What about our Catholic identity? If we Catholics were asked to demonstrate that we are who we say we are, what would we show? How is our Catholic identity to be verified? This question is on my mind because the Catholic Women's League is currently gathering for their annual national convention in Edmonton, where the host council is celebrating its 100th anniversary with the theme "Catholic and Living It." This is extremely important. Both Blessed Pope John Paul II and our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, have been ceaselessly calling the Church to a new evangelization. I am convinced that we can offer no greater service to this mission than to be who we say we are, to be authentically Catholic. It is not enough to be Catholic in name only. We need to live and love its meaning.
Catholicism begins with the encounter with Christ that occurs at our Baptism, in virtue of which we are washed clean of sin, are given new birth as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, are initiated into the communion of the Church and receive both a dignity and a destiny. This means that Catholicism is far more than a set of beliefs and doctrines, as beautiful and necessary as those are. It is, at heart, a relationship with our Triune God and with one another; it is, in other words, a way of life.
Like any relationship, ours with Christ must be given attention and nurtured. Therefore, living an authentically Catholic life demands frequent and prayerful contemplation of the person of Jesus, allowing the wondrous truth that he is both God and man, and each fully, to permeate us and lead us to faithful discipleship. It demands a regular pattern of prayer, meditation upon the Word of God, and participation in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
From our communion with the Lord in the Eucharist arises the need for a Catholic to be a person of communion. This requires communion with all that Christ willed for his Church. In our daily relationships it means loving and respecting our brothers and sisters. Division in the Church makes it difficult to verify the identity we claim to have. It is verified when, as St. Paul says, "we live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:2)
If we love as Christ loved us, then we will give of ourselves in service. To be authentically Catholic means caring for others, particularly the poor, neglected and vulnerable. A commitment to charity and to justice can never be absent from a Catholic life authentically lived.
When our identity as Catholics can be readily verified, we are witnesses of Christ before the world and serve the new evangelization.