August 25, 2017

Christ the Cornerstone

We must engage in the ‘Catholic Both/And’ in today’s world

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

During the homily for my installation last month, I spoke about one of my strongest convictions, what I call the “Catholic Both/And.”

Far too often today, we are confronted with an “either/or” mentality, a growing polarization in our society and in the Church that promotes division and radical individualism in place of unity and the common good. This either/or mentality breeds fear, distrust, hatred, indifference, prejudice, selfishness, despair, violence and radical ideologies.

I believe our role as people of faith—and I especially hold myself accountable here as a bishop—is to be willing to stand in the breach of the divide, drawing people back from the edges of extremism by serving as bridges of unity, ambassadors of hope and instruments of peace. To do so, we must allow the seed, the word of everlasting life, to take root in the rich soil of our very souls.

I believe that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis provide us with a wonderful witness of how to stand in this breach. Pope Benedict is the catechist par excellence. Pope Francis is the evangelist par excellence. These attributes necessarily depend and feed off one another.

The catechist needs the evangelist to flesh out the teaching in lived experience while the evangelist needs the firm foundation of the catechist from which to evangelize. Both are grounded in the beauty, goodness and truth of the Holy Trinity—God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—made known to us by God’s divine revelation, especially in and through the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Both/And necessarily requires sound catechesis and bold evangelization if we are to make a difference in the progress of humanity rather than be mere bystanders pushed around by the winds of change, denial and criticism of irrelevance.

We must be concerned about both worship and service, word and sacrament, Scripture and tradition, head and body, clergy and laity, commandments and beatitudes, tone and content, justice and mercy, doctrine and pastoral care initiatives, marriage and family, faith and reason, spirituality and religion, healing wounds and warming hearts, holiness and mission, personal prayer and communal prayer, formation and education, local and universal belonging, security and welcome, rights and responsibilities, speaking and listening, cross and empty tomb, passion and resurrection, catechesis and evangelization and, as the Benedictines would remind us, ora et labora (prayer and work).

How do we engage one another as well as culture and society with this Catholic Both/And approach? As Pope Francis has emphasized, we must stand in the breach of the effects of polarization, division and radical individualism as missionary disciples, cultivating a culture of dialogue, encounter, accompaniment, mutual respect, reconciliation, mercy and hope.

As eucharistic-centered people, we must first be motivated by gratitude and appreciation for divine grace in our midst while seeking to engage rather than react to or recoil from the world of cultures, economics, politics, science and religions.

Amid structures, policies and programs, we must not lose sight of the person. Nothing of humanity and creation must escape our focus, engagement and outreach. Our task is not so much to resolve the world’s problems as to lead persons and peoples to personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.

Apart from God, our task is more than monumental. It is impossible. With God, however, all things are possible. Here we celebrate the very presence and grace of God in word and sacrament, giving us the direction and sustenance to carry out the task first handed on to the Apostles by Jesus Christ; “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).

We must leave no one behind, especially being attentive to the unborn, the poor, the young, the elderly, the migrant, the immigrant, the refugee, the sick, the dying, the addicted, the abused, the disenfranchised, the lonely, the hopeless, the imprisoned and all who suffer. We must be concerned about the well-being of each and every person as well as creation itself. What we do or fail to do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we fail to do for Christ himself (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

The Catholic Both/And is a simple concept, but it can be difficult to apply to tense situations. Still, the Lord calls us to try.

Let’s pray for the grace to promote unity rather than division in all that we say and do as missionary disciples. Let’s embrace the Catholic Both/And as the vantage point for seeing the world as our Creator intended it to be. †

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