One Catholic Church
This Sunday’s gospel includes the commandment to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’. We live in a society which now breaks down along very clear lines into conservative and progressive, as well as seeing strong ethnic and gender based tensions and divisions. Jesus might have broken down the dividing walls of male, female; Jew, Gentile; slave and free. Modern America is struggling. A key witness to Christ in these times will be the church’s ability to resist these partisan lines in the love that we demonstrate for one another and our neighbors both within and outside the church.
I read a great article by a former tutor of mine, now Bishop of Kensington. He writes about the sin of racism threatening the catholicity of the church. You can read the full article here:
He recalls the origins of the word ‘Catholic’. In Acts 9:31 we hear that the church ‘throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up’. The word ‘throughout’ translates the phrase ‘kath holēs’ from which we get ‘catholic’ and which is used in the New Testament only here. Catholic means that the church does not belong to one ethnic group, but is found in Jewish Judea, multi-ethnic Galilee and Samaritan Samaria.
Tomlin writes that when we root the identity of the church in a particular culture or set of norms, rather than in Christ, we lose the very identity of the church itself. To be Christ’s church, it must definitionally transcend any particular group or ethnic culture.
This is a good word for the divisive times that we live in. The church can never be identified as the property of a particular group: black, white; democrat, republican; male, female. As soon as we stray into identifying one of those groups with the proper way of being church, we have lost what it means to be a catholic (universal) church.
In troubling times, it’s tempting to succumb to retreating into whatever political, gender and ethnic identities that we have. It’s good to remind ourselves that Christ’s call for us to love our neighbor means a radical openness to those who are very different to ourselves. It was no accident that Jesus chose a Jewish/Samaritan encounter to teach what loving neighbor means. So please, however uncomfortable, ask God’s help to love your democrat or republican neighbor, your black or white neighbor, your male or female neighbor.