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.