Culture at the Crossroads
What is Catholicism?
Just over a month ago, I was at a mass with some 1.5 million people. Just a few days ago, in a place where the press reported there being widespread discontent, the Pope held a mass with some 100,000 people present. Why so many blades of grass? Because Catholicism, unlike what many of its critics seem to think, is not fundamentally about a kind of military-like uniformity of taking orders from the general. It is much more like the way that beachgoers watch the ocean: we go because we respond to a summons from the heart. What the SN cannot convey, and what the critics tend to miss, is that Catholicism is fundamentally about a real encounter with the risen Christ, a response to God's own initiative to seduce us into falling in love with him.
Go to China and learn about the Christians—both Protestant and Catholic—who, in spite of difficulty, have grown to numbers larger than those of the practicing Christians of Europe. Go to other parts of Asia where Catholics represent a small minority, or even to the Philippines where they represent a vast majority, and learn about the ways that Asian Catholicism has borrowed from the Western tradition but yet embedded itself in the deep soil of local cultures. Far from being a European monolith, the Church is growing like blades of grass because it nourishes the deepest desires of the heart.
Catholicism, from the Greek word "universal," used as early as the early second century to describe the communion of local churches taking their name from Jesus Christ, began as a movement of people moved by Jesus to form a community. That community grew; it took root in imperial Rome; it built magnificent buildings and developed complex bureaucracies, laws, rituals, and creeds. But at the grass roots, it is about an individual person coming to know another individual person, and repeating what the centurion said at the foot of the cross: surely this is the Son of God.
Tim Muldoon holds a Ph.D. in Catholic systematic theology and is an award-winning author and Catholic theologian of the new evangelization.