A recent news item has led me to reflect on a question that I think is crucial for all Catholics, indeed all Christians, at this time — the question of who we are.
The “news” story (actually a commentary in the form of a news article) appeared in the Washington Post. It describes the decision of the Arlington Diocese to require all their catechists to make a profession of faith, and the decision by a handful of catechists to resign rather than comply.
The Profession of Faith is the same one prescribed by the Holy See for teachers in seminaries, pastors, and the heads of religious institutions, and is quite unremarkable. It essentially asks if a person accepts the Apostles’ Creed and authoritative Church teaching –in other words, if a person accepts what the Church has proposed for belief.
To a person of common sense, the request by the Arlington Diocese is unexceptional: if you are teaching the Catholic faith to children, we would like to make sure that you actually believe and accept the Catholic faith. It’s like when a person assumes a public office — they have to swear to uphold the constitution and laws, and faithfully execute their office. Or, think of it as a consumer protection pledge, like a “God Housekeeping Stamp of Approval”.
To the author of the WaPo piece, and to the dissenting catechists, it is a shocking thing. Pretty much anyone who has read religion articles in the press could write the story, since it hits all the media tropes — mean and authoritarian hidebound male bishops, courageous free-thinking women following their conscience, references to partisan politics and the health care law, and the Nazi’s even make a cameo appearance. Naturally, it’s not as if the former catechists are Monophysites or anything too theological for the ordinary reporter to explain. Their dissent stems from all the usual trendy pelvic and gender issues, which the press loves to report about. It’s pretty shoddy journalism.
This story is striking to me because it involves deeper questions, which are not just being asked by the Arlington Diocese to their catechists, but which are in fact being asked of all of us: What do I believe? What does it mean for me to be a Catholic?
For many people, both now and throughout history, being a Catholic has little to do with actual beliefs. It is instead a cultural identity, or an ethnic characteristic, or a social custom.
But that surely is not enough. To be a Catholic means to hold certain beliefs in common with our brethren throughout the world, and throughout time. It means to affirm the same faith that was preserved for us by the great saints, many of whom sacrificed their lives so that I might know that faith. It means to hand on to others, what was handed on to us.
But on an even deeper level, it means to come to know the truth about somebody, about a person who loves me more than life itself, and who has given all of himself so that I may know and love him. You can’t really love someone unless you know them, deeply and intimately.
I know nothing of God — Father, Son, or Spirit — except what has been taught to me by the Church, and given to me by Her by Word, Sacrament, and Work. I could never love God — the real God, not the flawed one I would rather create in my own image — if I had not received the truth about Him from the Church.
That is why professions of faith are so significant to us as Catholics, and why we should be proud to affirm the truths of our faith, as taught to us by our Church, and to proclaim those truths to our world.