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Who is a Roman Catholic?

March 5, 2012
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Fr. Jose S. Arcilla, SJ

By Fr. Jose S. Arcilla, SJ

THE Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines and in the rest of the world has been in the news recently, and by implication the Roman Catholic religion. Some of them are favorable, others not so.

One wishes the stories were more nuanced. Smelling something by which one could strike a blow at the Church, writers are gloating over the failures of a small portion of the Catholic clergy, conveniently overlooking similar misdemeanors of a bigger number of non-Catholic ministers. Which did the writers have in mind – the Roman Catholic Church? Its teachings? The Roman Catholic faithful, laity, or clergy?

Some writers express surprise – and unconcealed supercilious snobbery – when some Roman Catholics behave in apparently “un-Catholic” ways. One should never forget human nature, which is prone to evil. And actually, without intending to, this is indirect praise of the Catholic Faith, which challenges all baptized believers to be better than their peers.

In theological terms, the baptized Catholic is “reborn” as God’s child and he “belongs” to Christ. He is part and member of the Church, the Ekklesia or assembly of free men gathered to offer corporate worship to God and continue Christ’s redemptive work. He is vitally bound to the risen Christ in much the same way, though not in the same degree, that the latter enjoys an intimate oneness with the God the Father and the Holy Spirit. In St. Paul’s words, he is the temple of God. Ideally, when people meet a baptized Catholic, they should also meet God and feel His presence.

This is mystical language, but not a figment of the mind at all. A baptized Catholic is a totally new person renewed in the deepest core of his being, cleansed of sin, and given a new heart and a new world-view. Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, visited the Lord at night and heard words of utmost importance, but which were far beyond his comprehension. Our Lord insisted, “I tell you most solemnly, unless a man is born from above, he cannot see God’s kingdom.”

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