Division within the Church is not new. From the earliest days, good people have disputed what it means to be part of Christ’s Church. Saints Peter and Paul argued over whether circumcision and following the Jewish laws was necessary for salvation. In recent years, however, the chasm between Catholics of different persuasions seems to be becoming ever wider. There is derision and judgment on all sides. It is painful to watch and to be a part of. There seems to be a litmus test (or perhaps, more accurately, a whole list of litmus tests) for what it means to be a “true” Catholic. Others are termed to be “Catholics in Name Only.” Of course, what it means to be a “true” Catholic depends on where one falls on the spectrum. The questions can be some or all of the following:
1) Are social justice and environmental issues the most important to you? Do you eat only organic foods? Grow your own food? Buy only free-trade goods? Use cloth diapers? Breastfeed exclusively? Live a preferential option for the poor?
2) Do you believe that the fullness of Vatican II has not yet been reached? Do you feel that Vatican II was an abomination? Do you feel that only those who attend a Tridentine Mass are authentically Catholic?
3) Are you open to life? Do you use Natural Family Planning? Do you feel that those who use Natural Family Planning are wrong, that they should simply trust in God’s providence and accept however many children God gives them?
4) Where do you stand on the matter of conscience? Is there ever a time when questioning and disobeying Church law is appropriate? Or is obedience to the Magisterium the most important thing?
5) Do you send your children to CCD? Catholic School? Do you homeschool because you feel neither of the other options are Catholic enough?
The simple truth is that there is no litmus test for being Catholic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God . . . And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation.” (CCC 836) There is room for everyone under that umbrella. There are many ways of living out the Catholic faith. When we disagree with how someone is living out their faith, our best recourse is to pray for them and for ourselves. We are called to love one another. That is the mark of a true Christian. We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy. None of us fully live up to the Christian ideal. Our place is not to judge our Catholic brethren.
This week is Holy Week, when we remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is important to remember that he died and rose for all of us. May we remember that in our dealings with our fellow Catholics.