I have always been religious and I understand that many people have very different religious backgrounds. I was intrigued to find out more about why others have this passion and firm belief amongst themselves. How do Catholic beliefs and traditions shape how they view the world around them? Is it the liturgy or the hymns? Is it the sacraments or the foundations of the faith that shape this difference in the Catholic religion? My religious background led me to ask questions about how Catholics view others who are Christians and those who aren’t Christians.
II. Background Information
The gospel and Catholic Social Teachings are the values and virtues that shape the “Catholic Identity”. Catholic teachings from the Bible shape the way they pray, worship, and live their lives. The Newman Center explains that their mission is to, “celebrate the Presence of God among us, joyfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, and build our faith community” (Newman Catholic Center, 2020). Most Catholics follow the standards of high morality that are given in the ten commandments. In an article by Baker, he talks about how it was important to look at someone’s character and not just the values that they uphold. He said, “A Catholic education is founded on the person and teachings of Jesus Christ and invites every member of the school community to an encounter with Jesus” (Baker, 2019, p. 4). One of the main Catholic sacraments is the practice of holy communion. This reenactment of the Lord’s supper imitates a final meal shared by the disciples and Jesus the night before he was crucified. Catholics believe that as they take this communion, they are remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for them on the cross and they see the bread and the cup as the actual body and blood of Christ. This belief shapes their religion because without the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross they could not be forgiven of their sins. This gives them hope now and in eternity.
III. Observation and Analysis
First Observation: Sunday, March 1, 2020; 11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
When I entered the Newman Center Sanctuary (the room for worship in the church), there were 200 people of various ages saying hello to their friends and greeting new people. They all seemed to connect at a deeper level with their shared beliefs and traditions in their faith. The mass began with a small little group of people who were leading worship songs. Some outsiders, might not understand why the room was full of crosses hanging on all of the walls and what this actually meant to the congregation of people there. Although I am an outsider to Catholicism, I am not an outsider to the Christian faith, so I understood the significance of the crosses. Following a time of speaking liturgies and singing hymns on this first Sunday of lent, there was more silence and reflection in the service.
Later on, there was a Genesis reading by a leader in the church. Scripture reading seemed to shape the identity of this group of people. For those that are outside of this border, it might seem strange to read from a holy book. Continuing on in the mass (service), there were many pauses for reflection. The message that followed was a short sermon preached by Friar Tim. In conclusion of the service, there was a communion procession in which everyone came forth and took the bread and the cup as someone blesses you. Catholics take this holy communion very seriously. If you are not Catholic, including me and a few other individuals, you walk up and someone blesses you instead because you are not allowed to share in the Catholic communion. As I left the church service, I felt that I was not treated any differently than anyone else who was present even though I was not a regular attendee of the mass. From the smiles on everyone’s faces and the multiple greetings I received, I know that people were glad that I had joined them.
Second Observation: Monday March 2nd, 2020; 2:30 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
As I asked about the identity of the Catholic church, Friar Tim began talking about the seven sacraments: baptism, the eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick. These things identify members of the catholic church. Although all seven of these are important to the Catholic church, I only discussed two in-depth with Friar Tim: holy communion and baptism. Christians who were baptized outside of the Catholic church are still accepted within the church. However, those who are not members of the Catholic church are not allowed to partake in the eucharist (or holy communion) among other Catholics.
Although all Catholics say they are Christians, Catholics will still discourage other forms of Christianity (such as Lutheran, Evangelical, or other Protestant denominations) and urge them to accept the Catholic beliefs that have been passed down through centuries of the Catholic church. I talked about the idea of proselytism with Friar Tim, which is the belief that other people’s beliefs are wrong and that you want to convert them so that they will believe what you believe. Since many Catholics are passionate about what they believe in, they will often try to share their faith and beliefs because it shapes how they live and they want other people to know the truth. For example, my friend Miriam who is catholic said, “Of course I think that what I believe is the right way to heaven.” She shared the fact that she is not afraid to share what she believes in. She thinks that what she believes in is right and she understands the faith she has, but while she wants others to believe the same, she will not try to force them to do so. She feels that ultimately each individual has to make their own faith decision. This often makes those who are not Catholics feel uncomfortable and judged around those who are Catholics.
Looking back on my experiences of observing the Catholic beliefs and traditions, I can say that the original research from Baker talked about how all Catholics encourage others to have an encounter with Jesus. Their belief in the one and only true God, the Trinity made up of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and their reenactment of the seven sacraments shape how they look at the world around them and how they live on a daily basis. Many people who aren’t Catholic don’t understand the significance of sacraments like baptism or holy communion so it doesn’t have any impact on their daily life. Although Catholics desire non – Christians to convert to their beliefs and traditions, they will not try to force them to believe. Everyone must make their own choice.
Baker, F. (2019). Values, virtues and catholic identity. The Australasian Catholic Record, 96(1), 3-13. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2251595176/fulltextPDF/EFB950D087B44E40PQ/1?accountid=14244
Newman Catholic Center. (2020). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Newman Catholic Community. Retrieved from http://www.uncnewman.org/home