Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How I Know I'm Catholic

It has been three months since my women's retreat and (second) return to Catholicism.  I have been dutifully reading Scripture, attending church events, actively participating in Mass, and praying (though this last one leaves much to be desired).  I know that having been away for 18 months, I may need another 15 months of actively being religious in order to feel religious, but as it stands, I'm not convinced.

I wrestled so much with self-labeling during my last time away.  What makes a person Catholic?  I now have the answer.  Two things: the reception of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist), and self-identifying as Catholic.  Both of these must be present for a person to be Catholic.  Now, they may be practicing, devout, or schismatic or heretical, but Catholic they are nonetheless.

Without the sacraments, a person is at best an aspiring Catholic, someone perhaps going through RCIA in the conversion process.  Or perhaps they are merely aligned spiritually and theologically with Catholicism but do not desire official membership in the church.  On the other hand, someone who has received all the necessary sacraments who no longer self-identifies as Catholic, either because they have switched membership to another faith or abandoned faith all together, cannot be said to be Catholic either.

With this in mind, I do not intend to leave Catholicism again.  That said, I am finding my way - spiritually, morally, and theologically - within the tradition of Catholicism.  I am no longer concerned about what other mortal and sinful Catholics think about my self-identity as Catholic.  I am interested in finding meaning for my life, which I am most comfortable doing from the narrative of Catholicism.  Where I am currently with that is the transition from a literal to a figurative understanding of Catholic teaching, in particular theology.

I learned during my last hiatus that I need religion.  I need a religious identity.  I need a religious community.  I need that guidance, that framework, that foundation.  But I am not interested in checking my reason at the door.  I do believe I must abandon my will in order for Christ to live in me, but this is only done in the minute details of daily discernment, not across the board.  The latter would simply replace my own interpretation of the faith with that of others.  I believe God is more nuanced than that.  God meets us where we are, I keep hearing.  God does not offer mere off-the-rack uniform answers to everyone's questions.  God customizes His plan for each of us.

Moving forward, this is what I have to say about my Catholic identity:  I may question the virgin birth, the literalness of the resurrection and ascension into heaven.  I may take with a grain of salt various miracle stories, both from the time of Jesus and the age of the Church.  I may disagree with some of the social teachings of the Church to varying degrees.  And yet, I am Catholic.

This is what a common, every-day, imperfect yet hopeful Catholic looks like.  Take it or leave it, but if everyone who wastes their breath on condemning my self-labeling as false would instead spend that effort on bettering themselves, they'd be that much closer to the kingdom of God.  Don't worry about the speck in my eye - first remove the plank from your own eye, people!  (Mathew 7:5)  I can't believe I've allowed others to keep me from walking hand in hand with my Maker, on our own terms. This is what works for our relationship.  Be happy that I am still seeking God.  Many others are run straight into the ground with the naysayers and holier-than-thous who miss the entire point of Jesus's ministry.

I think the best thing I can do is start from the beginning.  I'm a newbie.  I'm no theologian, no saint, no biblical scholar.  I'm just a person looking for meaning in my life, hoping to leave the world a bit better than how I found it, and I want to do so with the help of Catholic tradition, ritual, and scholarship.  I'm no better - and no worse - than any other Catholic.

With this statement, I stand convicted of the times I have indeed judged fellow Catholics as not living up to the Catholic ideal, whatever that may be.  I had the certainty of literal faith for a time, but I let it elevate my self-importance.  Now I am reminded that faith is a gift from God, and I am grateful for whatever kind of faith I am given.

Thank you Lord for meeting me where I am.  Always.

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