By Carmen F. Aguinaco
There is an anecdote about a punk teen who went into a church when Mass had already started. He had spiked purple hair, chains and spikes. The middle class congregation held its breath, somewhat horrified. An usher followed the young man who walked decidedly to the front of the church. For a brief moment, people thought the usher was about to kick the young man out of church. But something surprising happened instead: the young man sat on the floor since there was no room on the benches and the usher sat down next to him. Both followed the celebration of the Eucharist with devotion: the young punk and the formally dressed middle-aged usher.
What does this story tell us and what does it have to do with Catholic identity? What was the usher trying to express by sitting next to the young man? The usher probably did not make a theological analysis of the issue, but his actions were showing what Catholics are all about: human dignity does not depend on appearance, dress, or social status. It is simply given by being a child of God.
An important trait of Catholicism, by the definition of the word, is universality. Everyone has a place in God’s house. Everyone is a beloved child. Any exclusion, as perhaps some people felt was justified, would have meant denying the catholicity of the church, particularly at the Eucharistic celebration. Catholics are hospitable or they are not Catholic.
Bread that gives life
This is something Hispanic youth can understand easily. No one is denied bread in a Latino family. We have seen it or have heard the story of our parents and grandparents always keeping bread for the poor.
Many adolescents eat a lot. Sometimes they tease each other about the astronomical quantities they consume. They are growing, they exercise, and they are always hungry. But they are also hungry for many different things. They are hungry for food, but also for success, acceptance, respect, affection. What truly defines us as Catholics is that, being just one family, we sit at the same table: the table of the Eucharist that gives us the very Body and Blood of the Lord. Knowing that Jesus himself is in the bread we eat is the highest point of our faith. And we need bread for all the journeys of our life.
There is no way
A Spanish poem says that there is no path, a path is made by walking. That is, everything is open for us. Our role is to build this world. In order to do this, Catholics believe that action in the service of others is intrinsic to our faith. We have often heard that we are a “People on the Move.” We often sing songs associated with walking, journeying, being pilgrims. These are not just beautiful words. Catholics believe that life is a journey throughout which we build our world and the reign of God. The word parish has its origin in the Greek word paroikia, which meant the place of travelers, of those who are on their way to another home. They are pilgrims who walk toward the Reign of God even as they build it here on earth. It is said that hope is the virtue of the feet. That is, as Catholics, we are people of hope, because we believe in the Resurrection of Christ and, because of that Resurrection, we can believe we, too, will rise. All the evil in this world, all death, does not have the last word: life is stronger.
We walk together
Young people need a group, a tribe, a gang to whom to turn. This is the group of friends where we find support, respect, encouragement, and a place where we can express ourselves and feel accepted just as we are. For Catholics that place is the community of believers. Some people say that they believe in God but not in the church. They say they have a relationship with Jesus but don’t feel it is necessary to go to church. The problem with that interpretation is that it leaves Jesus without his body! Church means assembly, congregation. We don’t need to be lonely. We walk with the community. A community makes it possible to grow, believe, and work together for the service of others. We don’t walk together in order to live for ourselves, but to bring to the world who we are. To be Catholic means to bring the Word of God to others: as a body. We need community.
What do we need to be Catholic? We need the Spirit!
We need energy to give us life. We need fire to send us forth. We need salve to give us vitality; the sun to conquer darkness; a soft breeze when we are tired and weary; a hurricane to awaken us up from our routine; water to refresh us; breath to renew our strength; ointment to heal us; a light to dispel the confusion of the problems of life. Comfort in our pains; a bond to reunite what was broken.
That is the Spirit of Jesus moving in the church, the community. And that is what we receive in our Confirmation where we reaffirm our identity as Catholics.
How do you experience your Catholic identity? If you reflect on your being Catholic, what is the first image that comes to mind? What is the world around you like? What are its main needs? Have you ever felt excluded? Have you excluded anyone?