By Kedda Keough
As a cradle Catholic I took my identity as “Catholic” for
granted. I attended Catholic schools
through college, and pursued my Master of Divinity in a Jesuit University. It seemed to me that I knew what it meant to
be Catholic. Now I discover that putting
words on what is “Catholic Identity”, especially in light of moving from the
Roman way of being Catholic to the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, has been very
challenging. I have come up with some
bullet points that are important to me and I offer them to you for your
consideration. Much more could be
written about each bullet point, but I wanted to keep this reflection as short
Catholic Identity means we are:
- Eucharistic. All that Catholics do flows toward the
“Breaking of the Bread”, and all we will do flows out of Eucharist. Eucharist is at the very center of being
Catholic. Being a Eucharistic
people is the chief identifier of being Catholic. We bring ourselves, and all that we are
and do, to the table. We come with
thanksgiving. We recognize Christ
and we recognize the Body of Christ in the Breaking of the Bread. We are sent out (ita missa est) to transform creation.
- Incarnational. We Catholics use the stuff of creation
to express mystery. We are earthy people
and use the stuff of earth to speak to us about God and mystery. We know that the way IN to people is
through their senses. Often this
stuff is what people think of as showing their identity as Catholics. There is lots of “Catholic stuff”: Holy water, oils, bread, wine, candles, bishops,
priests, deacons, ashes, palms, holy cards, rosaries,
pictures/icons/statues of saints, colors, altar, ambo, font, tabernacle,
etc. Our symbols need to be “done
large” so they speak well.
- Sacramental. Catholics highlight the stages of life
through ritual and celebration. These
sacraments are transformative, celebrating change; celebrating new life. There are at least 7 sacraments, and I
would not be opposed to having more.
- Graced. Grace is the starting place for our theological
understanding of the relationship between God and Creation. All that is created
is good. We begin by seeing all
humans as created in the image of God.
People are basically good.
- Charismatic. Church is based on the active presence
of the Holy Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit for the community. The Spirit of God acts in the Church. It
is the Spirit of God that acts in sacraments, blessings, etc. Epiklesis.
of Saints. There is a continuum of
relatedness of those who have gone before us, those who are alive today,
and those who will come after us. We
are one. We are on a common
journey; we are a pilgrim people, streaming through time. Note, Catholics believe in the
afterlife, and saints are very good at symbolizing that belief.
Common Good. Our moral stance is
communal. Preference is given to
that which is best for the common good, not just to what is best for one
individual. Even in individual
choices we ask: if everyone did
this, what would be the consequences on society as a whole? Social Justice – seeing that everyone
gets their share of resources for a good life -- is a key ingredient in
- Revelation. Our faith tradition is based on the
fullness of revelation, past, present and future, not “Bible Only”. Scripture is incarnational: God’s revelation as given through very
human means, conditioned by time, place and culture. Our understanding grows.
- Inclusive. Catholics means “here comes
everybody.” Catholics have unity
with diversity; we are the big umbrella.
Not only are we inclusive of all people, we are inclusive of all
prayer types and spiritualities, from contemplative to charismatic; from
“rote” prayers to centering prayer; inclusive of liturgical expressions
from chant to dance.
- Absorbent. Catholicism takes in culture and
transforms it, rather than rejects it.
From Christmas trees to Easter eggs, to spiritual practices, to
feast days themselves, we absorb culture and make it part of us. Nothing human is foreign to us.