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Anthony Cleary: ‘What does it mean to be Catholic?’ Here’s my reply

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Pope Francis holds a reliquary containing what is believed to be the blood of St. Januarius as he gives a blessing during a meeting with religious at the cathedral in Naples, Italy, March 21. The dried blood of the saint is said to liquefy several times a year. After the pope handled the relic, the blood apparently liquefied. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-NAPLES and POPE-JANUARIUS March 23, 2015.

At a time when objective truths are increasingly contested and language is weaponised for the purposes of ideology, it is appropriate to re-affirm what it means to be Catholic.

Each Sunday Catholics profess a belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” church and affirm a core set of beliefs in a creed that dates to the early church.

The term “Catholic” means different things to different people, however.

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Many ask, “What does it mean to be Catholic?” It is a question I am often asked when I visit schools.

The word Catholic was first used by St Ignatius of Antioch, who referred to the universal, all-encompassing and welcoming nature of the Church. He said, “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.”

Jesus is at the heart of the Church. Catholics are called to be disciples and witnesses of Jesus.

We are sent out to proclaim the good news and to continue his mission.

Throughout his public ministry, Jesus’ words and actions healed the spiritual and physical wounds of those he encountered.

As the Body of Christ, the church is called and empowered to carry on this work and take seriously the “joys and the hopes, the grief and the anxieties” of others, and seek to respond as Christ did: in love, truth and compassion.

We live out his great commandment to “love God and love others.”

Pope Benedict XVI situated the mission of the church within this love. It is threefold: to proclaim the Word of God, celebrate the sacraments and exercise the ministry of charity.

When undertaking this universal mission, she recognises the need to place her work within the local context.

Thus there is great diversity in the public expression and liturgical worship of the Catholic faith. Within this diversity, however, there is always unity.

The communion of Catholic churches are united around the pope, the successor of St Peter. While St Peter established the early Christian church in Rome, many of the other apostles founded other faith communities as they spread the message of the Gospel.

A worshipper kneels in prayer during the Mass of the Nativity in St Mary’s Cathedra;. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The Eastern Catholic churches have ancient roots that come directly from these apostolic missions and they form an integral part of the heritage of the church.

First and foremost, Catholics are Christians. We believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that it is he who has redeemed us and draws us into a fullness of life in the Holy Spirit.

We believe that Sacred Scripture is the Word of God illuminating the story of his people and revealing the path of salvation.

We believe that both faith and reason enable us to answer the great questions about life.

The Catholic faith is a way of being, and our practices reflect our beliefs. We celebrate seven sacraments, to make the love of God real and present in the world.

We gather in public worship, especially on the Lord’s Day, for the celebration of the Eucharist, the “source and summit of Christian life.”

We honour the people of great faith who have preceded us, especially Mary, the Mother of God, and the saints, whose intercession we call upon.

We recognise and respect the dignity of all people, for each person is made in the image and likeness of God.

Therefore, from conception to natural death we believe human life is precious and worthy of protection and respect.

We are stewards, who care for the world around us, for we know that God is present in all of creation.

We are a “pilgrim church,” a sign and servant of God’s Kingdom, one that engages with the world, seeks dialogue, and pursues justice and truth.

Being Catholic involves a genuine commitment to core truths, beliefs and practices. It is not a “cafeteria” religion of convenience and choice.

We make this commitment in the sure knowledge that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

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