Living the Catholic Faith Within Our Culture
by Bishop Tod D Brown
We now live in a society quite different from what we had when most of us grew up, regardless of the culture that nurtured us. Those of us of a certain age became Catholic by a kind of osmosis. Like the air we breathed, our faith seemed to have always been there. We discovered it in and through the culture in which we were immersed: by the way our families celebrated holidays, by the religious images that hung around our necks and the statues that adorned our bedroom bureaus and our dashboards.
We lived with the consistent religious example of those we saw in our families and among our friends. Our imaginations were inspired by the lives of the saints; our weary souls were soothed by the smell of incense as we entered the darkened church; and, yes, our desires and actions were often challenged by the high moral expectations of the Church. Our Catholic faith seemed all around us; something so customary and comfortable as to be taken for granted.
Times have changed and there is much that is worrying about our current society. Channel surf your television and you’ll see people passionate to win the million dollar prize on the game show, or to be the beautiful woman selected by the handsome stranger on the "reality" show. Surf the Internet and your search engines will display information and images about every conceivable thing, and not all on view is worthy of your viewing. Among the many inspiring and entertaining movies playing at the local multiplex, you find those that glorify violence or cater to one’s prurient interests.
In this environment we have now come to think of ourselves more and more often as individuals rather than members of a community, a people who are committed to a common good. We hear ourselves referred to as consumers, not citizens, since the prevailing engine of our society is considered to be our economy, not the sharing of our lives and those lasting values that cannot be bought or sold.
My goal here is not to deplore our culture or to bemoan the evils of society but to simply point out how we Catholics have to be more realistic about how our increasingly secular and changing civilization can and does have harmful effects on our Catholic character and convictions. For years, parents and educators have complained about these effects on our youngsters, but they affect each and every one of us. To remain true, our Catholic-Christian faith today must become more countercultural. We Catholics must never forget that our essential decisions must be more informed by the teachings of Jesus than the cold pragmatism of a consumer economy or our personal whims. . . .
If we want to be known more as dedicated, committed Catholics than as successful consumers, our formation in our Catholic faith will have to have enough muscle to keep us from succumbing to all those intemperate desires that can keep us from becoming the saints Jesus has invited us to become. It will focus us more on the lives of others, especially those in need, and less on ourselves and the satisfaction of our desires. . . .
Jesus warns us, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Mt. 26:41). How many of us have ended an inspiring retreat or parish mission with the determination to draw closer to Christ, only to find that this new enthusiasm cools all too quickly? One reason is that our flesh loves the present comforts; it doesn’t want anything but equilibrium. It’s like a beloved dog that is quite content to lie at your feet on the floor and sleep. On the other hand, the graces that God offers us are given to change us. They are like a personal trainer you might meet at the gym encouraging more and more improvement and effort. "No pain, no gain," says grace, and this, despite our best intentions, we often vigorously resist. Change is difficult. If it were not so, wouldn’t we all be skinnier and healthier and have more money stashed away in our savings accounts? Without a more steadfast faith, all of us may find we will not have what we need when we are tested by illness, tragedy, sin, violence, or abuse.
Loving Our Faith
A wise man once warned, "Do not ask someone who loves you why they love you. If they say they love you because you are beautiful, will they still love you when your looks fade? If they love you for your wit and charm, what will happen when your mind loses its edge? If they love you because of your talents or skills, will they fall out of love for you when you lose your timing or your muse or your highly developed motor skills? No, you are only really loved by those who, when asked why they love you, answer, ‘I cannot say.’" In the end, we’ll only pour out our whole selves for what we love, not what we merely admire. That’s why Pope John Paul II said to the youth gathered in Toronto a few years ago, "If you love Jesus, love his Church. At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent."
Some like the Church’s rich tradition, her theological prowess, and artistic achievements. Others like the Church for the example of her saints, mystics, prophets, and martyrs. Many are attracted to the Church because they found the help and support they needed from a caring priest, religious, or parishioner; it was their refuge in difficult times, the beacon that showed them the way. Not a few remember with affection the Church that gave them character and backbone as they were growing up. Others admire the Church for what she is to become at the end of time, that new and shining Jerusalem above. All of these (and many others) are quite admirable, but real love for the Church exists beyond these attributes and endures even when the Church does not meet our expectations or hopes.
The Church is also a church of sinners, the church ever in need of reform. Faithful love remains alive even during our times of disappointment, disenchantment, and frustration with the Church. The pain of disillusionment with the Church is, in fact, all the more poignant and difficult because of our high expectations. "Faith consists in reacting before God as Mary did," the late Archbishop Oscar Romero once explained, "I don’t understand it, Lord, but let it be done to me according to your will."
Bishop Tod D. Brown’s 2006 pastoral letter, "Learning, Loving, and Living Your Faith," challenges Catholics in the Diocese of Orange, California, to make a personal commitment to strengthening their faith in Christ and their Catholic identity. CUF’s Mary, Mother of the Eucharist Chapter in Orange recently pledged its support for the pastoral initiative. To read the complete letter or to view the accompanying video/DVD, The Letter, visit the diocesan website at www.rcbo.org.
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This article first published in the July/August edition of Lay Witness Magazine and reproduced with permission of Catholics United for the Faith
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