On Not Being Catholic Enough

Our retreat ended yesterday evening, so this morning I have begun the process of catching up. One of the first things I did was to run through some of the comments/prayer requests on our Facebook page. One in particular caught my eye. A reader questioned why we prayed about climate change (in connection with Friday’s protests) but did not add a prayer for the conversion of all to the one, true Catholic faith. I suspect that our answer, that we try with our daily, public prayer intentions to encourage a Christian perspective on what is currently engaging people of all faiths or none, will not have been found very satisfactory. Even the addition, that we have sometimes had to ask people to ensure that what they post in response is consistent with Catholic faith and practice (no arguing about Eucharistic theology or abortion on the prayer page, for example), may not have helped. I feel confident that our reader is sincere and genuinely puzzled, but I am not sure how best to answer the underlying question, which is how we should express our Catholicism publicly in such places as our prayer page.

One of the difficulties we encounter here at the monastery is that every Catholic tends to have an opinion about what other Catholics should believe and how they should behave — and we don’t always meet the mark. I defy anyone to say that we are not orthodox in our beliefs, but for some the authentic test of Catholicism is located somewhere else, in Eucharistic Adoration or saying the Rosary, for example. In vain do we protest that, as Benedictines, not only are we pre-Eucharistic Adoration and pre-Rosary, and have such a strong sense of the Eucharistic centre of our lives and the importance of Our Lady, that we don’t find either devotion necessary. The Divine Office, the practice of lectio divina and our personal prayer in the Bakerite tradition suffice. That is the living tradition of our monastic heritage. It is gospel spirituality, if you like, and one reason why I think we can be open to the graces and insights of other Christian traditions without sacrificing or playing down the uniqueness of our own; but for some it simply means that we aren’t Catholic enough.

I think I can live with that, but it still leaves unanswered the question about how we should express our Catholicism. We pray daily for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all our doings, but that is no guarantee that we always ‘get it right’. In fact, I agree more and more with Fr Jean Leclercq (a great Benedictine) that there are mistakes the Holy Spirit helps us make. I have never made any secret of the fact that I personally would love everyone to know the joy of believing, but God seems to have his own ideas about that, and I, for one, am content that he should do things his own way and in his own time. The role of a monastic community is unspectacular: to be responsive to God and walk humbly before him, to be followers, not leaders. If, in so doing, we can encourage others, that is all to the good. We may not be Catholic enough for some, but I would argue that the essence of Catholicism is to place God first and to be compassionate and merciful to all, not with our own love but with his. It is sobering, and heartening, to realise that we shall never look into the eyes of anyone God has not first loved and willed to be redeemed. Perhaps that is something we all need to hear.


27 thoughts on “On Not Being Catholic Enough”

  1. Wise words, beautifully expressed; I love it when someone gives me a new way of seeing:
    “we shall never look into the eyes of anyone God has not first loved and willed to be redeemed”.

    So often, spiritual life seems to be filled to overflowing with other people’s “shoulds” and “oughts”; rarely helpful, as I stumble on.

    • Not an original thought of mine, I hasten to say, but one I’ve been pondering throughout our retreat. I do think we sometimes treat every ‘should’ or ‘ought’ as equally important. That’s where I myself find the Catholic concept of a hierarchy of truths very helpful — not that it waters down, but that it gives perspective.

  2. Praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit… I think you’ll recognise who wrote the following: ‘ “Holy Spirit, hear my prayer.” repeated as a mantra, will take us a day’s journey. It is the equivalent of writing a cheque to a charity and leaving it to them to send it where the need is greatest.’ That, too, is Catholic enough, isn’t it !

    A further thought: there any MANY mansions in the Father’s house, none of which should be a prison.

  3. I know people will disagree with me, but as a lifelong worshipping member of the C of E with very strong RC connections, I see no difference at all between me and my friends who are Catholics. I believe the same as you do, and see no reason to go through an official ceremony to rubber stamp my membership of the Church that Jesus founded, which I think includes all of us. I think God is bigger than the divisions we create and can see more deeply into our hearts. Maybe you believe he will turn me away because I’m not in what you describe as ‘the One True Church”. If so, I hope you are wrong.

    • Sue, we’ve been over this many times and I will not allow you to put words into my mouth. You are not taking on board the fact that I was quoting the challenge provided by a reader of our Facebook page and exploring the question that their challenge raised. Your final remarks are unacceptable.

  4. Dom Jean Leclercq was as you say ‘a great Benedictine’ – humble, erudite, witty and of course very French – so what he made of my very English monastic cooking I dread to think! He was also, to me, very supportive and encouraging of contemporary but traditional developments in monastic life – such as yours and would I am sure be delighted but not surprised at all the blessings it has brought to so many in S. Benedict’s footsteps.

  5. Dear Sister, Just recently I have been in need of some pretty big miracles for various members of my family. I have prayed and prayed – “chuntered”, as a dear friend put it – to seemingly no avail. And then I read that even St Theresa of Calcutta had to endure the silence of God. I kept reminding God of the miracles he is clearly capable of performing. If for others, then why not for me? But this morning, at Mass, it thought came to me – that I should not be reminding God of the miracles he has performed for others, I should be reminding myself of the many, many miracles, both big and small, he has performed for me. Your words today – that God has his own ideas and does things in his own way and in his own time – have been a source of encouragement and comfort. Thank you.

    • Be assured of my prayers for you and your family members. Coping with seemingly unanswered prayer is always hard but I believe you have found the key. To be grateful transforms everything and opens wide the possibilities inherent in difficult situations, but most of us are slow and reluctant learners when it comes to that.

  6. We’ve encountered people who believe God created Adam and Eve, the first Caucasian Roman Catholics and that Christ wrote the Gospels, in Latin. (I am not joking) For many reasons they don’t believe we are “Catholic enough”, either. This, in turn, has tempted us into judging them for the judgements of ourselves, an altogether unchristian situation.

    Perhaps the best way to express Catholic Christianity is to witness by trying our best to live the Gospel message, in particular by accompanying others in a loving and accepting manner as Jesus did when the opportunity presents itself. Maybe in that way we might begin to recognize ALL others as having been created in the image of God. Who knows but someone might ask us the reason for our hope and faith?

    • I agree. It’s what we try to do ourselves although we sometimes have to point out that there is a difference between being accepting of the person and of the views they express. For example, I believe that Jesus Christ is both God and man. Someone who maintains that he was ‘merely’ a good man cannot expect me to agree with them — though many have tried!

      • No argument there and from what we’ve read over the years you’ve always been respectful towards others while disagreeing and offering an explanation for the beliefs and the teachings of our faith. H and I certainly appreciate that and endeavor to do the same when discussing our religion with others.

  7. I am a member of a Baptist church .
    I have been moved and encouraged by the posts here that demonstrate humility and an understanding that our witness regardless of our denomination needs to reach out with the love of Christ and that it is good to have our views respectfully challenged .
    I am chalenged especially by your last comments that about looking into the eyes of others and realising that they too are loved and willed to be redeemed .Thank you .
    I go to this verse frequently from Philippians and remind myself also that we are all equal at the foot of the cross .
    Imitating Christ’s Humility ?
    2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

    5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

    6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
    8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
    even death on a cross!
    9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
    10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

    • Thank you, Chris. You may like to know that that reading from Philippians is often chosen for the profession of vows of monks and nuns. The self-emptying of Our Lord is such an amazing thing to contemplate.

  8. Thank you, as ever. It’s not a dilemma Anglicans generally have, but I can identify with the projection of what a “true” Catholic or Anglican might be. A Catholic colleague could not get his head round the fact that if he asked two Anglican priests how many sacraments there were, he got two different answers! (the 7 catholic sacraments or the Dominican 3). I used a line similar to yours about never looking into the eyes… in a sermon yesterday. We can be so quick to judge, as Christians, and I think that is God’s job. I guess it makes us feel better (I’m as guilty as the next person). One of the best lines I heard was that it is our job to build bridges of empathy for Jesus to walk over. You do that in spades….

    • Thank you, Canon Jane. Quite often differences in teaching boil down to differences in ecclesiology, I think. It can be very hard for people who look at the external forms of worship, for example, to understand what the doctrinal differences are, and why they matter to some people but not to others. Currently, the Catholic Church is undergoing a kind of ‘orthodoxy test’ from some of her members. The problem is, those setting the test are usually supremely confident that they (and possibly, they alone) know what the ‘right’ answers are . . .

  9. Oh yes! I was working with a priest once who was protesting vehemently about the process of selecting Rural Deans. He felt the Bishop was wrong. I listened to the rant, and then mildly said “other people might see it differently”. “Well, they’d be WRONG” came the immediate reply. Laughter seemed the only sane response! He laughed too, fortunately….

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