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The Catholic Moment: Jesus is not my personal lord and Savior

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

By Michael Daley

After a long day of teaching, I returned home to an unexpectedly quiet house. This was surprising, given that my wife was out of town and our three kids were with a babysitter. A little alarmed, I looked around the house. Nearby I found two of our kids and the babysitter huddled under an end table in the corner of the family room.

“What are you doing?” I cautiously asked my oldest daughter, Cara. She quietly responded, “Shhh. We’re playing Sardines.” Just about this time, I heard my youngest daughter, Nora, calling from another room, “Where are you? Here I come.”
For those of you who don’t know, Sardines is the opposite of Hide-and-Seek. One person hides. Then everyone goes looking for her. When someone finds her, rather than shout out, “I see you,” they join the person in their hiding spot. Eventually, just like with my kids, there is a group scrunched together, talking and giggling, trying not to give up their location. Usually, it ends in a burst of laughter, when the final person finds the group that’s been waiting to be discovered all along.
What a beautiful description of Catholicism. Though individual players are needed, when all is said and done, it’s one big communal celebration. Everyone’s safe and sound. This is what keeps me Catholic.
It has long been said by commentators on the American scene that we rebel against those who try to impose any system on us. We prize our freedoms, our choices, our individuality. It’s the American way. This is true not only politically but also religiously. We like to be our own authorities; no intermediaries needed or wanted.
Sociologist Robert Bellah noted this some years ago in his book Habits of the Heart. He symbolized the American cultural emphasis toward religious individualism in the person of Sheila Larson. Describing her faith journey, she said, “I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.”
This line of thinking allows countless people, divorced from any consideration of tradition, Scripture, creed or community to claim that “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior.”
The Catholic way, however, privileges the communal. This corresponds to the human condition as well. We are social beings, living in a culture that is scared to death of being dependent on others, yet members of a faith tradition that says there is no other way.
The operative faith pronoun is not “I,” then, but “we.” When it comes to my faith, for better and for worse (the two are inseparable), it has not been my own creation. I was led to and am sustained in my belief in and relationship with Jesus by others — a pilgrim community called church. Depending on the day, it is taking one step forward; on others, it is going two steps back.
As a member of it, I can rightfully and creedally say, “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven.” Jesus didn’t die for me. God’s salvific plan made manifest in the person of Jesus is to save all of creation. I am but a small part of it.
It is only with the support of a faith community that I can say, “Jesus is our personal Lord and Savior.” This is what keeps us Catholic.

Daley is a freelance writer and religion teacher at St. Xavier High School. 

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