How can you know that people are Catholic? They go to a Catholic church. That’s the first obvious sign. The serious ones can be found at least every Sunday at Mass. Gathering like that is like a badge of membership in the tribe. It says we belong.
Like all such belonging rituals, the regular experience of assembling as a body for Mass is supposed to shape the members in a certain way, form them in a distinct pattern. We have a word for that pattern: holy. It means being related to God. It means our desire is toward the things of God. It means we think of wholeness as being in a good relationship with God.
And of course that means we try to know how such a relationship works. Our book on this is the Bible, a fairly fat volume that takes a lifetime to know well. But as Christians we focus on the New Testament, on our faith in Jesus as the presence of God among us. There we find a simple directive: God is love. It’s in the First Letter of John.
The things of God are wherever there is love and whatever is loving action. This is the global pattern demonstrated in Jesus. This is the particular pattern carved out in history by the life of each holy person.
So the key to life is knowing what such love looks like in some detail. Jesus gave us a global requirement to love others as ourselves, but we need more specifics. There are directions in the Gospel, if we search there. And our history, particularly stories of the saints, also provides examples.
A few days ago Pope Francis used the Feast of All Saints to suggest a sort of Top Ten Secrets in a holy life. Here they are:
Follow God with your whole heart, without compromises.
Get your security from God’s love, not from things.
Always serve others.
Learn to suffer with those who suffer, rejoice with those who rejoice.
Bear suffering and adversity without hatred.
Respond to evil with goodness and mercy.
Reconcile people; build peace.
Have a joyous, humble heart and don’t judge.
Pray, and know Jesus.
Follow the path of the Beatitudes.
That’s it. The Beatitudes can be found in the Gospel according to Matthew 5:3-12. They are Jesus’ Top Eight Secrets to holiness. Consider that list along with the 10 of Francis and you can’t go wrong. Together they show the kind of love Catholic Christians are fed with at Mass and sent out of Church to practice afterward.
The satisfaction in such love is not the stuff found in quick or direct pleasures of any kind. It comes only after the plunge of self-forgetting, of self-giving, and a realization that one is new in some deep way: new and more whole, more related, with infinite possibility.