Prof. Thomas Groome (Theology): "The Catholic attitude is, by the grace of God, you don't necessarily have to be a sinner." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
These qualities include the sense of sacramentality, or finding the infinite in the finite; a feeling of community; an appreciation of human potential and fallibility; a concern for justice and the unfortunate; a reverence for tradition, and a conviction that care should have no borders.
"I'd love to renew readers' appreciation for the rich treasury that is Catholic Christian faith, that they might take from this treasury, as Jesus advised, 'both the old and the new,'" Groome said in a recent interview.
Catholic Christianity, after 2,000 years, remains "tremendously life-giving," he said, marked by an "overwhelmingly positive attitude toward the human condition and life in the world," namely, "that life is to be celebrated and enjoyed, cherished and defended, from womb to tomb."
The Catholic faith insists that people are essentially good, he said, drawing a contrast with the Calvinist emphasis on our totally fallen nature.
"The Catholic attitude is, by the grace of God, you don't necessarily have to be a sinner," he said. "Indeed, we're capable of sin, but we don't have to be sinners. In fact, it's possible for each of us to be a saint, to be a person of great holiness."
Groome, who also teaches in the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, said his book attempts to define the common ground that underlies all Catholics, from Ted Kennedy to Pat Buchanan, from Flannery O'Connor to Frank McCourt, from Mother Angelica to Mother Teresa.
"There is a distinctively Catholic outlook or imagination about life in the world," Groome said. "That imagination becomes operative especially when we try to address the great questions of life. That's when our Catholic imagination kicks into gear."
On the question of cloning, for example, the Catholic doesn't merely wonder if it could be done - he or she wonders if it should be done. "You can't just say, 'Isn't every scientific advance wonderful,'" said Groome. "A Catholic imagination should question its ethics, as well."
This rich faith tradition and its gifts for life need particular emphasis at a time when trust has been shaken in Church hierarchy, he said.
"The Church is terribly important," said Groome. "It is an instrument God uses to come looking for us, and that we use to go looking for God." But he added: "The Church is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
"The Church is not in charge of God. It is a sacrament of God's reign in the world, sustaining us to live and love the way Jesus of Nazareth did. Our faith is not in the Church as a human institution, but rather in God, in Jesus, in the Gospel and so on.
"No matter what happens to the Church, the Ten Commandments will still be here, and the Great Commandment ['Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart...'] and the Beatitudes."
The strength and solace offered by the faith and the selflessness of priests were displayed in the World Trade Center tragedy, he said. He recalled the courageous New York City Fire Department Chaplain Rev. Mychal Judge, struck down giving the Last Rites; the firemen asking absolution before entering the towers, many never to return, and the cleanup workers pausing amid the horrid rubble for Mass.
"That's the Church and the priesthood at their best," he said. "Those images should not be lost in a sea of revelations over molester priests.
"The tragedy of this scandal is, we forget the heroism and integrity of the priesthood in the context of Ground Zero, or in the foxholes of World War II," said Groome. "The painful thing is, the scandal is so injurious to the legendary reputation of the priesthood. It's sad to see that destroyed, brought low, especially by something like this.
Said Groome: "The function of faith in the face of evil is to assure us that God can draw good out of it - while never causing it. And we can be sure that evil will not triumph; however, by God's grace, we must be part of the agency that helps defeat evil; to not allow evil to have the last word.
"The mandate of the Christian faith is to help bring about the reign of God - to do God's will on Earth first, as it in heaven."
A sample chapter of What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts for Life, is available at the HarperCollins World Wide Web site.
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