Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, is calling on Catholics to live their Christian identity in public as well as in their own spiritual lives.
The cardinal on Sunday issued a pastoral letter, Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge (en Español). The cardinal notes that a key part of the pastoral letter reflects on “our freedom to be who we are as followers of Christ and some of the challenges of our age as we try to live and share our faith.”
Catholics are called to manifest God’s kingdom, not only in church walls, “but out in the world, building up the common good,” the cardinal writes. “An encounter with Jesus, which we experience in God’s Word, the sacraments, and our works of charity, can transform our hearts, and inspire us to change our world.”
Today, individual Catholics and Catholic educational, health care and charitable institutions “must reflect a genuine Catholic identity with visible communion with the Church, both universal and local, and fidelity to Catholic teaching.”
Chapters in the cardinal’s pastoral letter address the gift of new life through baptism, reflections on what it means to be a member of God’s family, the ways by which people can see the presence of the Church, what it means to choose to be a follower of Christ, the impact of God’s mercy in people’s lives and in the world, and the Church’s contributions to the wider community.
The cardinal explains that as baptized Catholics, “we are engaged in a new life of the Spirit, so that, working in and through us, the Spirit might transform the whole world.” Catholics “are members of God’s family, his Church,” the cardinal writes. “…The Catholic Church is the living and saving presence of Jesus Christ in the world.”
Noting current challenges Catholics face in living their identity, the cardinal points out how in many parts of the world, Christians are being murdered because of their faith. In the United States, the cardinal says laws, policies and practices are being enacted that infringe on the freedom of individual Catholics to live their faith, and on Catholic ministries to carry out their work while remaining true to Church teaching. “Claims of discrimination should not be allowed to become the new weapon for diminishing religious freedom and outlawing institutional Catholic identity,” he says.
Highlighting the impact of the Catholic Church’s ministries, Cardinal Wuerl notes, “Every day in the Church of Washington, lives are changed through our Catholic education, social service and health care programs as we seek to teach, to serve and to heal as Jesus did. All our works reflect Jesus’ call to be his disciples by sharing his love and hope with others. We serve others regardless of their religion or circumstances not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.”
Catholics and the Church’s outreach programs, “must remain true to who we are,” Cardinal Wuerl adds “…As cultural forces and government actions sometimes make it more difficult for us to carry out our work, we must remain true to our Catholic identity.”