Searching for Catholic identity

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Saturday, 25 September 2010 12:44
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The diocesan-wide eXclaim! festival in August was a celebration of youth (for all ages), music and Catholic faith. It was the first of its kind within the Toledo Diocese and well deserves all the acclaim it has received.

I spent all day on the grounds as both local and nationally-known bands played contemporary Catholic Christian music. Many people claimed spots on the grass in front of the stage. Others were happy to have their kids enjoy huge inflatable rides without cost. Teenagers and adults played corn hole and other such lawn games. Some stopped at the various tables under a large tent where schools, organizations and other groups provided information to those who were seeking.

web mug weberIn the evening everything came together with a Mass that included many musicians and singers, thousands of participants and some two dozen priest-concelebrants. One couple that walked past me as they were leaving after Mass simply said, “Awesome!”

I’m sure people came for different reasons and left with differing messages. What most held in common, however, was that their sense of Catholic identity had been supported and validated.

Catholic identity is necessary and not just for those who are looking at Catholicism from the outside. Catholics themselves need to know what it means to be part of this universal church. A clear sense of identity can encourage them to live joyfully the mystery they embody.

There was a time when Catholics were identified by many signs and externals: kids attending Catholic schools, abstaining from meat on Fridays, ashes on foreheads at the beginning of Lent, Bingo at the parish hall, basketball players crossing themselves before shooting foul shots, larger than average family size, and St. Christopher medals on car visors.

While some of those signs still remain, they vary in significance. Sometimes items of greatest importance to Catholicism, like the focus on the Eucharist, did not get as much notice as the Latin language in which the Mass was celebrated.

The hunger to find a new expression of Catholic identity can lead people in the wrong direction. There are those who look for simple displays like T-shirts or yard signs. Although there’s nothing wrong with a shirt displaying a photo of the pope or a monstrance, such approaches are insufficient for a full understanding of Catholic identity.

Then there are those who mistake uniformity for unity. I personally like to think of the church somewhat like that large tent at the recent eXclaim! All the tables within the tent expressed certain aspects of the Catholic faith, but they didn’t all emphasize the same programs or possibilities. For example, there was a pro-life table that announced “40 Days of Prayer for Life” next to a table featuring “Ohioans to Stop Executions.” Both represented Catholic belief and both are pro-life movements. The presence of both was an indication of healthy church: unity of purpose and mission with diverse expressions.

I suspect that any emerging sense of Catholic identity will include clarity of Catholic doctrine, a regular gathering around the Eucharist as we did at eXclaim! and constant awareness of and outreach to those who suffer from poverty and alienation. And perhaps most importantly, Catholics will become known for their warmth and love in accepting others (“And over all these put on love ….” Col 3:14). With attention to all of these qualities, we will grow more fully aware of our true Catholic identity.

Father Herb Weber is pastor of Perrysburg Blessed John XXIII.
Last Updated on Saturday, 25 September 2010 12:44