There are five precepts of the Catholic Church:
- You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labour.
- You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
- You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
- You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
- You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.
(CCC. 2042 – 2043)
Sounds simple enough to be Catholic. However, we must be cognizant of how these precepts are the recommended bare minimum and that to be Catholic entails more than these.
We know that Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
In Luke 12: 8-9, “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God, but whosoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.”
Jesus also says, “If you wish to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19: 21)
The implications are as such. If the Catholic Faith can be seen via the imagery of a cross, the vertical dimension has to do with how humanity responds to the love and call of God our Father, and the horizontal dimension or arm of the cross, as to how a person responds, loves, and reaches out to his or her neighbour. Yet, to make the imagery complete, something is still missing. This is the Body of Jesus. We are asked to make Jesus known. Without Jesus, the wooden beams of the cross remain empty. With Jesus, the cross becomes a crucifix, and the love of God becomes the pillar and testament of our faith. Many people understand the head knowledge of an empty cross, but many people including Catholics, do not know this Jesus who hangs on the cross for us.
The words and mandate are very clear in the Great Commissioning: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
Our faith cannot reside in the complacency of having done the barest mediocre minimum. This is the reason why our faith is no longer relevant, or inspiring.
We have forgotten or ignored this, but evangelisation is a mark of Catholicism, and at its heart is catechesis for adults. In Ad Gentes, for example, the Second Vatican Council emphasizes that, “the pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father.” (Ad Gentes, 2)
The Church formed and commissioned by Christ, is tasked to manifest, reveal, and to communicate the immense love of God to all men and women, and nations by:
- Bearing Christian Witness so that others in observing their good works and charity, would encounter the peace and light of the Gospel.
- Preaching the Gospel and Gathering together the People of God.
- Forming Christian communities to live as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people.” (1 Peter 2:9)
(Ad Gentes, 10 -18)
Today, the legacy that we have inherited from the Church pre-Vatican II, is this: we have Catholics who do not read the Word of God, know little or some distorted version of the teachings of the Church, who know to pray only through set prayers, and we have a stagnant Church who is reluctant to telling others about Jesus and who fears evangelising to others. We cannot ignore anymore the Catholics who ask, “Why am I Catholic and why did I become Catholic?” and worse, that of non-Catholics who see our shoddy witness and ask themselves, “Why should I be Catholic?”
As Catholics, there are many of us who are living as if the Resurrection never happened, and thanks to an inheritance of lacklustre catechesis know little better. As St. John Henry Newman says, “The Church must be prepared for converts, as well as converts prepared for the Church.” The time has come for us to ask if we are truly content with living the bare minimum of our Faith, and the time has come to get our own house in order, so as to become the truly vibrant, loving, and missionary community of believers it is meant to be.
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Ad Gentes. (1965). Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. (n.d.) The precepts of the Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Libreria Editrice Vaticana.