Our age is witnessing an erosion of Catholicism. The consequence of this, besides our dram somberness, is a polarization which, both in the world and in the church, is rendering us incapable of working together against the problems which threaten us all.
Let me explain: We are, I submit, becoming ever less Catholic. What is implied here? What is slipping? What does it mean to be Catholic? The opposite of Catholic is not Protestant. All Christians, Protestants as well as Roman Catholics, characterize their faith as Catholic – as well as one, holy, and apostolic. The word Catholic means universal, wide. It speaks of a comprehensive embrace. Its opposite, therefore, is not Protestantism, but narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism, factionalism, fundamentalism, and ideology.
To my mind, the best definition of the word Catholic comes from Jesus, himself, who tells us: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.” (John 14:2) In speaking of the Father’s house, Jesus is not pointing to a mansion in the sky, but to God’s heart. God’s heart has many rooms. It can embrace everything. It is wide, unpetty, open, and antithetical to all that is factional, fundamentalistic, and ideological. It is a heart that does not divide things up according to ours and theirs. Nikos Kazantsakis once wrote: “The bosom of God is not a ghetto.” That’s another way of saying that God has a Catholic heart.
To affirm this, however, is not to say that, since God is open to all and embraces all, nothing makes any difference; we may do as we like, all morality is relative, all beliefs are equal, and nobody may lay claim to truth. There is a false concept of openness which affirms that to embrace all means to render all equal. Jesus belies this. He affirms the universal embrace of God’s heart without affirming, as a consequence, that everything is okay. His Father loves everyone, even as he discriminates between right and wrong. Catholicism can be spoken of as slipping in that, unlike God’s heart, more and more it seems, our hearts have just one room.
Today we are seeing a creeping narrowness and intolerance. Fundamentalism, with its many types of ideology, has infected us. This is as true in the secular world as in the church. Fundamentalism and the narrowness and consequent polarization it spawns are everywhere. But this needs to be understood. We tend to think of fundamentalism as a conservative view which takes Scripture so literally so as to be unable to relate to the world in a realistic way. But that is just one, and a very small, kind of fundamentalism. We see fundamentalism wherever we see a heart with just one room. The characteristic of all fundamentalism is that, precisely, it seizes onto some fundamental value: e.g., the wisdom of the past, the divine inspiration of Scripture, or the importance of justice and equality and makes that the sole criterion for judging goodness and authenticity.
In that sense, the fundamentalist’s heart has just one room – a conservative, liberal, biblical, charismatic, feminist, anti-feminist, social justice, anti-abortion, or pro-choice room. It judges you as good, acceptable, decent, sincere, Christian, loving, and worth listening to only if you are in that room. If you are not ideologically committed to that fundamental, complete with all the prescribed rhetoric and accepted indignations, then you are judged as insincere or ignorant, and in need of either conversion or of having your consciousness raised. In the end, all fundamentalism is ideology and all ideology is fundamentalism – and both are a heart with one room, a bosom that’s a ghetto.
That is the real un-Catholicism.
Tragically too, at the heart of all fundamentalism and ideology, there is an absence of a healthy self-love and a healthy self-criticism. That’s why fundamentalists and ideologues are all so defensive, hypersensitive and humorless. It is because of this that the world and the church are so full of intolerance, anger, lack of openness, self-righteous condemnation, scapegoating, and academic and moral intimidation. There are too few rooms in our hearts!
Given this, it is not surprising that very little genuine dialogue ever takes place. Most attempts at it are little more than name-calling and cheerleading. Given this, too, it is not surprising that the working out of personal neuroses is frequently confused with genuine commitment to causes.
In God’s house there are many rooms. There is an embrace for everyone; rich and poor, conservative and liberal, irrespective of whether one is wearing silk or denims. God’s house is a Catholic house. And “we must be Catholic as our heavenly Father is Catholic.” We must create more Catholic hearts and more Catholic houses. And this is not a call to be wishy-washy relativists who affirm that everything is okay as long as you do it sincerely. Like Christ, we must discriminate between right and wrong and believe in a divine truth which judges the world. But we must free ourselves from un-Catholicism, from fundamentalism and ideology which create a heart with just one room.