How do people know that we are Catholic?
The Joy of the Amish Children
A few weeks ago, I was driving to my sister’s house in Ashland, Ohio. Around that area, we are blessed to have the largest settlement of Amish in the world. We are accustomed to seeing horse-drawn black buggies, neat clotheslines full of black and dark purple clothing, tidy farms, and plain white houses with no shutters or electrical lines.
As I came over the crest of a hill near an Amish school on that Sunday afternoon, a pick-up game of baseball among teenage boys was just ending. As the boys were gathering balls and bats behind home plate, Amish girls in open horse-carts and bicycles began peeling away from the school down the road in front of me. The joy in their laughter, as the wind blew through their bonnets and ruffled their aprons, was contagious.
Two girls riding bicycles quickly grabbed onto the sides of a horse-cart, allowing the horse to pull them effortlessly up and over the hills. They were squealing with delight as I carefully passed them. Riding simple black bicycles next to open black carts, they were having the time of their lives. It was the pure and simple joy of creative ingenuity under a picture-perfect blue sky day. In being set apart from the world, they found joy in God’s simplest gifts: the wind, the sun, and a horse pulling them faster than their own two feet could take them. I wanted to keep that picture in my mind, as it begged for further pondering.
Faith and Fasting for Ramadan
It came back to me last week as Ramadan began. We are also blessed to live among a large and well-established Muslim population in Toledo, and as has always been the case, many Muslim children attend our Catholic schools. What was unusual for us this year, however, was that we had two middle school students who stated that they were going to do the fast, which is normally only required of adults as one of the five pillars of Islam.
When I asked my 6th grader why he wanted to do the fast this year, he explained that it would help him to understand what homeless and hungry people felt like. Would it be difficult to be around all of the other students who are eating? Would he like to go to the library when the others are in the lunchroom?
No, he stated with a joyful grin, it would make him more proud and determined to follow his faith. He found joy by setting himself apart from the world.
This prompts the question: How do we Catholics set ourselves apart?
Loss of Catholic Identity
Unfortunately, we are risking the loss of our Catholic identity and our joy by accommodating the world too much. In the U.S., we don’t need to worry as much about being persecuted for our faith, but rather in allowing our faith to die by our own neglect and narcissism. We have become too soft, too flaccid, and too self-absorbed—much like the world that we are supposed to be setting on fire.
In the Acts of Apostles, it is stated several times that people knew the Christians by their actions and their joy: their care for the sick, the orphaned, the poor, the widows, and their willingness to be happily martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. Christians refused to support abortions, refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, and refused to put themselves first. Today, one wonders how many Catholics could remotely compare their faith to that of those early Christians.
Recently, Ireland, whose monks evangelized the world, voted to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution which protected the lives of the unborn. We all know self-defined Catholics who claim to be “pro-choice” or support same-sex “marriage.” Sadly, parents commonly bring their children in for sacramental preparation, and then fail to bring them to Mass. Others complain that the priest is being “political” by talking about abortion or “un-Christian” by forbidding a non-Catholic to receive Communion or be a godparent at Baptism.
How can we tell the difference between such people and someone who has no faith at all? Other than ashes on our foreheads once a year, how can people tell that we are Catholic? Unfortunately, far too many believe that they have the right to define Catholicism.
The truth is that no one should call themselves Catholic unless they accept the tenets of our Church. This may seem like a commonsense statement, but it is amazing how many people claim the right to disagree with those Catholic tenets they don’t like. So many “self-defined Catholics” hang up Advent calendars, attend the Children’s Christmas Mass, and buy the most beautiful First Communion dress for their daughters, but do absolutely nothing else which sets them apart from the world as Catholics were meant to be.
Practices of the Practical Catholic
A faithful Catholic will:
- Make Mass attendance a priority, become a member of a parish, and revolve Sundays and Holy Days around those two things.
- Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly.
- Be an example of modesty, temperance, and chastity in dress, home, speech, consumption of goods, and sexuality.
- Teach family members the basic Catholic prayers, and pray daily with family, especially before meals and bedtime.
- Raise children to find their joy not in this world, but with Jesus and their faith, putting God’s laws before any other, and trusting in His will.
- Hang a crucifix in each room of their home in order to remind everyone of the Paschal Mystery which is central to our faith.
- Generously support the poor, the homeless, and the needy with gifts of time, talent, and treasure.
- Proclaim and support marriage between a man and a woman, and the birth of children to a married mother and father.
- Be unashamedly pro-life, supporting the rights to life of the unborn, the disabled, the sick and dying, and those cast out from society, and, if married, always be open to life, trusting in God’s will.
- Know that sin is real, and God’s truth does not change.
Can anyone clearly see that you are a Catholic?
If not, then perhaps you should call yourself something else.