April 18, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

‘Catholic’ sure does cover a lot of territory

Cynthia DewesWe say in the Apostles Creed that we believe in “one holy, catholic and apostolic church.”

It seems to me that we understand the holy and apostolic parts pretty well, but we don’t always appreciate the catholic part. Because “catholic” means “universal,” not “narrow.”

As I’ve written before, I love the fact that the Church is universal. I love it that so many kinds of people, who reflect the overall image of our God, not only exist but thrive in it. They are nourished by the graces which God provides for them all the time, and makes apparent to them through the Church.

That’s why it’s so sad to learn, as John Fink wrote in a recent Criterion editorial, that the Church is losing members.

Some folks are just not aware of the spiritual, emotional and even physical support available to them in a community of believers such as ours. Young people, especially, may not realize that their lives will be expanded, not diminished, by the sharing of faith.

Part of their ignorance may be laid at the door of misunderstanding what “catholic” means.

Maybe they’ve been overwhelmed by the rules and what they consider threats issued by well-meaning parents and teachers. They resent judgmental dismissal of their ideas and choices because of what they perceive to be rigid sectarianism so they rebel and discard the Church and her teachings.

If only they would persevere in learning more about what makes our Church truly “catholic,” they might be converted to joyful and lasting faith.

In reading, prayer and contemplation, they’ll find their place in the Church because it surely is there. It is our duty to encourage them in their search.

This is not to say that any old behavior is acceptable in or out of the Church. We should not mistake God’s gifts as the work of our own doing. Basic truths are still applicable and essential throughout time: life at any stage or condition is precious, love is always life-giving and enabling, and God is in charge.

We need to live with those truths and, therefore, we abhor abortion, promiscuous sex, euthanasia and human rationalization for ungodly behavior, among other things.

If we live long enough, we discover that these truths are real, not only because the Church says so, but because their opposites simply do not work. They won’t make life livable, not to mention joyful.

There is no better way to understand the richness and extent of the Catholic faith than through reading Scripture. But it is also helpful to learn about what faithful people of all kinds have concluded from their studies of Scripture, the Church fathers and Church history, biblical research and devotional material.

Just because we are a “catholic” church, our survey may take us from the insights of St. Augustine to John Milton to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Thomas Merton to Mother Angelica to Garry Wills.

We believe that the fullness of divine revelation exists in our Church and that ultimately she is protected from error by the Holy Spirit. The Church’s very universality, her catholicity, allows her members to access that revelation through the many individual abilities and graces given to them by God. We should not declare some of their insights heretical just because they are different from the ones we know.

If we feel a need to discover a spiritual home—and all of us do—we must take advantage of our Catholic heritage.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

Local site Links: