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Saturday, 19 May 2012

Do Catholics Know Who They Are?

One of my favorite movies is Lawrence of Arabia. It is an epic film, worthy of all the praise it has received over the years. The saddest scene for me is at the end, when Lawrence is leaving Egypt to return to England. He is in an army vehicle with a driver. The soldier says to him something to the effect that Lawrence must be glad to be going home. Lawrence has no home. He stands up in the jeep and looks at a small group of Bedouins, his only family in the past few years of the tale.  This scene echoes an earlier one, on purpose, when Lawrence had crossed the Sinai after the Battle of Aqaba, and ended up at the Suez Canal. A British soldier yells across the water, "Who are you? Who are you?" Identity, not having one, finding one, losing one, is one of the themes of the movie.

I am struck with the identity crisis of many Catholics, those in the media and those in my parish. At one time, Catholics could and would identify themselves as "Catholic", that is, as members of the One, True, Holy and Catholic Church. Identity was based on the sacrament of Baptism, making one a son or daughter of God, a member of a larger community which is the universal Church, as well as a member of the local parish.

Being Catholic meant that one was living a life of grace, by receiving the sacraments on a daily or weekly basis, reading Catholic literature and news, studying the Faith, and raising one's family to be Catholic. Being Catholic meant following the Ten Commandments, the Laws of the Church regarding Holy Days of Obligation, fasting, abstinence, tithing and so on. Being Catholic meant having friends and a social network of Catholics, from whom one's children would meet and marry other Catholics and carry on the heritage and identity of Catholicism.

Being a Catholic was being proud of belonging to the Church instituted by Christ--the Church created by Christ Himself to save and impart grace. Being a Catholic was the first identity, followed by being an American, or British, or Irish or whatever.

There were no such things as "liberal Catholics", "gay Catholics", "charismatic Catholics", "Latino Catholics" or "Catholic feminists". We were all just Catholics. We were proud to be Catholic.

What happened? How did Catholics lose their identity and choose other identities, such as those based on gender, sexual inclinations, liturgy,  politics, or nationality? Why were other identities taking the place of the most important identity? Why does one of my friends identify himself with being a gay Catholic? I do not primarily identify myself as being a heterosexual Catholic. I am much, much more than my sexuality, and so is he, but he limits himself.

We are in a dangerous position of fragmentation, both personally and corporately, owing to a misunderstanding of who we are as individuals and as the Church. I do not say "Church" without "the", as there is only one.

Fragmentation of an identity, either in a community or, worse, in a person, leads to a bi-polar existence, as we all must have some definition about who we are. We live according to how we define ourselves. That has been a large part of my previous discussion here on socialism, and how it re-defines humans outside of the definition of human taught by the Catholic Church.

In the old Baltimore Catechism, the question of identity was foremost in the presentation of Truth.

Who made you? God made me. Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and  to praise Him in the next.

There are variations, but the answer is one of identity.

Does it matter, that we know that we are children of God, heirs of heaven, sharers in the life of God, which is grace? Does it matter that we have an end which is eternal and that all of our actions lead and bear upon the choices leading to that end?

I see that the trend of the last several decades to re-define ourselves into sub-groupings is actually an existential thrashing about to find a lost identity. We have complicated definition by setting aside priorities. The origin and goal of anything determine its existence. We are spiritual being by creation, body and soul,  and have a spiritual goal-heaven, eternity, love, glorified body and soul. Where we are going determines how we get there and who we are, returning to our intended place of destiny. We were thrown out of the Garden of Eden and the Church brings us into the Kingdom of God. Our place determines who we are--nurture and nature.

We are not merely material, although that is part of who we are. We are not defined by our sexual tendencies, although we are identified by our gender. I am a daughter of the King, and you, dear reader, may be a son of God. We have the same Father, and we are family.

Whether the lost Catholic identity may be found I do not know. It is a tragedy of culture and of personal salvation. The lack of personal identity was the tragedy of a real man, T. E. Lawrence. The lack of our identity as Catholics weakens the Church as a whole and our own characters.

The saints are those who most fully discovered who they were and where they were going, and how to get there. We have them as guides. We have the Church giving us our identities in Christ. The sacraments mark times of identity-baptism, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, last rites....and those in-between for our nourishment-Eucharist and confession.

I pray for all those who have not found out who they are and for those who are confused. We need that center of being, our identity in God, as Catholics.

Mary knew who she was when she prayed the Magnificat. She is complete, body and soul in heaven.

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever.