If someone stopped you on the street and asked you to tell them briefly what the Catholic Church is all about and what makes it different from other systems of religious belief, you’d probably cast around for some unique traits, like the papacy, or the seven sacraments. That’s the natural response.
But in this week’s issue, Mark Shea tackles the question in a surprising way with this paradox: “The Catholic Church is utterly unique — because it is so much like so many other philosophical and religious traditions” (see In Focus, Pages 9-12).
That statement contains a great insight about Catholicism: Because God is the creator of the entire universe, wherever we look we will find glimpses of his glory.
If we keep that awareness, we find it easier to see the ridiculousness of the natural temptation to segregate our religious beliefs and practice from our “normal” lives. There is no such divide. Or the temptation to start to think that science and faith are incompatible. Or worse, to act like the outside world is “bad” and worthy of indifference or contempt.
Wherever a Catholic looks, he finds goodness. That’s not to say 100 percent goodness, of course, but always some goodness. As the theologians teach, evil itself does not exist; evil is simply a lack (or privation) of goodness. Even Satan is “good” in that he exists, because existence is good.
A popular priest blogger (and convert from Anglicanism), Father Dwight Longenecker, recently wrote about this fundamental attitude of the Catholic believer of openness to good. His description comes in the context of overcoming his own visceral objections to some Catholic devotions:
“When this happens I have to remind myself of the little dictum that changed my life: It is a quote by F.D. Maurice: ‘A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.’ This is wisdom: It means that when we are denying we are usually cutting ourselves off from something which is good and useful and beautiful and true. It must be all these things or good people wouldn’t hold to it.
“This quote,” Father Longenecker writes, “joined with one by the poet Thomas Traherne, will change your life. Traherne wrote, ‘Can a man be just unless he loves all things according to their worth?’ See, love all things. ALL THINGS! What? Yes, but ‘according to their worth’. By all means, therefore, love a Big Mac, but according to its worth, for next to a five course French meal the Big Mac’s worth is perhaps much less. ... When confronted with something new we all need to have an open mind and open heart and realize that God has far more goodness and truth and beauty in store for us than we can ever imagine.”
So here’s a challenge: Let’s go through the rest of the day as Catholics, being open to goodness, truth and beauty where we might least expect it.