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Celebrating Our Big Church
By Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.

When I think Catholic, I think big. The Catholic Church is a big Church: big numbers (over one billion members) spread all over the globe and big buildings—cathedrals and basilicas—with big parking lots.

But before we get carried away with too much of this external “bigness” it might be good to remember that the Church was Catholic already at the first Pentecost, before there were any big cathedrals or parking lots, before there were a billion members. The Church was Catholic even when the disciples could all gather together in one house!

Catholic implies big or universal—not just big on the outside but big on the inside. Catholic is a mark of the inner nature of the Church. The Church is Catholic because it is all-embracing. The Catholic Church is the sacrament, the outward sign of a God who is Catholic, a God who is all-embracing, a God who wants to share the one eternal banquet with people of every race, language and way of life.

The Church is Catholic because, like God, it is not limited to one country or culture. In ancient times it was able to move from its Aramaic/Palestinian origins and adopt the language and culture of the Greek world in order to preach God’s message. It was able to express itself in Syriac and spread throughout the East to India and beyond. It was able to express itself in Coptic and spread to Egypt and throughout Africa. It was able to adopt Roman customs and the Latin language into its ritual prayer. It was able to employ Greek philosophy to explain its beliefs. It was able to use the Roman legal system to organize its hierarchical structure. The Church is Catholic because it can take whatever is good in the cultures of the world and embrace it as its own.

A World of Disciples

The Church is Catholic because it is not limited to one interpretation of what it means to be a disciple. When men and women, moved by the Holy Spirit, decide to live the gospel in a unique way, they don't have to start a "new Church." The Catholic Church has room for them—room for a Benedict of Nursia, a Francis of Assisi, an Ignatius of Loyola; room for an Angela Merici, a Catherine McAuley, an Elizabeth Ann Seton and a Katharine Drexel. There are many ways to live the gospel within the Catholic Church. That's what makes it Catholic.

Just think of the diverse groups or members of groups that might exist within your own parish: The Blue Army, Call to Action, Daughters of Isabella, Knights of Columbus, Legion of Mary, Legionnaires of Christ, Oblates of St. Benedict, Opus Dei, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Secular Franciscans, Voice of the Faithful. It's a big church! It's a Catholic Church.

But what happens when our Catholic Church embraces people we don't like or don't agree with? (For example, I don't know any Catholic who would not have difficulty with at least one of the organizations in the above list.) When this big, all-embracing, Catholic Church welcomes people who don't think like I do and when I have to worship with people who are different from me, I sometimes wonder if maybe it wouldn't be better to belong to a little Church where everybody was alike: looked alike, thought alike, prayed alike.

Growing, Becoming

Being Catholic isn't always comfortable. It stretches me to think new thoughts—bigger thoughts. The Catholic Church is not the place for narrow minds or one-issue religion. And this has been a problem from day one.

Jesus himself was too "Catholic" for some of his contemporaries. He dined with the wrong people, cured the wrong people and made friends with the wrong people. His Catholicity was a scandal because his embrace was so wide, so inclusive that he shed his blood (as we pray at each Eucharist) for you and for all.

Being Catholic is not only a mark of pride; it is a challenge. Catholic is not only something that the Church is. It is something the Church continually strives to become.

Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., has a doctorate in liturgy and sacramental theology from the Institut Catholique of Paris. A popular writer and lecturer, Father Richstatter teaches courses on the sacraments at Saint Meinrad (Indiana) School of Theology. His latest book is The Sacraments: How Catholics Pray (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Next: Our Church Is Human

Questions for Reflection:

• What is the challenge in having a Church in which the members are diverse? What is the blessing?

• Talk about a time when you worshiped with people who were very different from you.

Different—but the Same
By Judith Dunlap

Each of us is different. We look different. We have our own unique family background and heritage. Sometimes the things that make us different are talents; sometimes they are limitations. And yet, people are also very much the same.

We all need love and respect, and we are all children of God. For years at Vacation Bible School we teachers spent time focusing on the theme of "different but the same." But I learned the importance of empathy in that equation from one of my own children.

In our parish programs we "mainstreamed" children with special needs. In other words, we put them in a regular class but provided an aide to help the child. When my son Peter was about 13, he volunteered to help with the third-graders. He was assigned to assist a young boy named Sean. I remember sitting in on that class and observing my son one afternoon.

Peter worked with Sean but he spent twice as much time walking around and helping the other kids. When we were driving home I reminded Peter why he was in that class and asked why he spent so much time helping others as well as Sean. Peter's answer taught me the importance of empathy.

He told me that if he were Sean he'd hate having someone hanging over his shoulder every minute. Furthermore, he reasoned, if he were with him all the time it would just remind everybody that Sean needed special help. Peter assured me he kept an eye on his special charge and was there when he needed him. "But," he reminded me, "Sean's not the only one who needs help in that class. Everybody needs help sometimes."

When we acknowledge differences but focus on our sameness we can develop empathy. Empathy leads to compassion, and compassion is at the heart of what Jesus taught.

For Family Response:

Clip out four or five pictures of diverse people from a newspaper or magazine. Ask family members to share ideas about how they are different from and the same as the individuals pictured.

Media Watch
Big Fish
By Frank Frost

Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) is an entertaining and incorrigible storyteller—to the degree that it becomes a problem for his son, Will (Ewan McGregor). A critical moment in the story of Big Fish comes around the halfway mark when Will complains to his dying father, "Dad, I have no idea who you are, because you've never told me a single fact."

But, his father disagrees, "I told you a thousand facts, Will. That's what I do. I tell stories."

And there's the rub: When is a story just a story, and when is it a vehicle for truth?

The answer is not as simple as we may first think, as Will says in his voiceover. Called home to his father's deathbed from his job in France as a journalist—a profession that prizes factual accuracy—Will is confronted with a host of memories in the form of stories his father has told over and over again. They constitute a whole fantasy life, told in flashbacks.

Ed Bloom, the story goes, was unusual from the moment he spurted from his mother's womb and slid down the hospital corridor. As a boy he accepted the dare to steal the glass eye of a witch in a haunted house, and from it gained the courage to tackle anything, because the eye foretold how he would die.

He becomes the hero of his town, unstoppable in every sport he attempts. And when the town is threatened by a terrible giant, it is Ed who volunteers to get rid of the intruder everyone else fears. Befriending the giant, he sets out with him to see the world.

After getting lost in a threatening forest at night he happens on a little paradise of a town called Spectre. It is a place no one ever leaves, because no one wants to. But Ed Bloom does, perhaps remembering the advice of the witch that "a fish gets big by not being caught."

Big Fish serves up a lot of fantasy before the pivotal deathbed confrontation of father and son where Will, driven by the imminent birth of his own child, pleads, "Just show me who you really are for once." His father responds, "I've been nothing but myself from the day I was born and if you can't see that it's your failing, not mine."

As more fantastic stories unfold we begin to wonder about the truths behind them. Each one seems to derive from a kernel of reality. Setting out to separate fact from fiction, Will finds his eyes opening to new dimensions of truth. Apparently the failing has been his.

The emergence of the DVD as a viewing option in the last few years is ideal for a movie worth watching more than once and thinking about, as this one is.

Among the special features on the DVD of Big Fish, the option of listening to director Tim Burton tell what went on behind the scenes and in his head during the making of the film is a plus.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene has long been an important woman in the Church. The question is, which woman: Is she the one healed of seven demons by Jesus (Luke 8:2) or the unnamed sinful woman/prostitute who anointed the feet of Jesus and whose sins he forgave (Luke 7:36-50)?

(Watch out for trick questions. The two women have long been seen as one and the same person.)

According to modern Scripture scholars the real Mary Magdalene is the woman Jesus healed of demons—understood today as baffling health problems, a nervous disorder or perhaps major depression. She is the woman who became one of Jesus' most devoted and loyal followers; who embraced his teachings, supported his work and traveled with him and the 12 disciples; who stood at the foot of the cross with the mother of Jesus as his life ebbed away.

Most of all, she is the woman who was the primary witness of the Resurrection, the most important event in the history of Christianity. In all four Gospels, Mary Magdalene is at the tomb three days after Jesus' death, hoping to anoint his body.

In John's Gospel, the risen Jesus encounters Mary and asks her why she is weeping. Initially uncertain who he is, she finally recognizes him and runs to tell the disciples, "I have seen the Lord." For bringing this Good News to them Mary Magdalene is often called the apostle to the apostles, particularly in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has long honored her.

After being the victim of mistaken identity for centuries, today Mary Magdalene is being given her rightful place of honor as one of Jesus' most faithful followers. Her feast day is July 22.

Amy Welborn

Is it true that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married? Was she really Jesus' primary apostle, and did Christ intend that she—and not Peter—head the Church following his death?

Amy Welborn wasn't surprised when readers of The Da Vinci Code began peppering her about what they had read in the intriguing best-seller by Dan Brown. Many readers of Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) were familiar with her column and her books on Catholic topics. They turned to her for answers.

Ms. Welborn has provided them, both in her column and in her new book, De-Coding Da Vinci: The Facts Behind the Fiction of The Da Vinci Code, recently published by OSV. Countering a popular book—even one billed as a novel—is daunting. "But I'm an educator at heart," Ms. Welborn told Every Day Catholic. Drawing on her master's in Church history and her experience as a religious educator on the high school and parish levels, she seeks to set the record straight by "refocusing on what Scripture tells us.

"I'm interested in honoring Mary Magdalene for what the evidence tells me," said Ms. Welborn. "And that evidence is astounding. It is to Mary Magdalene, a woman Jesus had healed of demons, that he first reveals himself after the Resurrection. That is a gift to sinners and to women."

Why has Mary Magdalene been misidentified for so long? Some people today sense a conspiracy of sorts, a desire by male Church leaders to understate her crucial role in Jesus' life. Ms. Welborn is not among them. She sees in Mary Magdalene a person "who points us to the empty tomb and brings us closer to Christ" and who reminds us "that in Christ there is neither male nor female."

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