Embracing a Catholic identity is a whole lot more than simply being a card-carrying member of the church. Some may settle for a baptism, wedding, and funeral in the church and feel they’ve gotten the best of it. But if you decide to live all the moments in between from the perspective of the Catholic worldview, you can improve your life more than you ever imagined.
Below are 7 good things to discover for yourself about the beauty and integrity of real Catholic living. See how many of these windows of grace are open to you already, and how many more you may have to look into.
For all Christians, the Bible is the foundation of our faith. But it’s not a history book about how the world came to be or stories of people from long ago. We accept God’s Word is alive, that these stories are bigger than history and truer than a mere recalling of the past. Catholics don’t look to the Bible to explain or replace scientific knowledge about the world. We accept these stories as the way ancient people shared what they were getting to know about the God who was leading them to become more fully human. They came to believe that the story of God is also the story of humanity because our origin and life are in God. When we read the Bible, we find our own story written in its pages.
Prayer is basically communication, and there are countless ways to do it. Some pray in silence, mindful of God’s presence. Others like to sing—Saint Augustine called singing “praying twice.” Some find themselves naturally drawn to formal prayers of repetition like the rosary or novenas. The Stations of the Cross, a walking prayer, reminds us that we’re all pilgrims on a spiritual journey toward our true home. Group prayer is often made simpler by using a ritual like the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the breviary. The most important part of the prayer of the Catholic community is the Mass itself, in which we celebrate the central mysteries of our faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!”
The word church is remarkably broad. We use it to explain a building in which we worship. But it also refers to an authority that governs us—for Catholics, that usually means the Vatican, the bishops or other clergy, or the general body of people who are on the payroll of a parish office. Because we often speak of the church as something or someone “out there,” we have to consciously remind ourselves that we are the church, the Body of Christ. We are called by God and empowered through the gifts of the Holy Spirit to carry the presence of Christ into the world today. You take “church” with you wherever you go!
All who are baptized are known as the “People of God,” according to church teaching. The People of God have a noble vocation to live out that identity with dignity and integrity. We are encouraged in that calling through the service of our church leaders—the pope who directs and coordinates the worldwide church; the college of cardinals who oversee broad territories; the bishops in their teaching office in each diocese; and the pastors guiding each parish. Add to their service the work of religious sisters and brothers, monks and cloistered nuns, missionaries, lay leaders and teachers, dedicated parents, and countless organizations affiliated with the church. All together, we are the hands and feet, the eyes and ears and voice of Christ in the world today
Some Christian churches maintain that the Bible alone teaches us the will of God for the world. Catholics believe that the Bible is fundamental in showing God’s purposes—and that God has made other revelations that are also compelling. Creation is God’s first and largest self-expression, for God spoke the world into being and then created humanity in the divine image and likeness.
Since Jesus told his disciples to “go forth, baptize, and instruct all nations,” Catholics also view the church itself as having a role to play in showing God’s will in the world. The teaching authority of the church, known as the magisterium, seeks to express God’s hopes for humanity in every new generation.
Being human naturally means making moral choices. It might seem difficult at times, but it’s not rocket science. A Catholic morality is shaped by many principles, including the idea that human life belongs to God and not to us. This is why we take a moral stand away from abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, genetic engineering, and all avoidable warfare. It’s also why we encourage fidelity in marriage, the welfare of children, and public policies that lead to justice and peace. As Jesus put it succinctly, “Love one another.” It’s still the best moral advice there is.
We have said God is unknowable, but that’s not the end of the story. God is beyond our understanding, but God wants to be known by us. God made us out of love, and love continually desires to be closer to the beloved. So God shows the divine presence and purpose to the people of the Bible, folks like ourselves—part saint and part sinner.
God equally shows the divine will in the ancient law of the Old Testament. Finally, God enters human history directly through the person of Jesus, who is the Son of God and one with God in an amazing way. In turn, Jesus gives us an enduring way to experience his presence in what the church now calls the sacraments. In common things—water, oil, bread, wine, words, touch, a ring, a promise—we experience the holy presence of God once more.