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Who Is Catholic? The Awareness of Catholic Identity and the Universal Call
to Holiness | Cynthia Toolin | Part Two | Part One
The Teaching of Truth
According to recent surveys, Catholics say that Church
dogmas are important to believe in order to have a Catholic identity. In "What
is Most Central to Being a Catholic?,"
Hoge  concludes on the basis of a recent Gallup Poll that to Catholics, the
core of the faith is the Creed and the sacraments. He cites the results of two
other studies as support. Davidson, Williams, and Lamanna found that Catholics,
especially those registered in a parish, say beliefs such as the Trinity,
Resurrection, Incarnation, the Real Presence and Mary as the Mother of God, are
very important to them personally. And a study by Dinges, Hoge, Johnson, and
Gonzales found that among American Catholics 20 to 39 years old, three of the
five "most essential elements to their vision of the Catholic faith were belief
that God is present in the sacraments, belief that Christ is really present in
the Eucharist, and devotion to Mary the Mother of God." The results of these
studies can be interpreted as saying that the Church is successful in teaching
Catholics things that are to be believed.
In matters of behavior, Catholics may know the moral
teaching of the Church, but often do not agree with it. D'Antonio, in "Trends
in U.S. Roman Catholic Attitudes, Beliefs and Behavior,"  found that over
three time periods (1987, 1993 and 1999) "the trend is clearly toward declining
support for church leaders (pope and bishops) as the locus of moral authority
in helping people decide what is morally right or wrong on five issues
[remarriage without an annulment, practicing contraceptive birth control,
choice regarding abortion, homosexual behavior and non-marital sex]."
A possible explanation for this dichotomy is that the
Church has not been successful in showing the continuity between matters of
faith and morals. To the extent that there is a crisis in the Catholic Church
in the United States today, it can largely be explained by a lack of
understanding of this continuity among the laity. This continuity needs to be
clarified and emphasized to the Catholic population by the teachers of the
Church. This responsibility rests primarily with the ministerial priesthood.
The Problem at Hand
Given that the Church is the authoritative teacher of
Christ's truth and that surveyed Catholics know dogmatic and moral truths
(although they often disagree with the moral teachings), the question arises as
to what the Church must teach.
To those for whom the status "Catholic" is anything less
than a defining statement, the dogmatic and moral content of the faith must
ultimately be taught in a way that is relevant to their lives as adult
Catholics. Suggested here is that the faith of many Catholics is really the
faith of children. Although our Lord wants his followers to have a childlike
faith, he does not want them to have the immature faith of children. That is,
faith should develop and mature as believers advance in years in the faith.
In order for Catholics to have adult faith that will
nourish and enrich them, and enable them to thrive as they go through life, a
number of things must be kept in mind.
1. An adult return to the basics
Catholics in the United States are well-educated and
sophisticated men and women. The dogmatic and moral truths of the Faith need to
be explained in a manner appropriate to well-educated and sophisticated people,
who are, however, not well-trained in philosophical or theological methods. It
is no longer sufficient to tell people that one thing must be believed and
another not, that one way of acting is proper and another not. Foundational
issues and key points in the development of arguments must be explained so that
people can understand conclusions, see them as relevant and then apply them to
their own lives. 
2. The goal of the Catholic life
The goal of the Catholic life is a lifelong, personal
intimate relationship with our Lord Jesus. The goal is to live in such
friendship with Christ that the three Persons of the Trinity will come and make
an abode in the soul in this life, and bring the hope of attaining the Beatific
Vision, our ultimate end, in the next life. It should be emphasized that this
goal cannot be reached without living the moral life, so as to advance in
holiness in the imitation of Christ.
3. The truth about man
The truth about what man is, articulated especially well
in Gaudium et Spes nos. 12-18, must be
expressed. Man is an individual and a social being; he is divided in himself,
with others and with God, due to original sin; he has a conscience; he is
tormented by pain and the dread of death; he is a unity, etc. Most importantly,
man is made in the image and likeness of God, with a mind to know the truth and
a will to love it. As St. Irenaeus said, "Man is rational and therefore like
God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts." 
4. The primacy of the invisible
In creating the universe, God made the visible and the
invisible, the corporeal and the spiritual. Man is a unity of both. The world
that man knows through the senses is not all that exists. As Ratzinger
emphasizes, there is a "Primacy of the invisible as the truly real, which bears
us up and hence enables us to face the visible in a calm and relaxed way." 
A proper hierarchy of values must be explained so that it can be instituted in
the lives of individuals.
5. Growth in the spiritual life
How man grows in the spiritual life, and how that growth
should be continuous throughout life, must be explained. Self-knowledge, a
ready and well-prepared conscience which is never in opposition to the moral
law or the Church's Magisterium, a holy indifference towards the things of this
world, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the types of prayer and progression
through them are only some of the major components that need articulation and
Responding to the Lord's missionary mandate, the Church is
called to teach the dogmatic and moral truths of the faith in a way that the
laity can understand and apply to their lives. Through teaching, the Church
will assist people to respond to the universal call to holiness: those who call
themselves Catholic and/or live an outwardly Catholic life from force of habit,
for status or companionship, or for other reasons not related to God. Those for
whom the status "Catholic" is a definitive statement will grow further in
holiness, as the Church reinforces her teachings with them, or explains nuances
and subtleties of which they were not aware. In this way, they will be enabled
to share the faith with others.
In the United States today, the dogmatic and moral
teachings of the Church must be made understandable to an educated and
sophisticated Catholic population untrained in philosophical or theological
methods.  The Catholic laity needs to understand, at minimum, the basics of
the faith, the goal of Catholic life, the truth about man, the primacy of the
invisible, and growth in spiritual life, so that these teachings can have an
impact on their lives. They need to understand that although other ways of
acting and thinking contain truth, these other approaches are not equal or
complementary to the truth found in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church
has the fullness of truth. Catholics need look no further than their own faith
to satisfy the desire for truth that is natural to man.
According to Pope John Paul, catechesis as education
"includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally
speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the
hearers into the fullness of Christian life."  If dogmatic and moral
truths, as well as the continuity between them, are well taught, more of the
laity will live a life of intimacy with Christ and the missionary mandate will
come to fruition in many people.
This article originally appeared in the July/August
2001 issue of Catholic Dossier.
 George Gallup Jr. & Dee Michael Lindsay,
Harrisburg, PA: Moorehouse Publishers, 1999.
 This statistic cannot be taken as reflecting
obligatory Sunday Mass attendance because the question does not ask about Mass
attendance, but about church attendance. The two are not necessarily the same.
A Catholic could have attended a Protestant church service, or a wedding or
funeral Mass. Also, merely because someone attended church in the last seven
days does not mean he attends church every week.
 Kirk Hadaway, Penny Long Mailer and Mark Chaves, "What
the Polls Don't Show: A Closer Look at U.S. Church Attendance," American
Sociological Review 58 (December 1993),
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2180-2181.
 In a telephone conversation, a spokesman for the
Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University suggests
a statistic of approximately 34%, based on the annual National Parish Inventory
and a random poll. Using this percentage, the estimate of those not attending
could be even higher.
 As with all social phenomena, the salience of
membership in these categories may range along a continuum; that is, it is
seldom the case that the membership means the minimum or the maximum to a
person. The core issue in this distinction is the salience of the social status
of "Catholic" to a person. Prior to Vatican Council II, one of the most
distinguishing characteristics of those who called themselves Catholic was
attendance at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. This is still a good
indicator of how important the status of "Catholic" is to a man; however it is
an external behavior that cannot assess the state of the inner spiritual life.
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Called to Communion:
Understanding the Church Today (San
Francisco; Ignatius Press, 1996), 145.
 John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, no. 5.
 Dignitatis Humanae, no. 1.
 The reasoning behind the passage includes the
following point from no. 7: "[T]he distinction between theological faith and belief in the other religions must be firmly
held. If faith is the acceptance in grace of revealed truth, which "makes it
possible to penetrate the mystery in a way that allows us to understand it
coherently," then belief, in the other religions, is that sum of experience and
thought that constitutes the human treasury of wisdom and religious aspiration
which man. in his search for truth has conceived and acted upon in his
relationship to God and the Absolute. . . theological faith (the acceptance of
the truth revealed by the one and triune God) is often identified with belief
in other religions, which is religious experience still in search of the
absolute truth and still lacking assent to God who reveals himself. This is one
of the reasons why the differences between Christianity and the other religions
tend to be reduced at times to the point of disappearance."
 John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, no. 14.
 Dean Hoge, "What is Most Central to Being a
Catholic," National Catholic Reporter
36, (October 29, 1999), 13.
 William D'Antonio, "Trends in U.S. Roman Catholic
Attitudes, Beliefs and Behavior," National Catholic Reporter 36 (October 29, 1999), 14.
 Cynthia Toolin, "Restoring Continuity: The Church's
Urgent Task," Homiletic and Pastoral Review
 One prime example that makes this point clear is the
difference between artificial means of birth control and natural family
planning. To understand the difference between the two in such a way that it
impacts the lives of a married couple requires explanations of what man is, of
the equal dignity of men and women, of true theological anthropology as opposed
to the flaws of false humanism and false feminism, of the nature of marriage,
of the unitive and procreative aspects of the marital act, of the development
of an informed conscience, and of true freedom found in obedience to God as
opposed to false autonomy, to name a few. Explanations of this type will have
more impact than the statement, the Church teaches that using birth control is
 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4,4,3.
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger says: "We now begin, to
discern a first vague outline of the attitude signified by the word 'Credo.' It means that man does not regard seeing, hearing
and touching as the totality of what concerns him, that he does not see the
area of his world as marked off by what he can see and touch, but seeks a
second mode of access to reality, a mode which he calls in fact belief, and in
such a way that he finds in it the decisive enlargement of his whole view of
the world. If this is so, then the little word 'Credo' contains a basic option vis-a-vis reality as such;
it signifies not the observation of this or that fact but a fundamental mode of
behavior towards being, towards existence, towards one's own sector of reality
and towards reality as a whole. It signifies the deliberate view that what
cannot be seen, what can in no wise move into the field of vision, is not
unreal; that on the contrary what cannot be seen in fact represents true
reality, the element that supports and makes possible all the rest of reality.
And it signifies the view that this element which makes reality as a whole
possible is also what grants man a truly human existence, what makes him
possible as a human being existing in a human way. In other words, belief
signifies the decision that at the very core of human existence there is a
point which cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible,
which encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that
it is a necessity for its own. existence."
Introduction to Christianity (Ignatius Press, 1990, 2005).
 The process of teaching is aided by a renaissance of
orthodox writing. Good, solid works written over the last century are almost
too numerous to list, including those of the popes from Leo XIII to the
brilliant Pope John Paul II. Also included are the documents of Vatican II and
those that grew out of the Council, such as the Catechism of the Catholic
Church, the writings of churchmen like
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Henri de Lubac, and of numerous lay men and women
theologians dedicated to teaching exactly what the Church teaches.
 Catechesi Tradendae, no. 18.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links/Articles:
Exploring the Catholic Faith! | An Interview with Diane Eriksen
Liturgy, Catechesis, and Conversion | Barbara Morgan
Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, S.T.L.
Why Do We Need Faith? | Joseph Ratzinger
The Source of Certitude | Thomas Dubay, S.M. |
Epilogue to Faith and Certitude
The Crisis of Faith | Father John Hardon, S.J.
Cynthia Toolin is
Assistant Professor of Dogmatic and Moral Theology at Holy Apostles College and
Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.
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