Recently I have heard people commenting on how hard it is to be a Catholic today and then following on from that some of them actually asked me for any advice I might have in that regard. In one way I am loath to offer advice as I feel it is easy to be seen as some sort of guru, which I am certainly not. Having said that perhaps it is important as a priest, who is supposed to be, in some way, a professional follower of Jesus, to share something around our common faith journey.
There is something in us that likes the neat or pithy little jingle of the three R’s, or the one of your five a day, so here goes: The six ‘C’s for Catholics today:
Commitment, Courage, Christ, Church, Compassion and Comedy.
COMMITMENT: I think one of the big problems today is being lukewarm or picking and choosing what we like in our faith. I also think there is a fear of commitment. The reality is that whilst being committed to anyone or anything makes big demands it is far more desirable than being committed to nothing or no one. True commitment despite all its difficulties actually brings fulfillment and happiness.
COURAGE: Throughout history, both in the world, and within this country, it has at times required great courage to be a Catholic. My contention today is that we are entering a period that will demand greater courage than ever to be a practicing Catholic. I say this for two reasons: this courage will be required because of the growing hostility towards Catholicism, a hostility that I believe will increase, but also because of the impact of the state of the Church on personal faith. I am really speaking of courage as a gift of the Holy Spirit and something we as believers need to pray for.
CHRIST: This probably seems so obvious as to border on the silly. However I deliberately cite Christ as one of the core characteristics of being a Catholic today, because of my firm belief that we have moved away from him. I think this is often true even in our preaching. I think we as people of faith, need to discover afresh, or perhaps discover for the first time, the unique all consuming excitement of engaging in a unique personal relationship with both the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the living Risen Christ.
CHURCH: There is indeed a great abandonment of Church. Some of this we brought on ourselves, and indeed continue to do so. We are slow to learn. Moral relativism accompanies this turning our back on Church as does the decline of practice. One of my favorites as many of you know is ‘well Father I am a very good Catholic I just don’t go to Mass!’ To which I reply: ‘you are indeed a very good person, and may well be a good Christian but very good Catholic you are not. Very good Catholics go to Mass.’ It has become trendy to bash the Church, as I say sometimes fairly, but increasingly, without fairness or justification. For me the Church remains central to my Catholic faith and whilst at times I am hurt by it, I am also indebted to it as the place where my soul is fed and continues to grow.
COMPASSION: One of the great dangers today as we try to find our way forward, or as has been said, ‘as we try to steady the ship’, is that we become rigid or inflexible. This is when a harshness can creep in. We have paid a high price for the message of fear that we preached with such gusto when in fact it was a message of love. If we lose the compassion of Christ we cease to be his followers and we cease to be his Church.
COMEDY: Perhaps the strangest, or most surprising of the characteristics listed here today. In my view this is crucial. When we lose our sense of humour we are in trouble. So often, we so called Church people, are seen as, if not actually a sour lot, then at least a boring lot! How easy it is to forget that we are called to be people of joy. Are people drawn to us because we are good fun, good company, bearers of good news, because they sense deep within us there is a joy that only the Lord can give?