“The church’s unity should never be mistaken for mere uniformity.”—A Faith Interrupted, page 79
There is much diversity within the Catholic Church; we’re sort of like a big, boisterous family in which a lot of good stuff gets done but a lot of fights and arguments break out. We may be quick to disagree—sometimes quite emotionally—but in general we are not quick, or even very willing, to disown our family members.
A few essentials hold together this large, unwieldy group. One is the Mass; on any given Sunday, during any given Mass, people of diverse cultures, political parties, and opinions pray this ancient liturgy and partake of Christ’s body together. The Eucharist demonstrates the incarnational quality of the Christian faith—we believe that God dwelt (and continues to dwell) in flesh and blood, in this gritty reality of life on earth. God’s grace and mercy are the great equalizers, offered to every person without exception.
Another essential of the Catholic faith is the emphasis upon making informed, moral decisions. We may exist on a long spectrum of “conservative-liberal,” but we all believe that our choices matter and that they must rest upon a framework of consistent faith and practice. We also believe that nothing trumps a person’s own conscience before God. The presumption is that our conscience is always being shaped by our faith in God who loves us, our understanding of Christ’s teachings, and our involvement in the community.
Reconciliation and healing are key aspects of Catholic life. We believe that people need reconciliation between themselves and God and with one another. In that sense, we are peacemakers. At the same time, we know that our true place is not boarded up in church buildings but out in the hustle and bustle of the world. As Christians we must respond to the needs of the poor and voiceless, the damaged and the alienated. So in that sense, Christians sometimes stir up more trouble than peace—but we follow the example of Jesus, who healed people and got into trouble sometimes at the very same time.
Can you think of your faith in its most basic terms? What is essential, and what is not?