As Catholics, we make a big deal out of the four marks of the Church, namely that the Church is one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. We recite these words every Sunday in the creed, and they are the basis for a huge amount of our ecclesiology and doctrine.
In this article, I want to focus on the mark that comes first: “oneness”. The question I have been pondering recently is this: is the Catholic Church really “one”?
The answer, of course, is yes. But the unity of the Church can often be difficult to see — even at a relatively homogenous place like the University of Dallas, where most students come from orthodox Catholic upbringings.
When I came to UD as a freshman in 2012, I remember being shocked at the religious division that existed on campus between what I like to call the various “Catholic factions.” There are the Campus Ministry kids and the Opus Dei kids. There are students who prefer traditional hymns and Gregorian chant, and those who appreciate more modern, charismatic music. There are those who prefer the Cistercian Mass on Sunday mornings, and those who choose to attend Mass at the Church of the Incarnation. And the list goes on.
In one sense, this variety is refreshing and a very good thing. The plethora of different forms of worship and prayer adds to the beauty of Catholicism, much like the different colors and panes of a rose window in a Gothic cathedral.
What’s not so good about this variety, however, is people’s attitudes about it. I’m referring here to the tendency — which I find to be extremely prevalent among UD students — of thinking one’s own particular Catholic clique or group is somehow superior to all of the others. And as a helpless young freshman trying to find my place at UD, I found myself torn: with which group did I want to associate? To me it didn’t seem like there was any room for overlap.
Consider for a moment many students’ attitudes toward Campus Ministry. The Campus Ministry program here at UD seems to take a strangely large amount of criticism, especially for a school that prides itself on its Catholic identity. Sure, some love Campus Ministry, but a great many others think very poorly of it.
Whether or not the criticisms of Campus Ministry are warranted is material for another time, but even if the program does have some room for improvement — and what human institution doesn’t —it is alarming that so many students form such strikingly negative opinions about it without really even involving themselves with its events and retreats, meeting its personnel or actually approaching its programs with open minds.
If indeed a student does not find Campus Ministry’s programs helpful for his spiritual life, there is nothing wrong with that. To each his own. But if that student then takes it upon himself to look down upon all the “campus ministry kids” and proclaim to all of his friends that campus ministry here at UD is no good, that’s when we begin to lose that first mark of the Church — oneness.
I, for one, find it refreshing when I see students transcend the usual faction boundaries by involving themselves in several different Catholic groups. That a student would attend both Opus Dei’s meditation on Friday or Saturday evening and Campus Ministry’s praise and worship event on Sunday night is almost unheard of — but it would be refreshing to see more of it.
Catholics faithful to Church teaching must stop being closed in on themselves. Rather than bickering about whose form of worship is better, our duty is to roll up our sleeves and bring the good news of the Gospel to those who need it most.
Infighting, suspicion, judgment and mistrust of our brothers and sisters in Christ will not solve any of our problems. The Church in all of its beauty does not fix neatly into the little boxes we have constructed for it. We must be open to testing everything while holding fast only to that which is good, only to that which comes from God. And I think if we do this honestly, we’ll find there is plenty of good in plenty of places — not just in our particular faction or group.