I doubt that it will come as a shock when I say that not all Catholics think alike, especially when it comes to politics. And that’s OK. Some historians will use the term “Catholic block,” but they would hardly argue that if you are a Catholic, you would always vote for the same person or for one of the proposals on an election ballot. However, I would hope that all Catholics take into consideration Catholic social teaching when they are making political decisions, trying to judge how each candidate might better view that teaching and implement it in practical ways for proposing programs and implementing them.
A comprehensive survey of U.S. Catholic women commissioned and reported in America magazine last summer found that only 12 percent of them say that they use Catholic social teachings to help them decide how to vote. Of those who attend Mass weekly, that increases to 25 percent. Kerry Weber, America’s executive editor, has written that conversations about the survey on social media usually argue that the women polled are not “real” Catholics because the results showed that only 24 percent of them attend Mass weekly or more often.
That begs the questions: Who is a Catholic? Can you ever stop being a Catholic? How much of Catholic teachings must one accept to be a Catholic?
The first question is easy enough to answer. A Catholic is someone who has been baptized into the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark of his/her belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation” (#1272). Since this is an indelible mark, the saying is, “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” So, yes, those people who self-identify themselves as Catholics are “real” Catholics, and the Church has an obligation to minister to them.
The fact is that 76 percent of those women who were surveyed and said that they were Catholics, don’t attend Mass weekly or more often. And 53 percent of them attend Mass only a few times a year or never. And these statistics may paint an even more disheartening situation for men, since this was a survey of Catholic women, and women usually practice their faith more than men. So how much of Catholic teachings must people accept and still consider themselves Catholic? The Church teaches that there is a hierarchy of truths, and it defines three levels.
At the top level are doctrines divinely revealed and acknowledged, either by a solemn pronouncement by the pope or by an ecumenical council. Some examples are the articles in the Nicene Creed recited at weekend Masses, defined dogmas about Christ and the Virgin Mary (the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, for example), the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the infallibility of the pope when he teaches doctrine.
In the second category are teachings that have a link with revealed truth either historically or logically. The Church teaches these doctrines definitively, and anyone who denies them should consider himself or herself no longer in full communion with the Church.
The third level includes teachings on faith and morals that are not proposed infallibly or definitively but are authentic teachings of the pope or bishops. Examples are pastoral letters on social doctrine and economics and the U.S. bishops’ positions on political issues.
The Church also makes a distinction between believing a doctrine and holding and accepting a doctrine. Even if we can’t believe in something the Church teaches, Catholics should accept and hold its teachings. There’s not much the Church can do about people who reject certain teachings but continue to call themselves Catholics. There is always the matter of conscience and following it when we believe that we have tried to form it sincerely. I think what we can learn from all this is that hopefully Catholics see a real relationship between Catholic teaching and how they try to live their everyday lives and that it is important for each of us to continue to learn more about our faith by regular attendance at Mass, by reading good Catholic literature and the Scriptures, and by reflecting on how all this applies to our decisions and way of life.
THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Today’s Scripture readings invite us to hear God’s Word spoken in our midst and respond with confidence despite fears or concerns, because it is Good News. In the First Reading, the scribe Ezra, newly returned from exile in Babylon, proclaims the Torah, the laws of the covenant that God made with Moses at Mount Sinai, at the entrance of Jerusalem. As the people begin to weep, Ezra and the others who had been instructing the people urge them to celebrate and be merry because this day is holy to God.
The Responsorial Psalm fleshes out Ezra’s words of praise for God’s law with images that show that obedience to this covenant will bring reward. May the psalmist’s prayer become ours—that our words and thoughts are acceptable to God, our rock in times of doubt and fear.
Today’s Gospel offers a story about Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Already, crowds are chasing after him. When he gets to his hometown, he attends the synagogue as he had done many times before and stands to read from the prophet Isaiah. All await his words: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing!” What does he mean? Jesus is telling his listeners that he is the fulfillment of the prophecy made to Israel that God would bring good news to the afflicted.
In the Second Reading, Paul stresses community as he instructs the Corinthians that “in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that community is essential to faith. The Catechism states: “Baptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe” (#1253).
Through the discourse in the reading from Corinthians, Paul makes known the role of the community. He relates that individual roles are not as important as the spirit of community that needs to permeate the Body of Christ. Pope John Paul II explains this concept further in Christifidelis laici, stating: “Only from inside the Church’s mystery of communion is the ‘identity’ of the lay faithful made known, and their fundamental dignity revealed. Only within the context of this dignity can their vocation and mission in the Church and in the world be defined” (#8).
For Your Reflection: How do you prepare yourself to listen to the readings during Mass? How do your fellow parishioners show that they realize that they are to have the same concern for all members of the Body of Christ, suffering and rejoicing when they suffer and rejoice? How do you see your role as a Christian to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, and release of those imprisoned in some way?
MEMORIAL OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
Monday, January 28, 2019
By universal consent, Thomas Aquinas is the preeminent spokesman of the Catholic tradition of reason and of divine revelation. He is one of the great teachers of the medieval Catholic Church, honored with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor.
At five, he was given to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in his parents’ hopes that he would choose that way of life and eventually become an abbot. In 1239, he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was there that he was first attracted to Aristotle’s philosophy. By 1243, Thomas abandoned his family’s plans for him and joined the Dominicans, much to his mother’s dismay. On her order, Thomas was captured by his brother and kept at home for over a year.
Once free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies with Albert the Great. He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo, combated adversaries of the mendicants, as well as the Averroists, and argued with some Franciscans about Aristotelianism.
His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church is his writings. The unity, harmony, and continuity of faith and reason, of revealed and natural human knowledge, pervades his writings. One might expect Thomas, as a man of the Gospel, to be an ardent defender of revealed truth. But he was broad enough, deep enough, to see the whole natural order as coming from God the Creator, and to see reason as a divine gift to be highly cherished.
The Summa Theologiae, his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, deals with the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on….All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died on March 7, 1274.
We can look to Thomas Aquinas as a towering example of Catholicism in the sense of broadness, universality, and inclusiveness. We should be determined anew to exercise the divine gift of reason in us, our power to know, learn, and understand. At the same time, we should thank God for the gift of his revelation, especially in Jesus Christ.
A RENEWAL SERIES ON RACISM
This past October the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a new pastoral letter on Racism entitled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.” The entire body of bishops felt the need to address the topic of racism, once again, after witnessing the deterioration of the public discourse, and episodes of violence and animosity with racial and xenophobic overtones that have re-emerged in American society in the last few years. Pastoral letters from the full body of bishops are rare, few and far between. But at key moments in history the bishops have come together for important pronouncements, paying attention to a particular issue and with the intention of offering a Christian response, full of hope, to the problems of our time. This is such a time.
We have planned a four-part series on this pastoral letter beginning on Tuesday, February 5, and continuing on February 12, 19, and 26. More details on this series can be found on the sign on the bulletin board in the church lobby. We hope many people will plan to join us for this very important series, and don’t be afraid to invite your co-workers to attend as well.
The olive wood and mother-of-pearl handcraft products Blest Art sells are carefully handcrafted. These items hold special value, and they are not only unique, but purchasing them helps support the presence of Christianity in the Holy Land. Blest Art is not a team of merchants, but rather ambassadors for the 600 plus families back home working to stimulate the economy in a land once thriving that is now troubled. This art is an invaluable way to sustain the Christian community in the Holy Land.
Blest Art’s mission since their development 15 years ago has been to provide for Christian families in the Holy Land and to support the clinics, schools and churches. The members of this community take olive wood limbs from ancient trees and transform them into inspirational religious artworks, thus stimulating the economy in a declining population and reducing the emigration rate. The handiwork has been passed down for many generations. Blest Art strives to keep this tradition alive.
Blest Art will be here at St. Peter’s in the auditorium after all the weekend Masses this weekend. We hope you will be able to take some time to go down to the auditorium after Mass to view these artifacts and even to purchase something in order to help these Palestinian families abroad.
A CHUCKLE FOR YOUR PLEASURE
A Baptist preacher went to visit a member of the community and invited him to come to church Sunday morning.
It seems that this man was a producer of fine peach brandy. He told the preacher that he would attend his church IF the pastor would drink some of his brandy and admit doing so in front of his congregation. The preacher agreed and drank up.
Sunday morning the man visited the church. The preacher recognized the man from the pulpit and said, “I see Mr. Johnson is here with us this morning. I want to thank him publicly for his hospitality this week and especially for the peaches he gave me and the spirit in which they were given.”