In writing my book about my conversion from Catholicism to Buddhism back to Catholicism, one of the questions I’ve had to struggle with what it means to call myself a Catholic today and, indeed, why I call myself Catholic, rather than simply Christian. For while it it is true that I worry more about trying to be a good Christian than trying to be a good Catholic, I still self-identify as Catholic. Why?
I talk in the book about the fact that for me, the most important thing implied by belief in “one holy, catholic and Apostolic Church” is belief in the community of persons that is the Church. Being united in one Body of Christ, not just with each other now, but with all those who came before us, means something to me.
I read an editorial in America magazine not long ago that I thought did a good job of expressing something of the meaning of that community.
We love the church because here we keep the company of men and women who have lived the Gospel even as they challenged both secular and religious rulers to reform. Among them are figures like Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Thomas More, Ignatius Loyola…and Oscar Romero. Their witness to the Gospel brought them into conflict with the church authorities of their day. Yet attachment to the visible, hierarchical church was intrinsic to their own path to holiness. In an age that experiences mostly opportunistic, transitory relationships, the church fosters high ideals and lifelong commitments. In a culture deprived of depth and transcendence, it encourages searching self-examination, ever more inclusive sympathies and attentive receptivity to the mystery of God.
Clearly, as the author of the editorial recognizes, the church doesn’t always fully live up to that promise. Yet there is something in what it aspires to, and what it occasionally achieves, that is worth striving toward.