What does it mean to be “catholic”? Let’s start with the basics. The word “catholic” is an adjective, and thus, in the title of this document, it describes the noun “I.” It is a word that says I believe what the Catholic Church believes. So, when I identify myself as Catholic, I am saying that I believe in the credal formations, which state that God is one in three persons. It means that I believe Jesus the Christ is physically present in the Eucharistic meal. It means that Jesus the Christ was the son of God, born of a virgin. He walked this earth, and lived a human life. He forgave sins and healed the sick. He was crucified, died, buried, and rose from the dead on the third day. It means that I substantially subscribe to the content included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).
At the same time, this does not mean that I go through life without questioning church teachings. God made us in his image, and many believe that this includes our rational minds, our ability to ponder the mysteries of this world, and to make conclusions regarding these things. Our minds are a path to truth. The Bible teaches us that the Truth is in our hearts. Jer 31:33. It tells us that the Spirit of Truth will teach us all things. Jn 16:13. So how can these scripture quotes be true in light of the concept of the CCC as an external source of my understanding of truth?
As one who is attempting the contemplative life as a lay person, I have had some experiences that shape and form my understanding of these things. For instance, I have sought the law in my heart. I have worked to listen to the Holy Spirt, and attempted to figure out this internal, yet objective truth. In my experiences, I have learned that I hear the Spirit through my personal lenses, the way in which I have learned to view the world. Plus, I have learned that God’s revelation is transcendent. It is beyond me in its totality, but not fully beyond my grasp. I have learned that I can hear clearly, but imperfectly. I have found that having the external truth compiled over 2,000 years of pondering God’s mystery by some very holy saints enhances my ability to more perfectly understand the revelations of God. In fact, there is nothing more fulfilling than finding internal objective truth, and confirming my understanding against the external objective truth, and finding that they resonate with each other.
In understanding how God works within us, we can see that he calls us to go deeper in this relationship, to move forward with some level of excitement in pursuing one’s unique journey with God, and understanding that this journey should resonate strongly with that which is categorized in the CCC. In so doing, one can attain a richer understanding of the adjective that one uses to describe themselves as Catholic.
Spend some time today with the Holy Spirit pondering what adjective describes you in regards to your religious beliefs. Does it still fit or have you changed such that the adjective no longer describes you? If so, prayerfully ponder which adjective best tells the world what you believe and stand for.
Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., J.D., M.T.S.