I perceive a problem with Catholics. Not all Catholics. Just a clique that for one reason or another I have been exposed to more lately than I have in the past. They are the ones who put being Catholic ahead of being Christian. They are also the same group who would immediately correct that statement saying they are one in the same; to be Catholic is to be Christian. But they are wrong. It is possible to be Catholic without any notion whatsoever of what it is to be Christian.
This group will tell you that in order to be a good Catholic (read into that Christian) it is imperative that you attend Mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation without fail, that you must partake of the sacraments, and that you must believe every word put forth by the Magisterium without question. Some will insist that if you take the Eucharist in your hand instead of on your tongue then you are being disrespectful to Christ. The list of rules that one must adhere to, according to this crowd, in order to be a good Catholic/Christian is long and rigid and bordering on the Pharisaical.
I have a reason for saying this because some of these people, in fact far too many of these people, will insist on undeviating adherence to Catholic doctrine and will forgot that one of the primary aspects of being a Christian (Catholic or otherwise) is to show the love of Christ in our lives. So when I hear about someone who goes to confession because she missed Mass on Sunday and in the next breath tears down a brother in Christ because he doesn’t conform to her standards of dress and appearance I have to wonder if she is being more Catholic than Christian. When I see someone partake of the blessed sacrament of the Eucharist then brag on his way out of church how earlier he gave a panhandler a piece of his mind rather than the $5 bill that was in his pocket I have to wonder if he is being more Catholic than Christian. You get the picture.
When Jesus was asked what was the most important of all the commandments he responded that it was to love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. He went on to say that the second most important was to love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:36-40) He also told us, when He was teaching about ministering to the needy, that what we do to the least of these we do to Him. (Matthew 25:31-45)
I love the Catholic religion, folks. I have been nearer to God since returning to Catholicism as an adult than I had been in any other denomination or faith tradition I’ve explored. But sometimes I want to take some of my Catholic brothers and sisters and shake them by the collar. We are the face of Christ on this Earth. Do we want that face to be scowling and stern? We are the voice of Christ to the world. Do we want that voice pouring forth judgment and scorn? We are the ministering hands of Christ to a broken and hurting world. Do we want those hands being miserly or inflicting pain? Reaching out to those in need, working for social justice and upholding the dignity of every human being, spreading the healing love of Christ, that should be our primary goal, not adhering to every jot and tittle of doctrine.
We should be Christians first and Catholics second, not the other way around. The Catholic church is there to serve us, not to be served by us. The Catholic religion is not the be all and end all of our faith journey, it is the sign post that moves us on to greater things, a stronger relationship with God, and unity with our brothers and sisters. All the bits and pieces of Catholic teaching are there to help us grow and become holy (whole and complete). Receiving the Eucharist doesn’t get us there, understanding what it means is what gets us there. The Sacrament of Reconciliation doesn’t get us there, understanding what it means gets us there. Partaking of all that the amazing gifts the Church offers and then keeping it to ourselves only makes us guilty of the sins of selfishness and pride. If we don’t take what God offers us in all the gifts of the Catholic church and pay it forward to those we encounter every day then the gifts that God has given in the Mass and the Eucharist are wasted. If those blessings do not move out past the church doors and out past ourselves then you might just as well have taken the Eucharist, crushed it your hand and tossed it on the floor. (Matthew 25:14-30)
Jesus was the personification of the love of God. As his followers, where do we have the right to neglect to strive to be the same?
© 2012 M. Romeo LaFlamme
Image: Christ and the Canaanite Woman; Germain-Jean Drouais, c.1784