Opposites Attract – 2

There are  a whole set of attracting opposites which validate the authenticity of the Catholic Church. I wrote yesterday about the extremes of refined taste and common taste–both of which have a place in Catholicism. Have you considered how the church is both universal and local?

Catholicism is the only religion that is, at once, universal and local. Anywhere in the globe you will find Catholicism planted and growing. In some places the church is poor, tiny and persecuted, but still you will find Catholics united in the one faith, part of one flock being ruled by one shepherd. Their customs and cultures vary enormously. Their people are of every tribe and language and nation. Some ‘liberal’ some ‘conservative’. Sometimes they fight, but still they are united by a shared belief, and a loyalty to the one authority of the Bishop of Rome. It is true that this ‘loyalty’ is often stretched by disobedience, complacency, ignorance and willfulness. Nevertheless, there is an underlying unity that transcends national culture, contemporary circumstances and ephemeral trends.

At the same time, the Catholic Church is local. It can be identified. You can find it on the next street. It is called St Bernadette’s and the priest lives in the house next to the church and the people attend the one Mass each day within that brick building. While the Church is universal it is also local with all the specificity of local customs and cultures and traditions and problems and solutions and sinners and saints.

There is no other church or religion which can claim both universality and the specificity of being local in the same way. To be sure, some denominations–like Baptist or Anglican or Methodist– have a global presence, but they have no over-arching authority structure and ecclesial theory which produces an underlying unity. Instead they are essential local or national churches. Despite belonging to a national or international federation, each local Baptist church is autonomous. Despite sharing a history and tradition, each national Anglican Church is autonomous. Each one is, in a sense, a national church.

Furthermore, the traits the different denominations do share–the qualities which make up their identity–are personal, ethnic, theological or national traits–not universal ones. So, for instance the Baptists share a theological tradition based on certain distinct (and sectarian) theological opinions. The Anglicans share an ‘Englishness’ as the Eastern Orthodox have their distinct national and ethnic identities. Methodists and Lutherans are bound not so much by theology as they are to a memory of their founders and the traditions that have arisen over the years.

The reason Catholicism can be both universal and particular is the office of the papacy. One shepherd–one flock. The over-arching ministry of the Pope provides the historical continuity, the ability to transcend particular cultures while allowing them to flourish and the authority to guarantee a bedrock of moral and doctrinal teaching– in direct continuity with the faith of the apostles– upon which the faithful from every place and time and culture and clan can unite.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03792937108732259684 priest’s wife

    Your point is proven when we see liturgical dance done properly in Africa or elephants used in an Indian Mass!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16750824359582445258 ~Ana Paula~A Católica

    Father,a Salutation from BRASIL!!In August I finally finished my monography in a course I did here in my country in Diplomatic Studies. My theme was "Vatican in International Law".To my study I read lots of good catholic books as I read many international law books too.And one message remained marked in my mind: what gives the power to the catholic church and makes it singular in front of other churches or religions is the figure of The Pope. (Like you Father mentioned in your Post.)So, even if we disagree of something that The Papa does or did, we must always remember to give to Him all our respect, cause He was chosen by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and He is the "glue" to keep us all together in the same feeling and willing – either in a distance place in the heart of Africa or in a modern city here in Brasil.Stay in the Peace of God,You Father and All Your Readers!!~~~

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08031465320721586310 Jackie

    Ya we must be in the valley of dry bones then hahaha j/k

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04133756904607585288 Billy Atwell

    The universal nature of the Church is also what gives us such a big bulls-eye on our chest. We are big and centralized enough that our enemies know that if they want to scatter the sheep, all they have to do is strike at the shepherd.This concept is where the universal and particular nature come to play once again. Our universal shepherd is the Pope, but the local shepherd is the parish priest. I think the priest abuse scandal has permeated out of the force's of evil who want nothing more than the put doubt, or even disdain, in the hearts and minds of the Catholic faithful. The universal and particular nature of the church works both to our benefit and against it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14833922604348675477 Tina

    So true, Fr. Dwight. I have heard more than one person who went to Mass in another country say that they felt connected to the Church on a deeper level (even though they couldn't understand the language), because of the unity of the Church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03028346716140781309 radio45

    While being true to it's theological beliefs, the Church allows freedom of innovations in the way we worship. I do think there is a unity in Protestantism in each church, but it is to the extent that they draw from the traditions of the universal Church. And they do look to the Church for guidance (tho' they may vehemently protest the fact!).


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