During the course of our lives most of us are going to have any number of labels placed upon us by others. Some we will wear with pride: hard worker, strong willed, high energy. Others will cause us to reevaluate ourselves: lacks effort, undisciplined, tardy.
Recently, someone hung on me the moniker of being a “good Catholic boy” based on limited knowledge gathered by my writings and commentary at this blog. I believe that it was meant to be somewhat complimentary, but it also has caused me to evaluate whether or not it is actually true.
The only way to figure out if I am indeed a ‘good Catholic boy’, in fact if anyone can be described in such a manner, is to determine what exactly that phrase means. To do that, I think we need to break it down, word by word. What does it mean to be good, to be Catholic, to be a boy? And then we need to figure out if, taken together, those words would constitute a compliment. Would they be something of which to be proud?
Let’s start off with being ‘good’, a virtue the meaning of which most of us could probably agree. Webster’s primary definition of ‘good’ states “of a favorable character or tendency“, and secondarily as “virtuous, right, commendable“. Sounds ‘good’ to me. But do I personally fit the bill?
Examining the totality of any American citizen’s life is going to reveal specific incidents of what most of us would consider ‘good’ actions and ‘bad’ actions. It is not only possible, but it happens in fact that people who are good the majority of the time, good in their nature, do sometimes commit bad acts. Conversely, people who many would consider as bad or even ‘evil’ can sometimes do a good act.
I would like to consider myself as falling into the former category, where I feel that most of us fall. An honest evaluation of the person that I know myself to be inside, and the reactions that people generally have towards me, lead me to believe that I am indeed a generally ‘good’ person. That I know also for a fact that I have committed some ‘bad’ actions in my life does not detract from that basic goodness, it simply keeps me striving to improve as a human being.
While being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as a part of your basic character as a person is really not that hard to determine in most instances, even easier to determine is the idea of being a boy. It starts with the premise that you are sexually a male, so that part is easy. The real difficult point is to draw a line between boyhood and becoming a ‘man’, an adult male.
Putting an exact age on this shift is troublesome. Just because someone reaches the age of 18 for instance, where in America you can do such things as vote, is not enough. Even reaching the age of 21, where again in America you can legally consume alcohol and by which point many people have or are about to graduate from college is not enough.
Moving from ‘boy’ to ‘man’ is not about some numerical, chronological age. It is about combining a certain minimum age with reaching a maturity level at which you begin to think outside of yourself on an egotistical level. Some can reach this point at age 16, others at 18, others at 21. Some males take decades to reach the point where they can legitimately call themselves a ‘man’ in real terms.
Being a man means taking care of your responsibilities to home, family, and career. It means placing the needs of your family ahead of your own personal needs and desires. It means setting a good example, working hard, and taking important issues such as faith, politics, and morality seriously. During my own life, moving from boyhood to manhood came in fits and starts.
I had some tremendous responsibilities put on my shoulders at a time when many would still have considered me a boy in chronological age. Parenthood, marriage, and taking care of a sick parent all came to me at very young ages. Over the years I handled most of those responsibilities, but in retrospect I know that I didn’t always handle them the way I now believe that a true man would. I absolutely can be accused of being selfish, ignorant, and unreliable at times, especially when I was younger.
But I certainly feel that the totality of my life experiences has left me as a ‘man’ today. I know that I have grown as a father and grandfather, as a husband in my second marriage, as a homeowner, as a professional in the law enforcement field. So at this stage of my life I feel pretty comfortable in accepting someone calling me a ‘good man’, even if I still may act a bit childish from time to time.
The final term to look at here is that ‘Catholic’ label. That one might indeed be the hardest, even though for some it might seem the easiest to determine. Let’s face it, anyone can call themselves whatever they want and justify it in some way. People who consider themselves ‘Catholic’ as a matter of faith do that frequently. You grew up Catholic, or you go to a Catholic church at times, or you send your kids to a Catholic school.
Does any of that make you ‘Catholic’ truly? If not, what does make one a Catholic in deed, not just as a label. The roots of the word go back to Greek origin, and basically are going to lead you to ‘universal’ as a definition. In the early Church, if you were a Christian you were catholic. Of course as we all know there were many doctrinal splits in the Church over the millenia.
Today being a Catholic with capital ‘C’ signifies to most that you belong religiously to the Roman Catholic Church. You can call yourself a member if you are baptized into the Church, and then more fully as you progress through receiving the Sacraments, particularly Confirmation. Stronger commitments are reached with regularly attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist at Holy Communion, and in cleansing yourself of sin in Penance and Reconciliation.
But these are acts of physical or emotional commitment on ones part. What is truly needed to really be able to call oneself ‘Catholic’ is an understanding and living out of the basic creed of the Church to be ‘one, holy, and apostolic’ in nature. You follow the ‘one Church’ established by Christ whole-heartedly, you always attempt to live your life in a holy manner even if you fall short most times, and you try to spread Christ’s word in apostolic fashion by your own words and deeds.
In this sense, I feel comfortable calling myself a Catholic. I do believe in the Church and it’s creed, in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and I do feel inspired by the Holy Spirit as a direct presence in my life. I read the Bible. I go to Mass and receive Communion. I go to Confession and perform Penance (though not as often as I probably should), and I have been both baptized and confirmed in the Church.
As I have gotten older I have begun to express my Christianity and Catholic beliefs much more frequently, particularly here at my blog. I have volunteered as a lector in my own church. I have supported my wife as she herself converted to Catholicism some years ago now. I have subtly tried to pass along my faith to my children, something that I failed to do strongly enough when they were young. I pray every single day that they come to a full faith in Christ during their lifetime. I believe that I still have much more to do, but that ‘Catholic’ is certainly a term you can use to describe me at this point.
So in the end, the term that was hung on me of being a “good Catholic boy” is a bit misleading. I am only ‘good’ most of the time. I still have much room to grow in my ‘Catholic’ faith. I have mostly shed the habits of a ‘boy’ and take my responsibilities as a man far more seriously. But I know inside that I am a ‘good’ person, I am happy to practice and express my ‘Catholic’ faith, and am confident enough in my manhood to still allow the ‘boy’ in me to come out at times.
“A good Catholic boy.” I have some work to do still, but I think that I can happily live with that. I hope to be able to live up to that label going forward in experiencing this gift of life that God has given to me. I would invite anyone reading this to also try living up to the challenge one day, one action, one moment at a time.