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What makes a Catholic?

December 22, 2010

I’m  Catholic.

Not a C&E catholic (those that attend Mass only at Christmas, Easter or the occasional wedding and funeral).

Not a cafeteria catholic (those that pick and choose what Catholic rules they’ll follow).

Just a simple, sinful, run-of-the-mill Catholic.

The reason I lead off with kind of Catholic I am (and am not) is because of a story out of Phoenix, Arizona. The local bishop, Thomas J. Olmsted, has stripped St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center of its Catholic status for permitting an abortion at its facility, along with several other transgressions.

I highly recommend that you read the article. It’s an excellent (and all too rare) example of an institution being forced to remain faithful to its Catholic designation, no matter how unpopular that decision will be perceived.

Too often we Catholics think it’s ok to skirt the rules and Traditions of our faith. We skip Mass, we break commandments, we support anti-Catholic issues with our votes or cash, we quietly allow our Catholic friends, neighbors and family to do the same thing. We look the other way or perhaps we just don’t care.

I’m guilty of this too, though I try to be aware of it and atone for it. It’s not easy to call out a sister, parent of friend who is knowingly contradicting their faith. However, if you really believe you’re a Catholic and you have some regard for the soul of the other person, we have to find a way to begin the discussion.

Bishop Olmstead spent months trying to convince the Phoenix hospital of the importance of following Catholic moral guidelines. Eventually, however, he was forced to make an unpopular call. A pronouncement that I assure you is rare, but necessary.

I think debate regarding the Catholic Church’s teaching is good thing. Should women be priests? Let’s discuss it. Should priests be allowed to marry? Let’s discuss it. It may take 10, 20, 100, 500 years for us to come to an agreement, but the conversation is worthwhile. So let’s discuss it. If nothing else, through the discussion we’ll discover the roots of the issue.

Don’t want to wait? Not willing to have the conversation? Already decided that the Church is wrong? That’s fine. You’re an Episcopalian. Embrace your new faith. But please, don’t call yourself a Catholic. You may have been baptized a Catholic, but you’re not. You’ve either gone astray or you’re not interested in following this faith.

And you know what? I will embrace you as my Christian brother or sister and wish you well with your new community.

I wonder if most Catholics can recall their Nicene Creed. It’s the profession of faith we say weekly at Mass after the homily.

Just in case your forgot it (or just mumble through it with me and everyone else at Mass), here it is:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic
and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the
resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

It’s not a prayer, it’s an affirmation of who we are as Catholics. It’s us proclaiming before God and in front of our fellow members of the congregation that we believe in our faith, our Church and our God.

Are we allowed to question with our Church teachings? Absolutely. I’ve gone toe-to-toe with priests and learned friends about a lot of Catholic dogmas. Sometimes I was proven wrong and other times I brought up topics in need of further debate. The conversations were often heated, as passionate people can get, but never did they leave me not trusting my faith.

It’s okay to disagree with the Church, it’s not okay for us Catholics to knowingly break Church rules.

We Catholics may not always agree with our faith, but I bet it’s because most of us don’t understand it.

The Catholic church didn’t just arbitrarily decide to outlaw abortion. There’s a reason, and it’s not, “because I said so.” Have you ever noticed the Catholic Church is against capital punishment AND abortion? Don’t you think those decisions might be linked somehow? I’m always surprised at how many people are anti-death penalty but pro-choice (liberals) or pro-death penalty but anti-abortion (conservatives). That seems a strange paradox.

Allow me to simplify the Church’s position on abortion as much as an unlearned Catholic as myself can: you’re not allowed to kill the baby because the baby’s life and the mother’s life have the exact same value. The baby is not the lesser of the mother, they’re equals.

There are several articles in the news and on the Internet that explain far better than I can the reasons why St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center was stripped of its Catholic designation. Sufficed to say, it was not a rash decision or an easy decision, but it was an important decision.

A lot of Catholic leaders choose not to come down hard on their congregations. It’s understandable, we already have dwindling attendance, as well as, dwindling donations. Who wants to bite the hand that feeds?

But that’s the problem. We as Catholics can’t choose to waffle or become wishy-washy for fear of losing our faithful. If Catholics don’t believe in what the Church teaches, then they were never our faithful to begin with.

You’ll find the link below of Bishop Olmsted’s press conference regarding St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center:

News Conference at the Diocesan Pastoral Center, Dec. 21, 2010 from Diocese of Phoenix on Vimeo.

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