The election of Pope Francis last month provided the world with what can be called a “primer” on Catholic identity. The images from St. Peter’s Square leading up to and including the introduction of Pope Francis were rich but often subtle…too subtle for the media to catch and articulate.
In my book, Practice Makes Catholic, I identify 5 characteristics of Catholic identity:
- A Sense of Sacramentality – making the intangible, tangible; the invisible, visible (signs, symbols, and rituals)
- A Commitment to Community – not a “me and God” but a “we and God” experience.
- A Respect for the Dignity of Human Life and a Commitment to Social Justice – a radical inseparability between love of God and love of neighbor
- A Reverence for Tradition – drawing from our rich treasure of “heirlooms.”
- A Disposition of Faith and Hope and Not Despair – not pollyannish but confident hope
Each of these was represented in abundance as the media brought us the sights and sounds of the introduction of our new Holy Father, the first Jesuit pope. Here are links to media images that are powerful examples of the Catholic sensibility.
- A Sense of Sacramentality
- white smoke to signal not just election results but the conclusion of a prayerful process of discernment
- when the curtains opened, what appeared first was the processional cross before the face of the new pope: Jesus first
- the Holy Father vests for the blessing, putting on a stole, a symbol of the priesthood
- the Holy Father blesses with the Sign of the Cross
- A Commitment to Community
- the Holy Father invites the crowds in the Square and around the world to join in traditional prayers known by heart so that voices, minds, and hearts can be joined – Catholics never pray “alone.”
- A Respect for the Dignity of Human Life and a Commitment to Social Justice
- within minutes of his election, images emerge of then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s actions of washing the feet of those suffering from AIDS, poverty, etc.
- in his first visit to the crowds of the Square, Pope Francis climbed out of the “popemobile” to embrace a person with disabilities
- A Reverence for Tradition
- the announcement of the Holy Father’s name – Francis – speaks volumes with the utterance of just that one word: Francis.
- A Disposition of Faith and Hope and Not Despair
I’m sorry Joe, but this ‘Catholic identity’ thing is way over the top. One has a Catholic faith, or not. ‘Catholic identity’ is about ‘cultural identity’ and smacks of cultural chauvanism…. I hope you give some thought to this. Under the phrase ‘Catholic identity’ the cultural pieties of certain peoples will be held up as the only acceptable model of Catholicism… and only certain political perspectives will be associated with this ‘Catholic identity.’ I hope you’ll do some surfing around the web plunking in ‘Catholic identity’ and see how exclusive and exclusionary it is being used.
Chris, I have one simple question for you then: what makes faith “Catholic?” If you either have “Catholic faith or not,” what defines it as Catholic?
Thank you for sharing this Joe! I remembered the time when Pope Francis first stepped out from the red curtain as the new Pope. It was a glorious day and a wonderful celebration of faith.