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How “Catholic” Can Still Mean Universal

By on 3.26.14 | 3:57PM

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated as he performed mass. His martyrdom broadcast his message of solidarity with the poor around the globe. I recently learned a bit more about this incredible man at a Catholic young adult’s speaker series.

During the talk, as the heating pipes groaned against a polar wind, vicar Rev. Patrick Riffle explained the division of the Church in El Salvador during its civil war. Some priests linked themselves to the ruthless families that ruled El Salvador. Some picked up AK-47s to protect the poor against both the Marxists and the government.

It affected the image of the regional Church for decades. Yet Romero was able to find the truly Catholic message amidst the firearm cacophony: stop the violence and treat your fellow citizens as brothers and sisters. No handgun required.

The global Church finds itself in a similar divisive crisis after Vatican II, especially in America. The “Orthodox” or “conservative” Catholics judge the “Catholic liberals.” Yet “Catholic” is supposed to mean “universal.”  

This issue has been featured in two different articles over the past week: one from Catholic blogger Dr. Taylor Marshall, and an earlier piece that appeared in Slate by Commonweal editor Paul Baumann.

Both address Church disunity after the Vatican II conference. How do we solve this problem? Pope Francis has one answer: “Avanti.” Go forth and evangelize. Let Jesus come out of your soul into the world.

Marshall agrees. He cautions us to stop using such terms as “conservative Catholic” and “liberal Catholic” altogether. Let’s just be “Catholic normal.”

For Baumann, “Catholics will find unity, and a less anachronistic relationship with the papacy, in practicing their faith together—or they will not find unity at all.”

We see this problem in Washington, D.C., where people place their politics before their faith. They’re conservatives or liberals before they’re Catholics. Using faith for political reasons, as we learn from The Screwtape Letters, is a huge mistake. For where will ideology bring us? Down into the temporal mud, when the next policy fails to pass or does not even bring us where we want to be spiritually or mentally.

But there is a solace in such frustration, for we then find our peace with the people who share our lives. And when we allow the Church to challenge us to transcend politics, we find ourselves more relaxed after we just let the grievances go.

The Christian challenges are legion. We may be wealthy, but are we giving enough away? We may be in love, but are we practicing our sexuality in a truly loving way? We may be working incredibly hard to support our families, but do our families lead us to God? We may be young and poor now, but what do we envision for our careers?

Christian truth should irritate us initially. And perhaps that is how we Catholics should unite in universality: by a confession of ignorance to our brothers and sisters.

We should keep learning. Not just from the pope: from the archbishop, from the priest, from the homeless parishioner, and from our liberal and conservative brethren. 

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