I•den•ti•ty: the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Let’s add to that official definition how we carry our beliefs and owned qualities into the world around us.
The English architect Sir Christopher Michael Wren’s (1632-1723) epitaph reads: “Lector, si monumentum requiris circumspice,” roughly translated in English to “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around.” Sir Christopher rebuilt many of London’s churches after the Great Fire of 1666, including St. Paul’s Cathedral where he is laid to rest. Our “monuments” are built by way of the bricks and mortar of our beliefs, words and deeds. Like Sir Christopher, we too should wonder if the monuments we create truly represent our innermost beliefs – our true identity.
Knowledge of our identity is not only big business – just ask Ancestory.com – but the answer to “who am I?” can satisfy the desires we have for knowing our ethnicity; or if we hail from a long line of lords, ladies or pirates; or even answer wonderings about our chances of developing cancer, diabetes or some other life-threatening illness. Indeed, identity is everything and helps create who we are and who we shall come to be.
What about our religious identity, our Catholicity? Our faith forms how we will interpret the situations of our life and act as God so desires us to act. Our support or lack thereof for the mandates of the Affordable Health Care Act and its impact on the Little Sisters of the Poor; our stance on the Holy Father’s encyclical “Laudato Si’” or our take on the moral teachings of the church in the midst of ever-changing cultural mores all begin with our knowledge of the faith and our Catholic identity. And likewise, our concern for and participation in the works of mercy, as well as our belief in the seven sacraments of the church, depend on Catholic identity. Our Catholicity touches and forms our understanding and practice of our faith, both spiritual and corporal.
Our Catholic identity becomes the portal through which we view and understand and participate in cultural discussions around the dining room table and in the public arena. Our Catholic identity is important as it forms how we come to view and then live out our faith through our daily activities of life. “The Mass has ended, go in peace” is not just a tagline to wake up and prepare parishioners for the recessional hymn, but rather highlights the Great Commissioning from Christ who asks his disciples to transform the world through a lived and active faith, breathing our faith into our family, our community and the workplace.
But it is not enough to have a light or superficial knowledge of our faith, i.e., knowing the “Thou shall nots” of the Catholic faith. Rather, we are called to have a well-formed understanding of the truths of our faith, what our church teaches and why it teaches it.
Saint Catherine of Siena is quoted as saying, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world ablaze.” Saint Catherine calls us to have real knowledge of our God who created us to be his light and love in the world. This requires an understanding of who Jesus is and what the Catholic Church teaches as the truths of Christ. There are seven wonderful gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord) and these gifts are given to us to enable us to know what God desires of us and how we then grasp our faith and apply it to our daily activities. These gifts of the Holy Spirit open the door through which we are able to become active co-partners, albeit junior partners, in carrying Christ’s truths.
To be well-formed in our faith, thus causing us to live our faith according to the desires of God, originates from the truths of Christ. We all need to be fed through the Eucharist and to be nourished by the wellsprings of Christ’s teachings, understanding how we are called to continue his mission and ministry in our time and place.
The righteous goal here is to form our Catholic identity through educating ourselves in the depth, breadth and beauty of our Catholic faith, making God’s church – the Mystical Body – all God has called it to be. Understanding our rich Catholic faith – its teachings and its traditions – begins with heavenly wisdom. Many of us believe that we know our Catholic faith well enough. But do we?
To know our true identity, we must know Christ’s true identity. When it comes to the difficult issue of abortion, do we see every human life possessing his divine image? When we search for the excellence that is our Catholic identity, we must delve deeply into the church’s teachings. This lifelong journey begins with Scripture and accompanying Catholic commentary. It grows more deeply with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It expands exponentially through programs and seminars at both the parish and archdiocesan levels (Bible study, lay ministry and more) as well as through a host of wonderful Catholic sources and resources.
The gift of God’s faith is given to all, yet if we really want to know our truest identity, our Catholic DNA, we must be willing unwrap that gift of faith and delve into the source, the summit and the font of all that there is: Jesus Christ. When we are nourished by his truth, then we grasp the courage to proudly be Catholic in our lived-experiences of life. Just imagine that transformative power in our world. The Catholic Faith: Believe it. Live it. Share it!
Our faith journey must begin with a discernment, a sort of “What am I doing well? What am I not doing so well?” in one’s faith life. It is an investment to be sure, but just look at the dividend: life eternal with the Creator of the world; unending joy, heavenly wisdom and peace beyond belief.