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January 30, 2012

One obligation Catholics have is to become catholic. The four marks of the true Church, as we learned in catechism class, are to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. However, these are not badges to be worn with pride; they are obligations for living.

The Church is sometimes accused of being a relic of mediaeval times; in fact, it is a Church of all times. For G.K. Chesterton, the famous 20th century apologist and convert to the Catholic Church, Catholicism "is not an old religion; it is a religion that refuses to grow old." It is not old, but eternal.

The great difficulty about being Catholic, Chesterton said, "is whether a man can stretch his mind, or (as the moderns would say) can broaden his mind, enough to see the need for an eternal Church."

All people are products of the age in which they live. Every age is burdened with its own forms of prejudice and narrowness. To be catholic is to strive to overcome the parochialism, not only of a certain place, but also of a certain time.

The Church, wrote Chesterton, can save "a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age." This does not happen by osmosis. It does not happen solely by attending Sunday liturgy and having an active life of prayer.

Transcending the spirit of the age calls a person to strive to think with the mind of the Church. It means to read Catholic literature, study the truths of the faith and regularly take part in ongoing formation.

Some will object, "I don't need to think with the mind of the Church. I have my own mind."

Unfortunately, one's own mind is a tiny thing compared with that of the Church. The Church has, over the past 2,000 years, been confronted with a myriad of mistaken opinions. One would be hard-pressed to make a new mistake that the Church has not already corrected. One would be extremely hard-pressed to devise a new correct way of thinking that has not already passed under the purview of the Church.

Chesterton also wrote, "Atheism is, I suppose, the supreme example of a simple faith. The man says there is no God; . . . when he has said it, he has said it; and there seems to be no more to be said. The conversation seems likely to languish."

With Catholic faith the conversation never needs to languish. Catholicism is a house with many rooms, with a few small annexes, with endless nooks and crannies. Some rooms are regularly redecorated; others haven't been touched for ages. It makes for a fascinating tour.

The conversation will languish, however, if one has failed to take the tour. One stuck in the entranceway is liable to have strange misconceptions about the upstairs parlour. Once one has actually seen the parlour, one may be pleasantly surprised. Being Catholic means becoming catholic. It's a tour all Catholics need to take.

Letter to the Editor - 02/13/12