Much emphasis falls today on Catholic identity and seeking out a Catholic distinctiveness. But all too often we turn boundaries into bludgeons. Catholic is something that seems uniform, something that seems tied to traditions and ways of being that can be separated from non-Catholic Christianity. But how much of what non-Catholic Christians do or think is truly “not” Catholic? Is something that originates within Protestantism something the church should avoid—even if, in fact, it reflects values and understandings found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? To do so seems to be a contradiction of the Catholic genius—Catholicism means universal and embracing of that which is or can be in communion, after all. Catholicism is not a remnant religion—claiming only distinctive characteristics that no other Christian tradition has. This inclusiveness is, in fact, what makes Catholicism distinctive. One can confuse Catholic identity with a focus on an inheritance from medieval or baroque European Catholicism, or uniform liturgical worship as the current liturgical texts for the Roman Rite legislated. But Catholicism is more than European: Most growth today is in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And its liturgical worship is hardly uniform: Well more than a dozen rites other than the Roman Rite are recognized, and in many dioceses in the United States one may find parishes “of Anglican use,” using the Anglo-Catholic Book of Common Prayer. In Africa, various bishops’ conferences, with Roman approval, have issued adaptations of the Roman Rite that involve prayers to ancestors and hosts of other innovations that speak to the community of faith in a profoundly sacramental, storytelling, sacred way. In this they are all distinctively Catholic.
Authors Bryan FroehleRestricted
The story of Peter’s shadow captivates our attention like a childhood fairy tale. Imagine a healing power so magnificent and penetrating that it can be communicated in a holy person’s passing shadow! There is scarcely any intentionality involved in such a miracle—it happens automatically because of the mere presence of the holy one, if only for a moment. The hyper-effectiveness of the apostles’ ministry seems to surpass what Jesus accomplished in his own earthly mission. This beats even the remarkable story of the hemorrhaging woman healed by grasping the hem of Jesus’ clothes. In Peter’s case, even this minimal contact was not essential for the “power to go out of him.” In the ministry of Jesus, too, not all the cures were 100 percent guaranteed. When he passed through Nazareth, we are told he could scarcely perform a mighty deed there because of people’s lack of faith. On another occasion, Jesus only achieved a partial cure of a blind man who could “see people walking around looking like trees” and had to lay hands on him a second time. The way Luke tells the story of the early church, however, the apostles never had a bad miracle day. When the people brought their sick and possessed ones before the apostles, the word is simply that “they were all cured.” The mantra of Acts is that all along the way “great numbers of men and women were added” to the community of faith. No one seems to be lost to the intimidation of local religious leaders or the threat of accusation by Rome. No one is reported to be put off by “harsh sayings” or the absence of a master plan to overthrow the present system. Whatever imperfections existed in the first gospel tour of Jesus appear to have been ironed out of the apostles’ ministry. How could this church possibly lose? The ideal church Scholars often speculate that the portrait of the early church presented by the Acts of the Apostles is a highly idealized version of the facts. Yes, and deliberately! First of all, it was written after Luke wrote his gospel, which places it roughly between 80-90 C.E., after the majority of the participants are gone. As a second-generation Christian, Luke didn’t have the “eyewitness” hang-up: He didn’t feel obliged to report only what he saw but also what he heard, with a few literary embellishments. Also, his story doesn’t pretend to be a witness to the past but rather to the lived faith of the church. In the narrative he is telling, symbol is greater than fact, and the truth of eternity trumps mere history. Luke consciously parallels his story of the church with his already-in-print version of the gospel. Both stories begin with the overshadowing of the Spirit, followed by mighty deeds punctuated with frequent prayer and characterized by the spirit of joy. The first story takes the divine word from Galilee to Jerusalem, and the second conveys the message from Jerusalem to Rome. Each is a journey of faith that is fearlessly undertaken at great cost. The first martyr, Stephen, dies with the identical words of Jesus on his lips, as if to underscore how perfectly the Christian community carries forward the spirit of its Master. If Luke’s idealism offends our loyalty to the strict journalistic approach of our times (which itself should be taken with large doses of salt!), then we shouldn’t read further to the Johannine writings produced a decade later. The gospel of John is 90 percent free of the Synoptic story line, more consciously theological than historical. And the Book of Revelation produces a portrait of the cosmic Christ so glorious and unearthly that, if taken literally, would explain why no one recognized Jesus after the Resurrection. Perfect attendance In the theological and ecclesial journey between Mark’s first gospel account and the Johannine tradition, we see the gradual movement toward idealism in the stories of Jesus, the church, and creation itself (in Revelation). Perhaps all this talk of the Kingdom really got into the imagination of the community! In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is the good shepherd who will go after the one-hundredth sheep to make the fold complete; and in John, Jesus will not lose even one who has been given to him, he insists—always excepting the “son of perdition.” In the roll call of the reign of God, it seems, there will be perfect attendance. This is why Jesus comes back for Thomas, the one disciple who was absent during his first visit behind locked doors. Thomas is habitually a questioner—we call him a doubter, but perhaps he was simply a deeper thinker than the rest of his bumbling community. In the history of the church, a lot of questioners are left on the roadside when no one sees fit to come back around to satisfy their need for more information. Obviously Thomas did not accept the groupthink that led the others to stay huddled in the upper room night and day. Jesus understood that Thomas needed more than a second-hand report of Resurrection to engage his faith. Clearly, the return of Jesus to the locked room was specifically for the purpose of giving Thomas what he needed to get on board. Applying the word The ideal community The image of the ideal community has not changed in 2,000 years. The perfect community remains the one that refuses to exclude anyone or leave any member behind on the journey of faith. We can’t set our sights on outliving the traditionalists or schismatizing the progressives. We can’t settle for a church that carries the 99 along and leaves the skeptical one in the dust. Thomas is necessary to us, as he was necessary to Jesus—worth another trip around, even a show-and-tell of wounds. It may seem like a waste of time to go back for the unconvinced, but not a waste of eternity, certainly. The ideal community remains the one with perfect attendance, all 100 sheep present and accounted for. Maybe if we were less exclusive about who is strictly necessary or worth retaining in our midst, we might find a more powerful demonstration of the Spirit among us. Whose shadow, now missing from our number, might yet be cast on the world to heal us all? Related scripture links Jesus and the hemorrhaging woman: Mark 5:25-34; Matt. 9:20-22; Luke 8:43-48 Blockage in Nazareth: Mark 6:5-6; Matt. 13:58 Two-step healing: Mark 8:22-26 Good shepherd: Matt. 18:12-14; Luke 15:1-7; John 10:1-16 Will not lose those given to him: John 10:27-29, 17:6-24 Thomas the skeptic: John 11:16, 14:5Authors Alice CamilleRestricted