22 October 2013

On Catholic Identity

CONVERSATIONS THAT MATTER:  “CATHOLIC IDENTITY – WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE AND HOW DOES IT ACT?” Claiming a Catholic identity, a central value for STM, means different things to different people!  Gather as students discuss diverse understandings of the topic and what it means for how we are with each other.  This will be followed by input from Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, BC Associate Professor of Theology, who will broaden and deepen the context of our topic.  Gather on October 22 in Room 135 from 6:30-8:30.

And I'm one of the panelists.

The notes for my opening remarks (spoiler alert):

It’s a funny thing to be asked about the values that shape my Catholic identity, because they are, in a very real sense, embedded deeply within my identity.  This identity, I should note is “pre-religious” – present before I entered religious life.  I’m Matthew, my dad is Mark, my brothers, Luke and John.  My grandmother died after Thursday mass in New Jersey leading the Rosary.  I was born on the feast of the Polish bishop and martyr Josaphat and was baptized on December 23, the feast of John Kanty, the Polish theologian and physicist. I’ve also been a friar for five years: so any edges in my life that aren’t co-terminus with my Catholicism have been worn off.  Heck: I’m even a Mets fan, so I have the redemptive suffering part down.

All joking aside, the value of the Gospel is that which drives my own views on Catholic identity: the reality that the Kingdom of God – or Reign, if you like – is located precisely and totally in the person of the Jesus the Christ is the first and foremost value.  In a sense, this truth claim is prior to all else.  If I don’t have this, then I don’t have anything.  An example of this: I was at the Green Briar on Saturday night watching the ND game and happened to have this great conversation with a fellow from the theology department across the street.  We had nothing – theologically in common - other than our baptism and our belief in Jesus.  And from where I sit, that’s a great starting point.

Another value is that of tradition: I mean this in the strict Latin sense, that of “handing over.”  As Catholics – as Christians – we are guardians and protectors and passers-on of Good News – the greatest news, in fact, that any of us could hear: God saves God’s people.  There is certain magnificence to this: and also a great responsibility.   It’s funny, in my job at the parish, I’m both the “easiest” and the most “difficult” when it comes to preparation for the sacraments.  For instance, there was a second graded who needed to be baptized before he received his first communion.  Never did I ask, “Where have you been?” or to the parents, “why aren’t you married?”  But, what I did ask was this: “let’s come in and talk, because it’s unfair to you to baptize you if you don’t know what you’re receiving.”  Or another example, this past Sunday in Confirmation class we talked about discipleship: in small groups we read the passage from John’s Gospel of washing feet: then we asked the students to wash each other’s feet.  They freaked out.  Why? They asked.  Because discipleship is gross.

And a final value is actually an anti-value: to be Catholic is to avoid the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, or, more accurately in theology, the fallacy of misplaced emphasis.  This is something that I think is a common pitfall for all of us: of course, bishops get criticized for this all the time.  And rightfully so: this is, I think, what Francis meant, in his comments on the ecclesial strategy on matters of abortion and so forth.  At the same time, I think that Catholic theologians and students of theology need to be careful to not make a particular issue the overarching value claim on the whole of tradition.  I don’t want to minimize any particular belief within our larger spirituality, but what I do suggest is that the larger value of Jesus, incarnate, crucified, died, buried and risen from the dead ought always be our starting point in conversations regarding Catholic identity with each.   And when it isn’t, I dare say it’s not Catholic – or Christian – any longer.



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