What does it mean to be Catholic?

By | February 25, 2009

“The heart of the Christian faith is not the Bible, nor the sacraments, nor the creed nor the church, vital as all these are,” Bishop Ricken said. “But it is a person, the person of Jesus Christ.”

While Catholics don’t say, “I know Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior,” Bishop Ricken said, “we believe that we are all called to a personal relationship with Jesus. Through our baptism we’re immersed in that mystery and invited over and over and over to grow in our understanding of who we are in our relationship with Christ, both personally and as the church.”

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Bishop David Ricken, pictured delivering a homily at St. Joseph Chapel on the diocesan ground in Allouez on Feb. 5, offered a presentation about the Catholic faith Feb. 17 at Resurrection Parish. (Sam Lucero photo)


Catholicism is about a living relationship with a person, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, and to live as he did, Bishop Ricken said.

In addition, Catholics have nine things in common, Bishop Ricken said in a talk that mixed humor, audience participation and an easy rapport. The nine things are:

n Positive understanding of the person. Martin Luther taught that the human condition is corrupt and grace is like a cloak which covers that, he said. Catholicism believes that the human person is fundamentally good, though compromised by original sin. Grace from Christ’s death and resurrection redeems us and helps restore our sense of goodness. Our defense of life and social justice flow from this understanding of the value of humans.

“Grace is not a thing,” he said, “Grace is the living and loving presence of God in the church, in the world – because there’s goodness in the world – and in us.”

n Committed to community. “We are called to a communion with one another in the sacramental life of the church,” he said. “Catholicism has consistently taught that God creates us as communal beings, making us responsible for and to each other.”

Anyone who thinks they are self-sufficient or that “it’s all about me” – subjectivism – is wrong and will get into trouble, Bishop Ricken said.

n Sacramental outlook. This invites us to see God in all the things and events in our lives, he said. We use signs and symbols – water, oil and actions – to express our love for God and the church. We do that through the seven sacraments and believe that Jesus was the greatest sacrament – an outward sign of God’s love for us. He recommended “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Br. Lawrence as a spirituality that expresses sacramentality.

n Catholics cherish Scripture and Tradition. “‘As Catholics we interpret Scripture and Tradition within the church, guided by its teaching magisterium – the pope and bishops in union with him,'” Bishop Ricken said, quoting Groome.

“One of the greatest things that Vatican II gave us was the ability to read and pray the Bible and not feel guilty,” Bishop Ricken said. He recommended using lectio divina to pray the Bible and prepare for Sunday liturgy. Daily use, based on each day’s liturgical readings, allows an individual to read from most books of the Bible every three years, he said.

n Catholics embrace holistic faith. “‘There is no aspect of our lives from which our faith can be excluded. It should permeate every nook and cranny, on Mondays as well as Sundays. Likewise, faith should be exercised on every level of existence – the personal, interpersonal and political,'” he said, quoting Groome.

n Commitment to justice, peace and life. It’s not just me and God or Jesus, Bishop Ricken said, “but how am I reflecting that love for Christ in the world in which I live. How am I caring for the poor, the corporal works of mercy, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry?” We are all called to engage in these activities in some way, to give ourselves away, he said.

n Universal spirituality. Catholic spirituality puts faith to work, unlike New Age or counterfeit spiritualities that see the self as all-important and dismiss the cross, suffering, giving, sacrifice, community and service.

n Catholics are catholic. As James Joyce put it, “catholic means ‘here comes everybody,'” Bishop Ricken said. The more we accept people of every class and color in our churches the more Catholic we are. That stretches our patience and requires extra effort, he said, but that’s what being Catholic means. We also need to respect and listen to people of different religions and dialogue with them.

n Devotion to Mary. “Any Catholic worth his or her salt has some relationship with Mary going and should have it going. Mary is not God, of course, but Mary is a wonderful example for all of us of what it means to be a good and faithful disciple. I don’t know about you, but she’s helped me out of many a fix. I call on her all the time. Somehow when maybe Jesus seems a little far away she’s right there for you,” he said.

Bishop Ricken said he hopes the church will concentrate on moving toward a deeper spirituality within church tradition. That means recognizing that we all are called to holiness, he said.

In answering questions, Bishop Ricken said the Saturday vigil Mass recognizes the ancient Jewish practice of beginning the day at sunset; vigil Masses anticipate Sunday.

Concerning Bible studies, he recommended Catholic programs, such as the Little Rock Scripture Study, personally or in a group, and using a Catholic translation of the Bible.

Bishop Ricken said his dream concerning abortion – which he called the most fundamental social justice issue – is that the doctors go to their clinics and find they have no clients. We need to use various means to bring that about, he said. In the end, it will take a conversion of heart, which requires prayer, fasting and sacrifice.

Concerning Catholics who do not follow tradition, particularly in a political sense, Bishop Ricken said the best way to respond is for pastors or bishops to meet with individuals, go over what they believe and why, explain Catholic belief and let them know that this is a matter of conscience and that there might be consequences.

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