To know the definition of a thing, it can be helpful to know its opposite. For example, I know that cold is the opposite of heat, up is the opposite of down, right is the opposite of left. But what, dear friends, is the opposite of Catholic?
I asked a group of faith writers this very question and their answers astounded me. These women have a deep love both for words and faith, and it’s those things that brought us together in this writing group in the first place. We have a shared mission and we root each other on through the journey of faith writing, largely with a Christian focus. So imagine my surprise when I found the most common response to the question of Catholicism’s opposite was: Protestant.
I didn’t understand. I see us as sisters in one big dysfunctional family. We have areas of disagreement, sure, but the things we share in common are huge, namely Jesus. How could Catholic and Protestant be opposites? And if that wasn’t shocking enough, the second most common answer was: Atheist.
Oh my goodness. I’ve known far too many godly non-Catholics and experienced my own broken church long enough to ever say that the only way to belief is through Catholicism. God help us if it’s so.
Some said that grace was the opposite of Catholicism, others said freedom. One said ‘Gospel truth’, another ‘direct conversation with Jesus’. But I’ve experienced all of those things in the Catholic Church and of course I’ve experienced lots of mess as well, but in general, these responses had me shaking my head at how we really don’t know each other. The answers were off the cuff, spontaneous just as I’d asked them to be, but they speak volumes about the chasm that lies between Catholics and Christians from the larger church.
I wish I could sit down with Catholics and tell them about how Protestant authors and friends have changed my life and helped me to know Jesus personally. I wish I could sit with Protestants and talk about the beauty that still exists in the Catholic Church. We’re not enemies and we’re not opposites. We’re family, working in the same vineyard, beloved by the same God.
Several women’s responses gave me hope. Carrie, a Catholic, feels the dark times in our church as a ‘sucker punch to the gut’, but also sees the beauty in it and works toward ecumenism. Sandy, a former Catholic, cringes when fellow Christians draw a distinction between us. She said we are ‘theologically distinct’, but not opposite. Leslie said it best.
“My gut response is that not all words have opposites.”
And maybe faiths don’t either.
Ask yourself the question, “Who am I in Christ?” If the answer is ‘Catholic’ or ‘Baptist’ or ‘Anglican’ or ‘Evangelical’ or ‘right-wing’ or ‘progressive’, or your job title or your ministry or your color or your country of origin, please stop and listen to Jesus whispering in your ear. Sit in the loving gaze of the Holy Spirit, feel the arms of the Father holding you up until your answer to the question is the heartbeat of your very own name, or better yet, ‘Beloved’.
Racism, distrust, and bias take root when we fail to connect with people who are different from ourselves. The more we know, the more human fleshy people with whom we connect, the bigger our world, and the better our understanding. The same is true for faith. I would love to use this space to open up a dialogue between family members in our Christian church. If you have questions about why Catholics do what we do, ask them. As a cradle Catholic, music minister, and studier of the faith, I’m happy to answer the best I can. And if you’re looking for resources by Protestants, I have a super-long list I can share. The best thing we can do is talk with one another across or around a table. God willing, that’s exactly what we’ll do one day, so let’s get started.
There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. So the body is not made up of just one part.
It has many parts.
Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.
The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care. The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any. In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.
You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.