Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
What Does It Mean?
(A summary of this month's Youth Update)
If you asked a hundred Catholics what it
means to be Catholic, you probably wouldn't get a universal answer!
If you picked apart their answers, though, you'd find a few things
1. God in Person. Being a Catholic means
following Jesus Christ. We trust in Jesus as the "Christ," the Messiah,
the one chosen by God to save us. We also believe that Jesus was
God come down from heaven who "became flesh and made his dwelling
among us" (John 1:14).
2. Sacramental Sense. Catholics have a
very sensitive sacramental outlook. We can see just about anything
in this world as pointing to God. This stems from our belief that
God became human, with all the weaknesses and limitations that entails.
So every limited and imperfect thing is a potential sign of God's
presence ("grace"). Creation itself is blessed by God from the Big
Bang onward, a sign of God's generous love.
3. God Pointers. Because we see things
and actions as symbols pointing to God, we tend to have a lot of
things and actions in our worship. Among these, seven combinations
of "things and actions" are termed Sacraments, with a capital "S"Baptism,
Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation (Confession), Anointing
of the Sick, Matrimony and Holy Orders.
4. God People. We believe that people can
also point us to God. Some are the "hall of famers" in heaven, like
the Virgin Mary and the saints. Others are ordinary people who help
show us the way here on earth. Some people say that Catholics worship
these saints and the Virgin Mary, but we just honor them as guides
5. God's Family. Christian community is
Jesus' own school of divine experience. You find God there in relationship
with other people. The best evidence of God still around is loving
and being loved by others.
6. God's Wisdom. Christians hold on to
the Bible, finding in its stories, dialogues and poems wisdom for
all times and places. But Catholics don't believe that the Holy
Spirit stopped working when the Bible was complete. The Spirit has
always been with the Church, inspiring men and women of faith to
speak further about God's plan for human beings. The result is what
we call the tradition of the Church. This tradition includes essential
teachings such as the Immaculate Conception and a vast wealth of
history and practices. Not everything that happened in this history
was good. Church leaders also burned witches and sponsored the Inquisition.
What we now treasure is only the good things which have survived
the test of time.
7. God's Training. So much wisdom about
spirituality is found in Catholic tradition. Meditation, finding
God in nature, uncovering your own potential, learning not to be
afraid of death: All these are found in Catholic tradition. The
Church teaches the disciplines of prayer, spiritual reading and
sharing the faith.
8. In God's Image. Church teaching calls
you to respect and do good to others, both those close to you and
strangers. This way, you yourself become the love-filled people
God wants you to be.
9. God of Second Chances. God is extraordinarily
merciful. The Church has always been a hospital for sinners and
not a house of perfect saints.
Teenagers from St. Joseph Parish in Lebanon,
Indiana, previewed the complete manuscript of this Youth Update
and asked these questions.
You mention the Big Bang. In school, the
Big Bang seems to exclude God. What do Catholics believe about
the beginning of the world?
The main thing Catholics believe about the
beginning of the world is that God was behind it. How that
happened is given to us to discover. When scientists speak
of the Big Bang, they are trying to read the signs of the
universe for some clue as to how it all began. Catholic scientists
do exactly the same, only they recognize what they see as
the design of a loving Creator. Even if it does not explicitly
give credit to God for the wonders of the universe, science
is compatible with Catholic faith. Pope John Paul II himself
has declared that Catholics may and often do believe in the
theory of evolution as a sign of God's marvelous power at
work in the world. You don't have to hear God mentioned to
know he is involved!
I didn't know we sponsored the Inquisition
nor do I know much about it. What did we do wrong?
Catholics believe in Original Sina
wounded part of our nature that steers us toward doing the
wrong thing instead of the right even when we know better.
Church leaders are not exempt. During the time of the Inquisition,
especially in Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries, Church
leaders tried forcibly to convert Jews, Muslims and others
to orthodox Roman Catholic Christianity, at times even using
torture and the threat of it. What made this possible was
two sad thingsa history of anti-Jewish prejudice in
Catholic Europe and the idea that those "in error"who
did not agree with the Catholic Churchhad no rights.
Since that time, the Church has renounced such anti-Jewish
prejudice, has recognized the human and religious rights of
those of different religions, and has apologized for the evil
that was done. The wrongs in the Church's history cannot be
undone. But a knowledge of what happened can teach us to be
better people today, both individually and as a community
People who aren't Catholic often tell me
stuff about my faith that I know isn't so--like what you said
about us worshiping Mary and the saints. Where do you think
they get such ideas?
Sometimes it's pure prejudicefear of
people different than you. Especially where Catholics are
few, legends still persist that we have horns or are cannibals.
Some fiction about Catholics is based on misunderstandings
or exaggerations of what people hear and see. Catholics who
don't ownor usea Bible might give others the impression
that we don't believe in it. Devotions to saints can sound
so strong that it may appear to others that a saint is part
of the Trinity. How we describe our religion to others is
important. A little study and using the right words can help
head off some misunderstandings. The rest is out of our control.