionality to be a faithful member of either community. However, the energy and effort put into these commitments can be soul-saving.

Make time to be together as a family—to eat together, to play, work and learn together. Compliment and affirm each other often. Take the time to talk to each other, not just about your daily happenings but your thoughts and feelings as well. Listen well. Pray together and go to church together. In a survey done by the University of Nebraska, shared faith is listed as one of the six traits of a strong family. The five other qualities are: good communication, affirmation, taking time together, handling problems and/or crises well, and—finally and most importantly—commitment.

It takes commitment to keep being family—to face problems and crises in constructive ways, to work things out no matter what. It takes the same commitment to forgive the Church its human failings, to attend Eucharist regularly and stay involved in parish life. The Church and the family were founded in love; both function best when love is their source and sustenance.

For Family Response:

Use the six traits of a strong family as a report card. As a family, grade yourselves on: commitment, affirmation, communication, taking time together, handling problems well, sharing faith.

Media Watch
The March of the Penguins
By Frank Frost

What is extraordinary about The March of the Penguins (now available in DVD) is not just the way it leaped from nowhere to become the second-greatest moneymaking documentary in history and garner an Academy Award nomination. It’s the simple, contemplative character of the film, which, devoid of sex and violence, relates the story of Emperor penguins making their way through their age-old cycle of birth and rebirth in Antarctica, “the harshest place on earth.”

Viewers may not recognize immediately how bold it is for the filmmakers to let the extraordinary visuals tell the story in their own time and at a pace that captures the timelessness of the Antarctic winter, without letting it become boring. The casting of the flat but warm voice of Morgan Freeman as the storyteller is a masterful touch.

The story Freeman tells attributes human characteristics to the behavior we observe in animals. The movie never lets us leave the aura of the family drama enacted by the penguins. We admire their fortitude; we feel the fierce wind and cold they must subject themselves to in order to be true to their biology. We wonder at the “romantic” care given to the choice of a mate; we admire the self-sacrifice of the parents who protect the fragile eggs and newborn chicks from the harshest of imaginable attacks by nature.

We marvel at the wonder of new birth and the hope and pride we think we detect in the behavior of the parents.We grieve at the death of chicks who cannot be protected from weather or predators. And our hearts leap with the new young penguins who finally take the plunge into the Antarctic water to begin the cycle anew.

The sheer beauty of Antarctica sets the stage for the remarkable camera work that reveals gradations of light and color one would not think possible in what is essentially a black-and-white world. Close-ups of primal body language in natural slow motion demonstrate a grace and beauty that make us totally believe in the anthropomorphic love, care, concern and family dedication that this film is all about.

Time and again the viewer wonders, “How did the filmmakers manage to always be in the right place at the right time?” Some of those answers are found in Of Penguins and Men, an accompanying DVD. The behind-the-scenes story introduces us to the French film team behind the feature. This 50-minute “making-of” documentary stands on its own. It not only satisfies our curiosity about the way Luc Jacquet and Jerôme Maison managed to capture such extraordinary penguin behavior on film, but also relates a human drama climaxed by a near tragedy when they barely escape with their lives from a sudden blizzard and whiteout.

Both documentaries show that true drama is found not only in the activity of the chase. It is also found in the choices of the heart.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879)

For the first 14 years of her life, Bernadette lived the humdrum existence of a poor, uneducated French peasant girl. Then “the Lady” came into her life—forever changing it, and her.

On February 11, 1858, young Bernadette experienced the first of 18 appearances from the Lady, who later identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. The apparitions continued over the next six months from the woman dressed in a white robe and blue sash, with yellow roses covering her feet. She always came to the same spot: a cave near Lourdes.

Her message to Bernadette was simple and direct. She called for the conversion of sinners through penance, urged people to visit the place of the apparitions and asked that a church be built on the site. Since then, millions of people have bathed in the springs at Lourdes—and many of them have reported miraculous healings.

Though Bernadette’s report of her visions brought crowds to the cave, they also brought skepticism. She faced ridicule and suspicion from townspeople and clergy. But she would not budge from her story: The visions were real, she insisted, and no one was going to make her deny the truth. In 1862, after a thorough investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions.

Bernadette eventually sought protection in a convent. In 1866, she joined the Sisters of Notre Dame. Though in poor health, she spent many hours working in the infirmary and sacristy. She died at age 35.

In 1933, Pope Pius XI canonized Bernadette Soubirous—not because she had reported amazing visions, he said, but because of her life spent in simple devotion to God and in obedience to his will. Her feast day is April 16.

Sister Rose Mary Sam, I.H.M.

The Church has officially recognized fewer than 75 miracles at Lourdes, but Sister Rose Mary Sam has witnessed one after another there. A volunteer for the past 32 years at Cité Secours St. Pierre, a village for poor pilgrims visiting Lourdes, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister speaks of countless instances of “spiritual healing.”

“The wonderful feeling of peace and acceptance that permeates that fantastically holy place is beyond description,” she told Every Day Catholic. “It’s such an intense faith experience!”

During the academic year, Sister Rose Mary teaches French at Regina High School in her native Detroit. But come summer, she’s off to Lourdes to join other volunteers who, like her, return year after year to Cité Secours.

Initially, she was assigned to serve meals, clean tables and mop floors six days a week in the dining hall that serves about 500 pilgrims at a time. Then she was put in charge of a dorm building that houses 72. In recent years, she has helped staff the information office, answering pilgrims’ questions about Mass times or how to get to the train station and helping weary travelers separated from their group. “Whatever the work we do, it’s a blessing.”

“It’s such a privilege to go back again and again” and to serve pilgrims who cannot afford to stay at more costly facilities nearby, Sister Rose Mary said. Each time she returns she prays at the grotto and kisses the rocks where Mary appeared to a young peasant girl named Bernadette. She observes the special care given the sick who come in search of healing waters and who feel so welcome and loved. And each time she leaves, Sister Rose Mary vows to come back—if God will give her another summer at Lourdes, another miracle.

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