By Guest Blogger Cardinal George
Sometimes while talking to young people who are Catholic I hear someone say, “I’m not sure what it means to be Catholic.”
A 17-year-old Catholic recently wrote in a national Catholic magazine about his education in a public school where he is “surrounded by atheists, agnostics and non-practicing Catholics.” He said: “The church needs to give young people good reasons to be Catholic: first, by encouraging young Catholics to find an answer to ‘What is the purpose of human life?’ second, by highlighting the faith of its devoted followers, which will perplex the staunchest atheist; and third, by discussing morality in religion classes to help people understand that morality is universal and objective. One of the main purposes of Catholicism is to make it easier to be a moral individual, so any person who wants to be moral should also want to be Catholic.”
All these excellent reasons have a name: Jesus Christ. When we know and love Christ, we discover the purpose of human life. When we know and love Christ through the gift of faith, we will have the courage of the truth. When we know and love Christ, we will want to be his friend, and universal and objective morality becomes a way of life that connects us to him. Without knowing and loving Christ, without a relationship to him, doctrine is just ideas and morality is just rules. Then the church is just a debating society and the rules can seem oppressive. It is Christ who sets us free so that we can live in truth and in love.
Everything you know and love about Christ comes together on the Feast of Christ the King, at the end of the church’s liturgical year. Perhaps the idea of “king” seems like something from another world and, in a sense, it is. Jesus, standing before Pilate in the Gospel reading for the Feast of Christ the King, tells the Roman ruler that his Kingdom is not of this world.
Young people are trying to find their way in this world, and Jesus tells them they can do that only by keeping their eyes on another world and giving their hearts to a King who will be fully seen as himself only at the end of time. In this world, Jesus is despised, even hated. He is scourged and crucified. He is defenseless even as he claims authority over all creation. In his own Kingdom, however, Christ is risen from the dead and made judge of the living and the dead. His followers now wait for him to return in glory.
Dear young Catholics, it’s hard to live in two worlds, but our experience gives us some practice. We live in school and we live at home; we live at work and we live on sporting fields. A mature human being can put different worlds together and do justice to them all. What we cannot do is insist that all the worlds conform to our personal expectations. Then we live isolated.
Sometimes otherwise mature people will say that they find God on their terms, not in church or in religion. But this is a delusion. God has told us who he is, and it is not up to us to secondguess God. He calls us where we are, but then he calls us into his Kingdom.
A young person I spoke to recently wanted to know what the church teaches and also what other religions teach so she could form her own opinion. It’s good to know about other religions, but no serious religion is a matter of opinion. They all make truth claims that move their adherents into another world. It’s called conversion of mind and heart. It’s also a grace, a gift.
Americans like to think that they are independent thinkers. But why do millions of independent thinkers all think alike? The Gospel of Christ is the only original voice in any country or culture. It’s a voice that can call you from the ways of our society to a way of life that others might disdain or even persecute. In the long history of the church, when people were faced with a clash between their faith and their society, most went with their society. Those who didn’t we often recognize as martyrs. They lived and died as free men and women.
Years ago, I heard a missionary speak of his own country, a poor country in Asia. He didn’t start by talking about homelessness, joblessness, illness or civil war. He said: “The greatest poverty is not to know Jesus Christ.” We are a rich country by this world’s standards, but there are a lot of poor people living here, sometimes in the richest neighborhoods.
The Feast of Christ the King should move us from faith (knowing who Christ is), to worship (adoring God in Christ), to witness (telling others in word and example about Christ). The archdiocese is marking the Year of Sunday Mass, while the universal church is celebrating a Year of Faith. When you adore God at Mass on Sunday, you enter into a mystery of faith; you meet Christ personally in the Eucharist. He will make you a witness.
I thank you for living your faith. I am proud of you when I see you at Mass in the parishes I visit on Sundays throughout the year. At Mass, the Lord himself gives you his greatest gift, holiness of life, because he loves you. He wants you to love him, and so do I. You are daily in my prayers; please keep me in yours.
First published in Catholic New World