How do you know you are Catholic? How do you know someone else is Catholic? Or, if a particular teaching is Catholic?
Here is a pretty good guide: Catholics remember with really long memories and we don’t change much in our Tradition. If we learn that we have strayed from our Apostolic Tradition, we struggle to get back to our source.
This coming fall will be a good example when we make a few changes to the Liturgy in English. We will not be doing something new. The Liturgy of the Mass in English is only about forty years old. Catholic English speakers in the US and other parts of the world have been pondering the first translation from the original Latin and Greek and have realized that we didn’t get it quite right. Our first English Liturgy of the Eucharist isn’t bad; it just isn’t as close to the original as it should be, and we remember that we missed some important things. So, after about fifteen or twenty years of reflection, study, discussion and prayer, the Church has determined that it is really important to get back as close as we can to the original understanding of the universal prayer of the Church. What we will be doing next Advent with our liturgy is very Catholic. We are “remembering” so we can live authentically as followers of Christ and the Apostles. That remembering makes us Catholic.
When we, as Catholics remember and share our faith, we are saying that this is really, really important. This is worth living and dying for. Some have become martyrs for this memory. Our Sacred Tradition came from God, and is our most valuable treasure and heirloom. We don’t simply read the Bible. The Bible is certainly important, but we live with our Bible and the Word of God in the Tradition of the Church passed faithfully from one generation to the next. We read the Bible with our Tradition in mind. We say to those who come after us, “Take this and pass it on. This is our most sacred treasure. Don’t change it.” We heard this on Holy Thursday with St. Paul teaching the Corinthians not to mess around with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He told them, “I passed on to you what I received from the Lord….”
When we speak of obedience, we don’t speak of it in military or political terms. We are obedient above all to the Revelation from God passed to us through the Apostles in our Traditions and Scriptures.
One way to understand the Church is to see us as the most democratic institution in the history of the world. I’m not speaking of political process, like one-man-one-vote. That is merely political mechanics. I’m speaking of democratic dialog where all voices are heard. In our Catholic Community no one dies. Our community includes the lives and faith of those who handed the faith to us.
We just heard seven Old Testament writings from members of our community, some of whom we know their names, and others not. They are our brothers in faith spanning over 3,000 years. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Baruch, Paul, and Matthew. Unlike the Book of Mormon, or the Muslim Koran, our Sacred Book doesn’t have one author. The Bible was written by perhaps hundreds of authors. In every century since Abraham we have shared with each generation, “Hey, did you see what God did? This is really important! Don’t forget it! Take this and pass it on!” In each subsequent age God revealed more of Himself, through the Holy Spirit. He revealed to us through prophets and teachers, men of faith who knew how important it is to share God’s actions and revelations for us. Taken all together, they teach us most of what we know about God, and his desires to take us to Himself as his family. They also instruct us sternly about the dangers that occur when we ignore Him and His Commandments.
In our Democracy the Prophets and Saints join as we listen to them. Their words help shape this tradition of dialog across many generations. We continue in conversation with Justin Martyr, Stephen, Augustine and Monica, Frances and Ignatius, Mother Theresa and John Paul.
The topic of our conversation is the most important anyone could have! What could possibly be more important than the promise of eternal life through Baptism and life in the Spirit and the Kingdom of God?
Tonight, of all the nights in the year, we come together as in a great family reunion. Tonight we remember along with our entire community of faith, with those who died in the hope of rising again, including Adam and Eve, and Abraham, and Moses, and David, and Isaiah, and Ezekiel. We remember God’s promises. We remember we are the “anointed of God.” We listen to the voices of the early witnesses to Jesus’ life: Matthew, Mary Magdalene, the Apostles, and Paul. As a family we remember tonight that the first witnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection were not the Apostles, but two women, including Mary Magdalene, who had been a great sinner before her forgiveness and conversion.
We celebrate with the Saints the Sacraments Jesus left us to prepare us for life with Him: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony, and Anointing of the Sick.
As a convert myself, I love this night, when we welcome new members to our community, our family of faith. They have sought the Hope that the Catholic Church offers. They become “anointed” of God with us. To them we say, “Welcome”! Come remember with us. Take this treasure, and pass it on! Future generations are depending upon each of us.