November 21, 2010

Objectively, not subjectively....

By George Weigel, Please pass the ontology:

A philosophically-minded young friend recently sent me a fine rant, after having watched a presidential candidates' cattle call on CNN. The discussion had focused on religion. Several candidates, who identified themselves as Catholics, had indicated that their Christianity was rather easily bracketed when they put on their hats as public servants. "Does ontology mean nothing to these people?" my friend asked. "Do they even know what it is?"


Well, no. They don't.

And that's a problem.

By "ontology," my correspondent was using the technical vocabulary of philosophy to re-capture an image once familiar to generations of Catholics from the Baltimore Catechism, the image of an "indelible mark" imprinted on the soul by certain sacraments. This image of the "indelible mark" was intended to convey a basic truth of Catholic faith: that the reception of certain sacraments changed the recipient forever, by conferring on him or her a new identity — not in the psychological sense of that overused term, but substantively. Or, if you'll pardon the term, ontologically.

Baptism is a sacrament with what we might call ontological heft. To become a Christian through baptism is qualitatively different from becoming a citizen, a member of the Supreme Court bar, a Detroit Tigers fan, a collector of vintage Volvos, a bourbon drinker, a member of the Democratic or Republican parties, a lifelong student of Dante, or a trout fisherman. When one becomes a Christian through baptism and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, one is changed in a fundamental way: as St. Paul taught those rowdy Corinthians), one becomes a "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17).

That ontological change in baptism (and I swear that's the last time I'll use the o-word) incorporates a Catholic into the Church. The Church is not incidental to our identity as new creations in Christ; we don't "join" the Church the way we join the Rotary, the Kiwanis, the American Association of University Women, the A.M.A., the American Legion, or my beloved Society for the Restoration of Lost Positives ("ept," "ert," etc.). Being a Catholic Christian engages who-I-am in a substantively different way than any other aspect of my "identity" — not because I think that's the case, or because I feel that's the case, but because that is the case: objectively, not subjectively. Baptism has real effects; it changes us forever...

Posted by John Weidner at November 21, 2010 3:15 PM
Weblog by John Weidner