I’d like to begin by highlighting three main points about the Catholic Church: (1) the non-negotiables of Catholicism (the basic beliefs a person must adhere to in order to be a Roman Catholic), (2) an understanding of the essential meaning of Catholic worship (the Mass, in particular), and (3) the concept of the Catholic Church as a "big umbrella."
The Non-Negotiables of Catholic Belief
Through centuries, believers have tried to make religion/Christianity complicated.
Jesus kept it simple—only a few non-negotiables for his followers:
• There is a God and this supreme being loves us.
• Jesus, the Christ (messiah) is truly human and divine—Son of God (equal).
• Everyone has salvation in Christ (whether they believe in him or not).
-- Jesus simplified religion: only 2 commandments (love God and love each other). That’s everything we need to know.
-- After Jesus, early Christians had to organize and introduce regulations for good order, but the challenge is to avoid drowning in rules and regulations. Two thousand years later, Catholics and other Christians still grapple with the temptation to complicate religion.
• Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified.
• Initiation into Christ is primarily through baptism with water (there are exceptions).
• Christians continue the life and work of Christ in the world—Jesus lives in and through us.
-- We find the presence of Christ in three primary ways:
People of God (i.e., in each other and all Christian believers—and every human being)
• There is a historical link of service and leadership from Jesus to the present through:
(1) an unbroken line of ordinary Christians performing deeds of love, mercy, and justice, and
(2) an unbroken line spiritual leaders (popes) who are the successors of Peter.
-- The history of Roman Catholicism is one of great saints and great sinners (and everything in between.
-- For the first three centuries, Christians were persecuted for their faith and lived in hiding.
-- In the fourth century and afterwards, Christians gained the upper hand politically and became a state-recognized religion. Sadly, those in power often used their position to persecute others.
-- Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) in the 1960s made tolerance for all people and religions a cornerstone of Catholic belief (but there’s something in human nature that rejects that spirit). It’s an ongoing, historical struggle.
The Essence of Catholic Worship
There are four basic elements of Catholic worship. We:
• Gather the folks: Catholics value community over isolated faith and worship.
• Tell our stories: (1) Hebrew and New Testament writings (some history, moral guidance, faith, tips for living in the world), (2) homily/sermon (preachers sharing their faith journey), (3) socializing before and after Mass (sharing our own stories of life and faith).
• Break bread: We share the Eucharist—bread/wine become the body/blood of Christ.
• Make a difference: We go out into the world to be the hands, feet, eyes, ears, and heart of Jesus, changing what needs to be changed to make the world a better place.
“Here Comes Everybody” (The Big Umbrella Metaphor)
• At birth, we are born into our nuclear families; we have extended (blood relation) families; and people we pick up along the way (pseudo-aunts/uncles/cousins).
• Catholics believe that baptism introduces (initiates) them to a new and much bigger family—the worldwide family of Christ and we become his brothers and sisters.
• As in every family, there is a bond of love that can never be broken (but can be pretty beaten up) and there are differences of opinion about how to express that love.
• Key message is that the Roman Catholic Church is a “big ALL-INCLUSIVE umbrella” and there’s room for everyone (conservatives and liberals; activists and hermits; straight and gay; extroverts and introverts; saints and sinners). Good thing!
-- You’ll find a lot of diversity and controversy in the Catholic Churcyh, but we like it that way.
• Our common quest: How can we best be faithful to the person and teachings of Jesus Christ?
(c) 2004, Alfred J. Garrotto