I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. (1Cor 1:10)
It seems that even during the time of the Apostles there was a tendency to divide into factions. Some identified with Paul while others claimed allegiance to Apollos or Cephas. We can see from Scripture that Paul wisely tried to nip this in the bud. The Body of Christ, the Church, is to be unified in Christ and no other.
Sadly, the tribalism of the first Christians is alive and well in the 21st century. You can hear nonsensical comments like, \”I am a John the XXIII Catholic, not a Benedict XVI Catholic,\” or \”I am a Benedict XVI Catholic not a Francis Catholic\”. Some try to narrow their Catholicism with words like liberal or conservative, traditional or progressive, Latin or Novus Ordo. In the online world of Catholic blogging you see cults of personality built around this or that prominent blogger. Dare to criticize one of these Catholic celebrities and his or her fans descend upon the interloper in the comment box with the ferocity of sharks in a feeding frenzy. Civility and charity are often left behind.
There really should be no modifiers to our Catholicism. There is only one Christ and one Church. Adding labels are divisive and the antithesis to Christ’s desire that all should be one in Him. Rivalries among factions serve only to wound the Church when we should be building up the Body of Christ instead.
There is no question that different people are drawn to different teachers, theologians, musicians, and artists. As I look at the various writers who have given me insight into the Church and helped form my faith in Christ I can attribute a great deal of spiritual growth to Peter Kreeft, Bert Ghezzi, Amy Welborn, Christopher West, and probably most significantly, Pope Benedict XVI. This does not make me a Kreeft-Ghezzi-Welborn-West-Ratzinger-Catholic. I am Catholic. Period. I can describe my status on the faith journey with adjectives like faithful, struggling, complacent, growing, etc. But these are descriptions of me and not a branding of my own individual Catholicism. Trying to carve out my own personal Catholic Church that fits my lifestyle and tastes is erroneously setting myself up as a Magisterium of one.
So how do we unite all of our squabbling tribes? There has never been a family without some bickering and our Catholic family is no different. But in a strong family, the bickering never breaks the filial bonds. All the branches of our Catholic family tree may stretch out in different directions, but they have a common root, Jesus. Our allegiance must be to Christ and His Church, not to any particular branch.
Of course each of us may have different preferences for language, music, architecture, or preaching style. As long as your preference is still attached to the root of the true Magisterium, feel free to choose. Then be charitable and respectful when another Catholic chooses differently than you do. It is truly disheartening to hear the belittling and denigration that goes on among those who are all supposed to be of the same Catholic Church. Snobbery has no place among brothers and sisters in Christ.
I have heard Catholics who prefer the Novus Ordo Mass claim that Catholics who attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass are sedevacantists and anti-Semites. I have heard those who attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass claim that those who attend the Novus Ordo are Catholics in name only. Such broad brush labeling is the sin of pride rearing its ugly head and speaks more of the insecurities of the labeler than the true characteristics of the labeled. The Extraordinary Form of the Mass is Catholic. The Novus Ordo is Catholic. Women who veil are Catholic. Women who do not veil are Catholic. Gregorian chant is Catholic. Guitars are Catholic.
So pause before you speak or write. Think. Will my words unify or divide? I know it can be satisfying to turn that snarky phrase and play to your base. I struggle with the temptation to get the last clever jab in an argument. But Christ did not tell us to go and win debates. He commanded that we go and make disciples of all the nations. That requires charity, not derision. The goal is not for “my side” to win, but that all sides be united in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.