Original Christians

Question: I have been asked recently if I am Christian or Catholic? What kind of question is this, and how should I answer it?

Name withheld, Port Huron, Mich. 

Answer: Catholics are Christian; indeed, we are the original Christians. We have been here all 2,000 years, and we are the Church founded by Jesus Christ himself.

It is sadly true that there are some who polemically and rhetorically ask, “Are you Catholic or Christian?” as if the two categories were mutually exclusive. They are not. It would be like asking a certain man, “Are you male or human?” And of course, the answer is both, and the question as stated is offensive. And the same answer is true here, that Catholics are also Christians.

Unfortunately, not all Christians are Catholic. And this is a countersign, because Christ founded one Church, and he prayed for unity, not endless divisions. He did not found tens of thousands of different disputing denominations. He established one Church that he unified around his vicar, Peter, and his successors, the popes, who are designated to unify and strengthen the others whom the devil would sift (separate) like wheat (see Lk 22:31). 

The word catholic, while often used as a proper noun, is also an adjective. It comes from the Greek and means “according to the whole.” And this is understood in at least two ways. First, the Church is catholic because we preach the whole counsel of Christ, not just certain favorite passages or popular viewpoints. We are called to preach the whole Gospel, whether in season or out of season.

Second, the Church is called catholic, because we are called to a universal outreach to all the nations. We are not just a church of a certain race or nation, we are called to go on to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations. The Church has a “catholic” mission to everyone.

And thus, the Catholic Church is the Christian Church, and all Christians are called to be Catholic. It is for this unity that we must lovingly strive.

Supporting Shriners

Question: I have had a long association with Shriners hospitals and their work of providing largely free medical care to the poor. I want to remember them in my will, but recently discovered that they are associated with Freemasonry. Can I remember them in my will?

Name withheld, Philadelphia, Pa. 

Answer: Catholics are not permitted to join the Masons or to engage in specifically Masonic activity or ritual. However, what you describe would seem to fall merely under the category of remote, material cooperation. What you seek to support is the common humanitarian work of caring for the sick and the poor, an activity in keeping with Catholic vision. I am presuming your intention is not to support Freemasonry per se, and surely not its potentially anti-Catholic views. I say, “potentially,” since not every Mason or Masonic organization, especially in America, is specifically focused on being anti-Catholic, as was, and often still is, the case in Europe. Further, it seems you also have some personal history tied to the particular hospitals in question, and are grateful for the care they have exhibited.

Presuming that this is your intention, it is permissible for you to donate under the circumstances stated. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.