Catholic identity part 2 of 2

Living as Disciples

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Photo by Mike Connors

By Thomas Groome

Produced in partnership between Boston College and Today’s Parish

This is the second of a two-part essay that examines dimensions and implications of our Catholic identity for lived Christian faith. In Part 1, Professor Thomas Groome considered the deep convictions of our Catholic faith that serve as the foundation for our shared identity. Faith in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, in people, and in life: these give shape to our Catholic identity as they come to expression in us as persons and communities. In this second essay Groome examines other key elements of our Catholic faith that sustain our lives as disciples, as apprentices to the ways of Jesus.

At the Last Supper as recounted in the Gospel of John, Jesus conveyed to those gathered the essences of discipleship: to live lives that are reflective of God's love. Having promised the gift of the Spirit as comforter and guide, Jesus gave the disciples a "new commandment”—that they love as he had loved, and he loved as God loves. Then he added, "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:31-36). Forever after, then, trying to love as our God and Jesus loves, this was to be the identifying sign of discipleship. The struggle to live faithfully to this mandate must always be the identifying story and vision of our lives as Catholic Christians. Within this "greatest commandment;' we can readily recognize some particular convictions and mandates that combine to lend us our Catholic identity in faith.

Faith in community and church. God made us relational beings; we are "made for each other." Our faith teaches that our highest human calling—our fullest identity as human beings—is to live in loving and caring relationships with God, ourselves, each other, and the world. So, we must work together in human communities for the common good of all; a central aspect of Catholic ethics is this emphasis on the common good and everyone's responsibility to care, not just for ourselves but for each other. Then, as a community of Jesus' disciples, the Holy Spirit bonds Christians together like the "Body of Christ" to carry on God's saving mission in Jesus. Within our Catholic community, we inherit the faith handed down to us through both Scripture and tradition. These are the sources of God's revelation to our lives now—the faith of our people over time—guided by the teaching magisterium of the church.

Faith is whole, requiring us to invest "all our mind, heart, and strength" (Mk 12:33) in living as disciples of Jesus. Our Catholic faith has the capacity to shape our convictions, relationships, and activities, what we believe, our prayer and worship, the ethics and values by which we live. Lived in this life, the great and sure promise is that such faith brings us home to God; as the old Catechism taught well, we are to "know, love, and serve" God in this life to be "happy forever in the next.”

Faith demands us to work for justice and peace, to practice mercy and compassion at every level of existence-personal, communal, and social-political. Catholic faith places great social responsibilities upon its adherents. We cannot fulfill the greatest commandment simply by personal one-on-one charity to the needy and victimized; we must also try to change the social structures that cause people to be poor and oppressed in the first place. It is not enough simply to pray "thy kingdom come"; we must ever try to do God's will of fullness of life for all "on earth as it is in heaven."

Faith calls to holiness after the way of Jesus, to live as his disciples-apprentices-trying to love as he loved. Our faith teaches us the phenomenal truth that our God first loves us. Then, through baptism, God calls all Christians to grow ever more deeply into awareness of and response to God's unconditional love. Echoing the biblical sense of both holiness and justice, we are to grow in "right and loving relationship" with God, ourselves, others, and all creation.

Faith honors Mary and the saints. Mary has pride of place among the communion of saints because of her crucial role in the work of our salvation. As fully human as well as fully divine, Jesus had to be raised and taught like every other child. Imagine the influence that Mary had on his outlook on life, on his values, on his commitments. Then, because he was truly the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and yet born from her womb, we honor Mary with the august title "mother of God.” Likewise, as Jesus on the cross gave Mary to the disciple John as a mother, so we believe that she is the "mother in faith" of all beloved disciples-ourselves. We can ask Mary to pray with us and for us to her divine Son, and likewise the saints who are in God's eternal presence.

Much as we can pray for the living or ask those living to pray for us, so we can ask the saints to intercede for us or we can intercede for the departed who may be still making their way home to God. In this Christian community, the bond of baptism is never broken, not even by death.

Faith that is "catholic.” From the Greek, katha halos meaning "to include everyone" our community should be truly catholic first in that we have a sense of being deeply bonded-like the parts of a body-with the world-wide Catholic community. Then, we should be catholic in that we welcome and fully include all comers in our local parish community. If a Catholic parish is truly catholic, then it communicates clearly that "all are welcome.” Catholicity also requires us to include everyone in our care and concern, without borders, and, according to St. Augustine, to be open to the truth wherever it can be found.

Reflection and conversation
Name some of the ways that you recognize your daily efforts to live the “greatest commandment.”

What are some of your greatest challenges to loving as Jesus loved?

Jesus would have known well from his Jewish faith the commandment to love God and neighbor as oneself. So, why do you think he called it “a new commandment”?

For your own faith
Reread these deep convictions of our Catholic faith. (You may also want to go back over the ones listed in Part 1 of this series.)

What do you recognize as a deep calling to your own faith? For your own growth in holiness?

For your ministry
Imagine some ways to help deepen the Catholic identity of your own ministry; to make it more clearly “Catholic” in the richest sense of the term.

How can you share such Catholic faith more effectively through your ministry?

The body of Christ
For us Christians,
   being part of the church
   is being part of the Body of Christ
      with Christ as head
      and ourselves as members.
We see ourselves as a
sign to the world,
   a sacrament to the world
   that shows forth Christ,
      that is, Love Revealed.
We are, in a word, the
family of Christ,
   the household of Love.
The church has a certain structure
   to help it achieve its mission.
But the church is born entirely from Christ,
   so even its structure
   is one of service.
And this structure,
   along with all the members
   of the church,
   and all aspects of church life
      are given the Spirit of Love
      and flow from that Spirit as well.
That is the real meaning
of what happened
   on Pentecost itself.
The Spirit of Divine Love,
   flowing out into the community,
   awakened within certain members
      the gifts needed for ministry.
These gifts continue to flow today.

From The Growing Faith Project booklet 17· "With Whom do You Gather?" based on articles 753-757 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Thomas Groome

Thomas Groome is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. He is a Roman Catholic layman and the author of a number of books on religious education. Dr. Groome has lectured widely throughout the United States and abroad.