We have had many discussions over the last couple of days about the meaning of Catholic. The common usage, in Episcopal circles, is universal. This seems like a dodge. The meaning seems deeper. Perhaps it is more akin to whole or complete. Is the whole of our life shaped by the encounter with the cross and tomb – not intellectually but by kneeling, crossing, smelling, and weeping?
Is our whole self brought to our whole awareness of the whole grace and mercy of God or is this a fragmented and Balkanized hobby that we consign to Sunday out of either malign intent or benign neglect? Catholic is not a team mascot but an encompassing reality in which what is universal is not our consumer opprobrium based in class distinction but our whole, obedient, quiescent and rebellious self making due with the perfect wholeness of Christ made known in the other, in the self, in bread made Bread, in wine made Wine, and in self made Us.
Catholic is less an adjective than a verb. It is the being of beings striving to be one in Being. This sublimates the urge for tidiness and gives way to the messiness of heartbreaking reality – it is allowing oneself, in death, an open casket so that mourning may be complete rather than insisting on a premature Immolation that we may avoid the discomfort of life ended or avoided too soon – or of appearing less than our best self rendered in the perfectly framed portrait.
Catholic is not a label but an algorithm of animating automation. It is an automation that presumes attenuation with Holy Will whether we realize it or not. It assumes that the brain-dead and the brilliant alike are one in peace and a piece of the Body. So, to cross oneself is not a marker of pride but a reminder of the soulful solidarity with an end and a beginning. To use incense is not an annoyance for the restrained but a restraint on the restraint that limits the senses to only those which are dignified and appropriate. To bow or kneel is not a flagrant act of self abasement that degrades dignity but an act of ultimate dignity for it gives honor to our choice to accede to the Primacy of the Holy One.
So much more is there – just beyond the labels, divination, and the devices and desires. So much more is there waiting for the end of labels that give comfort so that the heart of it all may be laid bare in a universal, uncomfortable, eager, and halting holiness.