What do you think it means to have faith? What does it mean to be a Catholic Christian?
When I was in seventh grade, my grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a special mass at their home parish. In hopes of getting the family involved, they asked my sister and me if we would be the altar servers for the mass, since we both served in this capacity in our parish. Of course, we said yes, but the priest of their parish said no. At that time, the Vatican had not yet approved female altar servers, and my grandparents’ parish upheld the Vatican position.
The back page of Spirit this week asks, “What does being a Catholic Christian mean?” Were my sister and I somehow less Catholic (or not Catholic) because we belonged to a Catholic parish that allowed girls to be altar servers even though the Vatican had not specifically approved this? Were we less Catholic (or not Catholic) for serving and participating in our parish community in this way?
The answer to these questions depends a lot on how you understand faith. When people think of faith, they often think first of belief. In this understanding, faith is a noun that describes what a person believes in or professes to be true. The basic belief of a Christian is in expressed in the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
(I want to note here that it is possible to say that you believe the Apostles’ Creed and still have questions and doubts about it at times. Having faith does not mean that you can never ask questions.)
But on top of professing a basic belief in the major points of Christian faith, many people also think of faith as demanding allegiance to and acceptance of all that the powers that be in the church teach. In the Roman Catholic church, this would mean agreeing with the teachings of the Vatican. If this was the extent of what it means to be a Catholic Christian, maybe you could have questioned my Catholicity (and the Catholicity of my entire parish!) back in the early 1990s.
But faith is not just a noun; it does not stop only with what a person believes. Faith is also a verb, an action, a way of being in the world. Faith in Jesus means following the example and living as he lived. I do not want to say that belief is not important for faith, because it does play an important part. But when we read the gospels, we are not confronted with a Jesus who says, “Make sure you believe x, y, and z.” We are confronted with a person whose entire life revolved around love of God and love of neighbor, especially the neighbors that society excludes or demeans (women, children, tax collectors, sinners, lepers, the poor, the demon-possessed, etc.). When asked what it meant to follow him, Jesus said things like, “Give away all of your possessions” and “Take up your cross and follow me.” Ultimately, living as Catholic Christian means acting on our faith, living as Christ lived, and loving those we encounter in the world.
In the past number of weeks, Ellie Roscher and I have been reflecting on the themes of Catholic social teaching in this blog. When I think about these themes, I can see them as a guide to give us more detail about how we are to live with Jesus’ love in the world. We are called to:
- Treat all human beings with the respect due to them as children of God
- Participate in families and society, seeking the common good and the well-being of all
- Work for the protection of human rights and for the rights of workers and carry out our responsibilities to each other
- Put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first, as we work for justice in all corners of the world
- Act as stewards of God’s creation, protecting people and the planet from ecological degradation
Grounded in God’s love, when we strive to live out the call to love our neighbor through the principles of Catholic social teaching, we truly live as Catholic Christians, embodying Christ in the world.
Do you think of faith more as a noun or more as a verb?
How do you live as a Catholic Christian in your day-to-day life? By what actions would someone know that you are a Catholic Christian?
Photo courtesy of vauvau via Creative Commons License