This week I met with the Neophytes, the new Catholics who entered the Communion at the Easter Vigil last month, in one of the dwindling meetings of RCIA. We spend a lot of time reflecting on the Sacraments, which they are graced now to understand by having received them. But we also go over things about being Catholic that they probably don’t know because they did not grow up in a Catholic culture.
The things you are obliged to do because you are Catholic are called the Precepts of the Church, because they are not commandments from God but are positive laws given by pastoral authorities. There are five: 1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor. 2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year. 3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season. 4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church. 5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.
Laughing, I pointed out that these directives reflect human nature’s inclination to ask, Do I HAVE to?? Because that question comes from adults as well as children, the Church made clear what we must do. It is a minimum, not an ideal; but at least it is a place to begin.
Now, for those who want the full experience, with sound and color, there are awesome things that Catholics can do; they will leave non-Catholics wide-eyed in wonder. These are a few that I came up with. You can: Go to daily Mass; Make a visit (to the Blessed Sacrament in a Church or chapel); Celebrate a feast day (with food or fun, for your own patron saint or someone else’s); Light a candle; Finger your beads; Have a Mass offered for someone (and send a Mass card as a token); Make a pilgrimage (to a holy place nearby or far away); Watch EWTN; Listen to Catholic radio (on Sirius or 1160 AM); Mark your home and workplace for Christ with a crucifix and images of the saints, or even just a parish calendar; and you can mark yourself for Christ with a medal or crucifix or pin.
One of the best “Catholic things” that people of every age can do, and it costs nothing, is say grace before meals in public, at a restaurant, buffet, or picnic, even as an individual, but ideally as a family, complete with the Sign of the Cross.
All of these are things that a person new to the Faith would not know how to do. Maybe he saw it in a movie, or she noticed these things in a home she visited once. So it is important that somebody introduce them to this new power that they have to sanctify their times and places, their homes and activities, and to work for themselves and for others in the battle for salvation.
But how many of us twenty-first century American metropolitan Catholics do these things regularly, as part of the fabric of our lives? How many of us have shared them with our families in the same way that we have passed down other cultural touchstones, like ethnic heritage, sports team loyalties, school ties, or family holiday celebrations?
I share them with you because many of us – myself included – did not grow up in a Catholic culture. And unless we do the things that a Catholic is obliged to do, and take advantage of all the cool things a Catholic is able to do, neither will the next generation.Monsignor Smith