Reflection & Dialogue: Wakeup call for ethnic and culture Catholics

As the Church grows in numbers in a country or community, when it experiences no opposition or persecution, and may even be respected in all its works, its members may become nominal, ethnic or cultural Catholics with little contact with the living Christ or the Church itself through regular Church attendance and practice of the sacraments. Such contact may be reduced to baptism, marriage and burial, the second of these becoming less frequent in recent years.

            And yet all these would identify themselves as Catholics, and register themselves as such in census returns. Certain writers would refer to those as ethnic or cultural Catholics. Since faith is a divine gift from God, it is not for anyone to judge whether these have the faith or not. Only God can judge this. However, since all believers in Christ are chosen to be witnesses to him to the world, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, such passive, ethnic or cultural Christianity is far removed from what Jesus calls his followers to be. We live in a world which is ever becoming more secular, with a tendency, if not a plan, to push religious beliefs to the margins, with little or no place in public life. Religious conviction can be seen as a danger to, if not incompatible with, public office. In certain political circles it can be unacceptable to profess oneself as first a Christian, or Catholic, and then as a member of one’s country or one’s political party, as if there were an incompatibility, which there is not. Christ would certainly add today “country or political party” to the matters not to be preferred to him.

            How the priority of the allegiance to Christ and present day realities are to be reconciled is a matter for individual and collective conscience. Allegiance to Christ must be fostered by devotion to the person of Christ and the Church. Lessons can still be drawn from the examples of the tower and the preparation for war of the Gospel reading. The person of Christ must be central. Devotion to his message requires quiet reflection on how to practice it.

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