The Glory of Being an Ordinary Catholic

This post is addressed to my fellow Catholics, to all those who, like me, have no special claims to being anything in particular, who wear their Catholicism as I wear my habit, a habit handed down across the centuries, a little shabby-looking to outsiders, perhaps, but comfortable and close-fitting, not something assumed but a constituent part of our identity. I think sometimes we allow others to find fault in us for the very thing that is our glory: our ordinariness. Today’s feast, of SS Cosmas and Damian, takes us back to the first centuries of the Church, to a time when Christianity was as much misunderstood as it is nowadays but still had its first youthful elan. We are one with those early Christians in our faith, our sacraments, our very being; and that is no small thing to celebrate.

There are times, I must confess, when I become irritated with those who try to monopolise Catholicism, to reduce it to their own particular interpretation of what is right and fitting. There was Mass before there was the Ordinary Form; there was Mass before there was the Extraordinary Form; we used Greek before we used Latin or any of the vernaculars of the present day; there were Catholics who knew and cared about the traditions of the Church long before there was a Latin Mass Society, an Ordinariate, a Society of St Pius X, or any of the infinite number of oganizations who make large claims for their stewardship of the Church’s patrimony. The reason is simple: we have an unbroken link with the early Church; we have grown, changed, developed, but we have never had to work things out from first principles, as it were. We are part of a family and share its spiritual DNA. It is a given.

Those who, like me, grew up in the England of the 1950s and 1960s, when to be Catholic was still to be suspect and a barrier to membership of certain clubs and organizations, when we were still struggling to build schools and churches — many of them of supreme ugliness  because we didn’t have enough money to build better — may look back with false nostalgia, thinking things were better then. The truth is, the Church exists in an eternal now, an eternal present; there never was any better time than now. We ordinary Catholics have never been very impressive, never will be very impressive; but that is not what matters. It is the earnestness with which we seek to follow Christ, our everyday efforts to live the gospel, our very acceptance of sin and failure and attempts to do better that mark us out as not only ordinary but also graced beings. Perhaps today we could all take encouragement from this fact: to be an ordinary Catholic is precisely what we are meant to be. We just have to be the best we can.


12 thoughts on “The Glory of Being an Ordinary Catholic”

  1. Thank you for those words, I agree with everything you said. I am made to feel silly for my “ordinariness” have listened to many talks at workshops from people who want us to leave behind our traditions and turn our Catholicism into something that resembles a modern church and wacky beliefs. God bless.Anna

  2. I could have written the same (but am not articulate enough) about myself as a member of the Church of England, with a small “c” for catholic, and different names inserted for the various societies and movements. Cheered me up on a Monday morning which got off to a poor start !

  3. I suspect that I am very much in sympathy with your views, as my Catholic heritage was from the fifties, when being Catholic in East London was a novelty, and looked on strangely, at a time, when the East End was starting to receive migrants from the Commonwealth, but also from places like Malta and Italy. We had a number of this fraternity in our secondary school, whose catholicism was a bit different from ours, but essentially the same faith.

    Now, many years later as an Anglican, I can meet with Catholics with some insight and empathy, when they speak of the poverty of their parish, the lack of a regular parish priest, albeit, one particular Parish is part of a Franciscan foundation, whose Head has been translated to Rome recently, and their outworking has received local acclaim. Their lent course this year was attended by Anglicans and Baptists as well as their own parishioners.

    I think that our Anglican parish is connected as well as it can be to the Early Church fathers. We don’t have additional names to describe the Mass. It’s Holy Communion or the Eucharist. The Divine Office is Daily Prayer and we do use the Term Compline for Night Prayer.

    I pray for unity, and wonder if any fruit will be borne by the current way that Ecumenical matters seem to be proceeding, but patience and perseverance seem to be the watch word for that aspiration.

    • I’ve been thinking about the hope you express in that last paragraph, Ernie. I think one of the hurdles we have to face honestly in the case of Anglican/Catholic ecumenism is the fact that we tend to assume that we attach the same importance and significance to the same things — but we don’t. What may seem comparatively trivial to one may be of supreme importance to the other. Unless we are prepared to tackle those differences both theologically and practically, I think we are condemned to not much more than a kind of general goodwill towards one another. If that sounds a little bleak, I suppose it is because I’ve been engaged in ecumenism most of my life — and, as I think you know, it is unity with the Orthodox that tops my personal agenda. The healing of that most ancient schism seems to me to be essential if there is to be any further healing and reconciliation among other Churches. Something for us all to pray for!

      • Thank you sister. There are such divides of theology and importance within the Church of England too, where I think some of us feel strong roots and heritage from our past links with the Catholic church and some see themselves as “reformed”. For the most part, it holds together tolerably well, with great charity and mutual respect. I don’t feel the need to agree with someone to love them (fortunately!) and I know you must experience that living in community! It is a deep sadness to me when we so struggle to live out Christ’s last prayer “that all should be one as you and I are one”, but I own my personal part in not living that as well as I should most days. No. every day! How Christ must weep when He sees what we do to each other, on the international stage and on our own personal journeys. Christe Eleison

  4. I know members from all three of those organisations, and others (I’m learning how rich the Church is in them) and they all seem ordinary, humble, confession-needing Catholics like the rest of us

    Catholicism is brilliant at nailing spiritual pride, isn’t it? I needed that

    • John, I’m not knocking those organizations — I’ve friends among all of them — I am using them as examples of how we sometimes parcel up Catholicism and need to be constantly reminded of our unity in Christ and the importance of seeing the Church whole. Sadly, enthusiasm does sometimes run away with people and leads to silly and divisive statements.

  5. A beautiful reminder that we are all mortals. I was brought up in a strict Catholic household in Ireland. My parents said the rosary every evening. I still strive to be an ordinary catholic even during my darkest hours. I try to do the right thing on a daily basis. I pray for all the children in the world who struggle due to famine war or poverty. May God shine his light and teach them thet they are not alone even in their darkest hours. Amen

  6. Thanks for expressing such encouraging words about ordinary folk. Having grown up in the 1960s I remember the strange divisions/restrictions that existed – certainly not all rosy at all. We never spoke to the children in the primary school, yards from ours – we were Catholics they were Church of England…
    Divisions and issues remain but the now is all we can deal with in our ordinary way. We plod on and greet the next day with hope – even if it brings trials and tribulations. There will be no headlines/award ceremonies/ticker tape but each of us matters more than we can imagine.

    • I feel ashamed to say that, growing up in the same period, I was blissfully unaware of such divide/pain. I grew up in a nominally Christian household, but with a father who had been shocked during the war when, before action, the padre had called forward “church of England” soldiers, and another “Catholic” soldiers and those many who needed comfort were ignored. I affected him profoundly, and impacted my young theology – we are ALL important to God! I remain convinced that none of us has the monopoly of truth… and that each of us is ordinary and wonderful at the same time!

  7. Thank you, Sister, for this reminder that we can all struggle within the Church, but we struggle together. I have my very real doubts, as is evident from my comments here, but I rely on the faith of the Body of Christ, the Church, with whom I am in a communion of love, faith, and the purpose of following God’s Will. Just like all the other “ordinary Catholics!”

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