Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church,
That we all may be one.
(Prayers of the People, Form III, Book of Common Prayer, p. 387)
A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed a rather passionate exchange on a friend's Facebook page about the use of the term, "Catholic," among Episcopalians. Whenever this topic comes up, folks spring into action with strong words, almost like an instinct, declaring their respective allegiances. The debate feels more visceral, than reasoned, and this makes me curious.
I am certainly among those who argue that the Catholic wing of the Episcopal Church (and other Anglican churches) needs redemption from its long legacy of misogyny, homophobia, clericalism, and other sins. It is true. And there are still some who hold to the old litmus tests of Catholic
orthodoxy that make many progressive Episcopalians bristle. I even count a few of them
among my friends and colleagues. We disagree on certain key issues; yet we love and respect each other all the same. The last thing we would think of doing is mocking, hurting, or marginalizing each other. Maybe a little gentle teasing, but it's rarely meant to be hurtful. After all, we're dear brothers and sisters, not theological camps in a battle for domination.
Besides, the classic battle lines of Anglican Catholicism are largely relics (no pun intended) of a bygone age. New generations of Episcopalians are embracing "Catholic" in ways that break with traditional understandings of what that word used to mean in Anglican circles. Arguments about women's ordination have given way to groups that recite the rosary or the Daily Office together, book clubs that read Julian of Norwich or Thomas Merton, and college graduates that join young adult service corps or volunteer for disaster relief efforts. In the past, "Catholic" often served as a one-word manifesto, a line in the sand, that said, "we are not like you." But that was then; and this is now.
See one example of this here.
So, if we are all part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, what's the problem? "Catholic" is clearly a loaded term for some, filled with much woundedness, but with much life-giving holiness, too. "Catholic" should not be a flash point, dirty word, or epithet, any more
than Protestant, Reformed, evangelical, or any other ecclesiastical
label. And nobody is imposing the term on any one who resists claiming it. So, I would commend generosity and gentleness in conversations where "Catholic" makes an appearance. To quote the familiar Anglican formula: "all may, some should, none must." In the end, I would like us to recover "Catholic" from its bad rap, to restore it to its original meaning of universality, so that it may unite, rather than divide. Strife, discord, and oppression have taken "Catholic" away from us Anglicans, and I want it back.