Wednesday, September 26, 2012
What does being Catholic mean?
Pastoral Coordinator, Holy Name of Jesus, Riverside
A parishioner emailed the other day, suggesting that I put a presidential bumper sticker on my car because there was a Catholic on the ticket. I reminded him that there is also a Catholic on the other ticket — both Ryan and Biden are Catholics. But what does “Catholic” really mean?
“Catholicity, its Challenge for the Church” is an article in the New Theology Review (Nov 2011.) It is challenging reading, but I think it has some helpful things to say about “Catholic” as we consider our “Catholic” vote in the coming election.
Richard Lennan, the author, reminds us that we hear the word “Catholic” through biased ears. We hear it as opposed to “Protestant” even though there was a Catholic Church for 1600 years before Luther. So for sure Catholic does not mean “not Protestant”! We hear “Catholic” as associated with the Pope; but when we think about the four marks of the Church--One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic--it would really be “Apostolic” that connects us with Peter the apostle and his successors.
We hear “Catholic” as describing a certain ethical agenda — like being anti abortion--and that might be OK except that our polarized political realm has narrowed this agenda to just a few items. Speaking of polarization, Lennan has a great definition, borrowed from another author (Lash): polarization is the dramatized simplification of disagreement to the point where there appear to be two and only two approaches possible…locked in mutual incomprehension and distaste.
So, if “Catholic” does not mean not Protestant, and it does not mean a follower of the Pope, and it does not mean a narrow ethical agenda — what does “Catholic” really mean?
This word became part of the Creed in 381, after the Council of Constantinople. In its deepest meaning, Lennon says, it is related to the idea of the Trinity. What is expressed in our belief in the Trinity is that God has both unity and distinctions — Father, Son, Spirit. Jesus Christ also expresses the unity of one divine person who is also fully human. The one revelation of Jesus Christ is offered not just to the Jews but to the multitude of peoples of the world. The Holy Spirit pulled together all the peoples of the known world by speaking to each in his/her own language in the event of Pentecost. So at the most fundamental level, Catholic means unity in diversity.
Lennon continues drawing out the meaning of “Catholic.” Catholic means being a Church that celebrates differences but draws them into a unity of spirit.
Catholic means being a Church that is not confined to one way of being because it is always embracing what is new and good in changing culture. Catholic means being in dialogue with different religions, different cultures, different philosophies — in order to learn from these differences and to speak of the love of Jesus Christ in ways that can be heard despite the differences. Diversity in the Church, Lennon says, is a sign of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Unity of heart and mind comes when people who are different, and think differently, truly listen and speak with one another.
Regarding that bumper sticker, it seems to me that both parties are “locked in mutual incomprehension and distaste” as they demonize one another in the battle of negative commercials. I feel offended when they go after “the Catholic vote” by exaggerating one aspect or the other of our ethics. I would love it if they would appeal to the really “Catholic” values of concern for the common good (unity), respect for diversity, and the full social justice agenda of the Catholic Church. Only then would I want to put that bumper sticker on my car!