In dialoguing with non-Catholics in secular society, the greatest problem will frequently be complete lack of understanding.
This can easily arise because – often without realising it – non-Catholics and Catholics have completely different understandings of what the Church is.
For within the secular world, the idea has become prevalent that Catholicism amounts to little more than a denomination, a belief system or a theological and moral code – pretty much like every other religion (or division thereof).
And of course, the non-Catholic has the liberty to hold such opinions, if that is how the Catholic Church appears to him.
However, there is likely to be continuing confusion – lack of understanding – unless Catholics of Faith make clear that this is not how the Catholic Church appears to us.
For me, it seems then burningly urgent to make clear that the Catholic Church has never regarded itself in such terms. Rather, these are relatively recent notions that the modern, secular world has constructed around the Church.
All this hit home to me in a recent exchange on Facebook, where a woman spoke of Protestantism and Catholicism, in a way which suggested that they amounted to little more than ‘labels’. She also spoke to the effect that the name over the church door had little importance.
And before we go further, let me stress that I did not take her words to be anti-Catholic.
No, I sensed no such agenda on her part, but very much the reverse. I sensed a real sympathy for the Catholic Faith in her attitude.
Moreover, she strikes me as idealistic, articulate, educated, warm …
And I guess that she feels in her heart, the pain of the Wound to Christendom – that Christians are divided against each other.
And I guess that for her this Wound to Christendom can be addressed by not getting caught in labels.
I stress that word guess. For it is dangerous to read too much into a Facebook exchange.
What follows will inevitably say more about my guesses than a real-life flesh and blood woman, logged into Facebook, whom I have never met.
Still I guess that she belongs to a vast number of people these days, who – consciously or unconsciously – tend to see religion in largely human terms.
I guess that she belongs to a vast group of people who see the Catholic Church as a denomination – meaning a human-created organisational system divided from other human-created organisational systems.
I guess that she belongs to the same vast group of people that I once belonged to.
For certainly in my youth, I would have deeply resonated with the idea: “Let’s not get caught in religious labels. All that matters is what lies in the heart.”
And so I turned to Findhorn and the New Age movement, where such labels were downplayed or indeed, scorned.
And speaking very personally now – I wasted years of my life within that New Age movement. Years that I am now trying to undo and make reparation for.
Because all that time that I regarded religion as little more than a belief system, I was being sidetracked – diverted from unspeakably precious Mystery.
Diverted from the Mystery that now turns my life inside-out.
The good woman in the Facebook exchange spoke as though religious “labels” were unimportant. What mattered was the purity in one’s heart and one’s relationship with Christ.
How I agree with her that such purity and such relationship is what matters!
Unfortunately, the more my life is turned inside-out by the unsettling nature of the Catholic Mystery, the more I see how impure my heart really is. And the more I see how poor my relationship with Jesus Christ really is …
And the more I see that Jesus Christ understands how frail I am, how impure I am, how very much I would betray my relationship Him – and how therefore I need.
I need something that no mere label, no mere belief system could ever give me:
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. … The bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.
The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you …
For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him (John 6:54-57).
As a New Ager living at Findhorn, how confident I would have been that Catholicism was simply another label, an “Old Age” religion fading away as we exited Pisces and entered the Age of Aquarius.
And what would I have thought had I been told then that twenty five years later in the future, this “Old Age Piscean religion” would be more precious than anything that Findhorn could ever give me?
Because that “Old Age Piscean religion” is not a label, not a belief system, not a human-created denomination – but a Living Mystery which can turn your life inside-out, dear Unknown Friend on Facebook.
And I need to speak out, dear Unknown Friend on Facebook, because while I believe in your sincerity, in your goodwill, in your heartfelt longing to see an end to the Wounds that separates one Christian from another …
We will never achieve that through reductionism – I mean: reducing a Living Mystery to a label …
This reductionism is what the secular world tells us, this reductionism is what the New Age tells us.
But it has never been the understanding of the Holy Church – the Mystical Body of Christ – in either the Catholic West or the Orthodox East …
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