This is the second part of an ongoing conversation about a phrase that I frequently hear people say, “I used to be Catholic, but now I am Christian.” Are Catholics in fact Christian? Yes, they are. See here. Many Catholics might take offense to the implication that they’re not Christian or “truly Christian” in the sense that they are not necessarily among those believers who claim to be “born again.”
The label ‘Christian,’ as I mentioned previously, can be a convenient way to simply say that a person is a non-Catholic believer or a Protestant. To a certain extent, then, the phrase “I used to be Catholic, but now I am Christian” makes perfectly good sense. However, in spite of making sense the phrase is not innocuous, because it is largely misguided, inaccurate, and it can be downright offensive to many people, namely Catholics. As most Christians would agree–we don’t need to be deliberately offensive when offense can be easily avoided.
But still, many people who say the above phrase won’t be easily convinced to avoid it in spite of its possible offense to others. So what can we do?
Well, we’ve entered a new era in which people tend to look at truth and truisms very suspiciously. Tweets are “mere opinion.” Headlines can be “fake news.” Actual news can be “alternative facts.” These facts bring up issues about what’s actually true. What’s true? How can we know it? Since falsehoods can parade as truisms, and vice versa, how can we discern the truth? These questions raise issues about sincerity and authenticity, discerning truth and falsehood, subjectivism and relativism, and what’s fake or real.
However, these issues are not new. They’ve been around for millenia. Anyone who’s even slightly acquainted with the history of philosophy will recall Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The underground cave of shadows and illusions gets played out in various ways in the work of Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, and even in popular culture, such as in the movie The Matrix. That is, how can we know that we’re not occupants of a world that’s entirely simulated and “unreal”?
Are Catholics “real” Christians? The question gets at a process of discernment. It’s not really a philosophical or theological question. It seems to be simply stating an obvious truism: “There are Catholics and non-Catholics.” If that’s true, which it is, then how can we discern the difference between them? Perhaps a more basic question is: “What is a Christian?” Or how can Catholics more effectively convey to the world that they are Christian?
So now, it would be entirely pointless to appeal to books, tradition, doctrines and dogmas, and apologetics to address these questions. Why? Because none of that will be effectively convincing. Most of us don’t bother with such things–we don’t have time or the energy for a major research project. Then how can Catholics demonstrate that they’re actually Christian? Here are a few ways:
- Develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We can pray for help. We can pray to be closer to Christ and thereby closer to God the Father. In order to be closer to Christ, we can pray to Mother Mary and the saints to help us. That does not mean that we don’t pray to God; that does not mean that Mary and the saints come first. We pray for help. If we ask our friends and family to pray for us, then we can also ask Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the saints to pray for us. “Place me with your Son, God.” Or “Jesus, show me your face.” The important thing is to pray honestly and openly–to pray with your best friend who wants nothing more or less than to love you unconditionally and be with you. God is love. He gave His only Son for us. “Jesus, can you hear me? Are you there? I’d be really grateful if you could show me.”
- Act like a Christian; let’s try to be Christ-like. When Jesus is in our hearts, then this is easier to do. It’s not a prescription to be perfect. It’s not an admonition to be a Navy Seal Christian. We’re human. We’re biological animals. We cope with our human nature which is tugged and pulled by sin. We can try to be the kind of persons that Christ asks of us. We can love each other. We don’t envy or condemn our neighbor. We can try to walk away from and avoid addictions, sinful actions, and self-criticism and criticizing others for what they’re doing or not doing. In other words, we can treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves. Jesus commanded us to love one another. He commanded us to abide by the Mosaic Laws, known as the Ten Commandments. And He says:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
- Stop scandals in the Church. Priests are people too. A good priest admits that he is a bad priest. That is to say, all priests are human and vulnerable to the same foibles as the rest of us. However, this does not excuse sexual transgressions. It does not rationalize sexual abuse. The priesthood is not a vocation of perfection or perfect works. It is not a special club whose members are perfect themselves. The priestly calling is a self-sacrificing labor of love, grace, and humility. As we know, love does not hurt and abuse anyone in any way. Love requires self-examination, repentance, and self-correction. Undeniably, the recent sex scandals have been hurtful to victims of abuse as well as to the Church itself. Many people will equate scandalous priests and Catholic lay people with a Church that’s in decline, and a Church that is false and full of lies and deception. What can we do? Pray for the clergy, the Church, and let’s not tolerate abuse in any form.
- Forgiveness. Let’s try not to hold grudges, animosities, and bad feelings. If you’ve had bad experiences with the Catholic Church, with priests or lay people, or with a local parish, then can you forgive us? I sincerely ask you now, humbly, can you forgive us? Please forgive us. Please forgive the person who neglected to say hello to you or shake your hand. Please forgive the person who neglected you. Please forgive the person who saw your appearance but didn’t see you as a person. Please forgive our sins, our abuses, and our unwillingness to change or pursue righteousness. Please forgive our many faults. Sometimes we put ourselves before others, and when we do, please forgive us. And if you can bring yourself to do it, then please pray for us. Can you forgive and pray for us?
- Help others. Rich or poor, white or black, homeless or destitute–we are on this earth to serve others. What can you do to share your talents and gifts with others, even in small ways? This is what true faith is all about–and what true prayer is all about. Let’s help each other be present, engaged, and genuinely compassionate to others in our lives, loved ones, friends, family, and perfect strangers alike.
- Let’s avoid boredom. When Church becomes routine, homogeneous, and the “same old thing” then it becomes stale, lifeless, empty, and boring. Christ doesn’t want us to be boring human beings. He wants us to taste of salt–to be beacons and lights unto the world–to be “in” the world but not “of” the world. So let’s not be a boring Church. Let’s inspire each other. Instead of boring music that’s insubstantial and trite, let’s sing genuine songs of praise that are meaningful and deep. Let’s read aloud poetry and the Psalms. Let’s partake of Wisdom by espousing the Word of God and the wisdom of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Book of Wisdom. Let’s announce the Parables and Gospels from our rooftops. Let’s tell each other motivational stories of conversion and of regular people who have been strong in the faith. Let’s stand on the shoulders of our martyrs and saints, who have come before us to show us the way to the Kingdom of God.
- Let’s renew our commitment to the Bible. Let’s read the Bible together. Let’s not let our Bibles collect dust. Let’s adopt a Bible reading plan or enroll in a Bible study class, even “Bible as Literature.” Let’s not let the daily readings at Mass suffice for us or replace our commitment to the Bible. We should carry a Bible with us everywhere we go, as if we could potentially be stopped any minute and be quizzed on Bible passages. Let’s spread the Word of God–the Bible. It’s still a best-seller for good reasons–but let’s actually read it and take it to heart. The Bible can be intimidating, so it may be wise not to approach it alone. Let’s try pouring over it with a friend, but we can do so prayerfully and honestly, which will allow us to hear and listen to its message.
I’m sure this list could be interminable. But I referred to a few items that might genuinely address our misguided ideas behind the statement, “I used to be Catholic, but now I’m Christian.” Let’s abide in Jesus Christ and live the faith. We can hardly do it alone, so let’s try to pray for each other as we travail the walk of life.