Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Defined by the Center
“Young Life has always defined itself by its center and not by its boundaries.” The words registered in my mind but their full impact would continue to unfold for days. “Defined by the center, not the boundaries.” These words came up in a recent conversation I had with a friend and senior Young Life staff member concerning the intricate relationship between Young Life (an interdenominational Christian mission to adolescents) and the Catholic Church.
I’ve encountered some in the Catholic Church that would define Catholicism according to everything that Protestantism is not – Mary, the saints, confession, Mary, the papacy, Eucharistic adoration, Mary (did I mention Mary?) – but this position is hardly tenable. As Thomas Merton once quipped (painting in admittedly broader, interreligious strokes):
If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it.
As Thomas Groome reminds us, “the foundation of what makes us Catholic is the shared faith of the whole Body of Christ; it is certainly not unique to Catholicism.” What makes us most Christian (both Protestant and Catholic varieties) is what we share, the overwhelming majority of faith that grounds our common religious heritage:
· One God, triune in being, united in an eternal relationship of self-gift
· One Lord, Jesus Christ, who revealed the fullness of God’s love, whose life, death and resurrection offer salvation, truth and life
· One baptism by which we are initiated into the family of God
· One universal call to holiness
· One mission to proclaim the reign of Christ to all
· One body with which to accomplish that mission
Pope Francis began his recent apostolic exhortation by asserting, “The JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Not just Catholics or Protestants but ALL who encounter Christ. The pope goes on to say:
Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines. . . the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary.
So what is the essential, the most beautiful, most grand, most appealing, most essential? In other words, what is the “center” by which both Young Life and the Catholic Church are defined? I think Cardinal Timothy Dolan says it beautifully:
We are all about a person.
We are all about a relationship of faith, hope and love with a person,
Who happens to be the greatest person who ever lived,
Who also happens to be my best friend,
Who knows me and calls me by name,
Who looks me in the eyes and invites me to spend eternity with him,
and that person is JESUS!
 Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (NY: DoubleDay, 1965/66), 141.
 Thomas Groome, What Makes Us Catholic (NY: HarperCollins, 2002), 31.
 Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 1.
 Ibid, 35.
 Cardinal Timothy Dolan, taken from an address given at the Evangelical Catholic Institute, Madison, WI, 2006.