Monday, October 25, 2010

Truly Universal

The Church is truly Universal. It encompasses the whole world, and includes people from every nation, but it also embraces the whole of the Christian life. Any aspect of the Christian life you might be looking for can be found in the Catholic Church. The Church certainly does not live out all these things perfectly in all times and places, but it has a deep tradition in all of them from which those searching today can draw from. Here are some examples:

Looking for monasticism? The Church has a long, un-broken tradition that goes back to the early Church from which to draw. St Benedict, St Scholastica, St Dominic, St Clare (pictured on left), St Francis of Assisi (pictured on right), even the late Bl Mother Teresa - for both rural and urban monasticism, these are all saints who not only left behind religious orders that still exist today, but they are people from whom Catholics can draw inspiration and guidance.

Want a place that is open to mysticism? The Catholic Church has one of the richest mystical traditions in all of Christendom, with such greats as St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, St Hildegard of Bingen, St Padre Pio, and St Catherine of Sienna.

Maybe you need something to sink your intellectual teeth into. The Church has a wonderfully deep intellectual tradition which spans 2000 years, a tradition that has survived the transitions from antiquity, to the medieval period, to the Enlightenment, and through the Modern period all the way into the Post-modern period, and includes some of history's greatest minds like St Augustine, St Anselm, St Thomas Aquinas, Bl. John Henry Newman, and the still-living Jean-Luc Marion.

So you're a scientist: you're not alone in the Catholic Church. The way has been paved for you by people such as John Philoponus, Pope Sylvester II, Gregor Mendel (right), Blaise Pascal, Rene Descartes, and of course Galileo Galilei.

Artists have long been supported and embraced by the Church. Whether it be architecture, music, painting, sculpting - the Church has not only been a long-time patron, but has seen it as crucial to the life of the Church.

And the Catholic Church isn't just for the supposed elite but has a place for popular piety as well. Things such as special devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or the Holy Face of Jesus, pilgrimages, and popular spiritual practices are embraced in the Church.

The Catholic Church recognizes and embraces the reality of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues and prophesy.

In a world that thinks that the supernatural is merely a superstition of the past, the Church still believes in miracles. The Church takes miracles so seriously that it has investigated hundreds if not thousands of alleged miracles and claims to have validated many, even very recently.

If you want to feel connected to history and Christians who have come before you, look to the saints, the memory of which have been preserved in writing and artwork since the early Church. Even further, the Church has maintained relationships with them to which all of us have access.

But what of the tangible problems in our world? The Church has a very well-developed theology regarding helping the poor and the sick, and has put it into practice: in addition to its unparalleled network of hospitals and organizations to help the poor throughout the world, there are figures to look to as well, such as the Bl Mother Teresa, St Damien of Molokai, Dorothy Day (left), and St Nicholas of Myra. Regarding solving these problems on a societal scale, the Catholic Church actually coined the now popular term social justice.

Now I'd like to hear from you! I've only mentioned a few main categories. Comment about aspects of the Church that are important to you or that you feel add greatly to the Church's richness and beauty.


  1. Great post!
    More things: there's a spectrum of acceptable degrees of conservativeness in mass-style, from traditional Latin mass to more modern services. Then there are the Eastern churches and the recent Anglican/Catholic additions to the Church.

    The Catholic Church is found nearly all over the world.

    The Catholic church is loved in some places and disliked in others, so depending on whether you want to feel oppressed or not on your holidays, you have a choice.

    If you want to rebel against some aspects of modern society (like abortion etc), there is (well, sometimes) the Church on your side if being a rebel is your style.

  2. Just adding in an explicit mention of poetry. Dante, Hopkins, and many more--whether or not the Church was then supporting them as patrons, her teaching is pervasive, and filled their imaginations. (For example, the Divine Comedy is held together by its theology in a way that Paradise Lost is not.)

    It's not always been an easy relationship--the author of "The Hound of Heaven", Francis Thompson, took the Church to task for abandoning poetry to atheists and heretics (and sentimentalists) because she began to distrust beauty. Whereas beauty belongs to God's Church and all of his actions--which "The Hound of Heaven" is a wonderful example of, showing that beauty even in the terror of the pursued soul.

  3. (NB: The Divine Comedy vs. Paradise Lost example is just that, and is only meant to shed light on the filling of the imagination which I think happened more successfully with Dante.)

  4. Without a doubt it is the intellectual fruits...theological and philosophical well as the unparalleled beauty of the classic art. And of course, Dante.

  5. Music deserves to be expounded upon- Gregorian Chant, Beethoven, Dvorak, Elgar, J. C. Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Salieri, Scarlatti, Schubert, Vivaldi, Hildegard von Bingen (one of the first female composers), some of the most famous hymns of all time (ie Pie Jesu), and some beautiful masses. Even Orthodox Christians (Stravinski), Lutherans (J. S. Bach), Agnostics (Ralph Vaughn Williams) and Atheists (Berlioz) wanted to write masses.

  6. You can live your faith in almost any way. Some people prefer a contemplative and prayerful devotion, while others' devotion is in charitable works. You can be single or married, a parent or not, have a job or not. Any personality can find a way to express their faith. Extraverts will participate in Mass: singing, reading, what have you. They'll become pastoral associates or directors of religious education. Introverts will participate in Eucharistic Adoration or personal Bible study or pray the rosary. And the awesome thing is, neither is wrong.

    If you relate better to the divine feminine, you will have a stronger devotion to the Blessed Mother, while if you relate better to the divine masculine, you will have stronger devotion to something like the Divine Mercy. And neither is wrong.

  7. Every year I make my 6th graders aware of the 21 Eastern Churches, which bring an aesthetic sensibility and imagination into the Universal Church which is quite different from the Latin Church of the West.

  8. Hey everyone,

    Great comments so far!

    Carla, I love your first paragraph. Your second one makes me a little nervous though. I'm not sure what you're getting at, but we of course all know that Mary is not divine at all, but is a creature of God. Just wanted to clarify for anyone else who's reading!

  9. I like your blog and think you are generally on the right track. but don't be too hard on protestantism. Remember the leaders of the church
    at that time made many serious mistakes in there actions and how they talked to the reformers. Pray for unity and teach it by your love. I liked that you mentioned Dorothy Day, one of my favorites. I write about her on my blog