Integration: The Object of a Catholic Education
When I decided to study abroad at a European Catholic university, some American Catholics that I knew reacted negatively, saying that most of these universities were “out of line with Rome”. At the time, I didn’t know much about being “in line” our “out of line” with Rome and it was other factors that led me to choose to study in Portugal (my family’s country of origin, finances, etc.). Now, seven years later, I know quite a bit more about the value of the Church’s Magisterium, the pain of differences and divisions within the Church, but also the value of differences and divisions within the Church. How could there possibly be any value in divisions within the Church? Because it’s who we are… diverse, wounded, defensive, conflict-creating brothers and sisters… and it’s amazing that there is a Family that manages to unite and guide all toward the Truth with utmost patience and redeeming love.
It is difficult to work with, talk to and accept help from people that are different and “wrong”. It’s much easier to cut off all relations, to form another church or to start another group. Yet this is exactly where the Church shines: in having countless movements and congregations focusing on very different charisms, in taking initiative in finding paths of reconciliation with dissenting groups, other denominations and even other religions… in being universal.
Christopher West’s latest book about the New Evangelization, was written after a period of reflecting on intense criticism directed towards him, from those with differing opinions within the Church. What most impressed me about his stance was his ability to acknowledge some truth in the critiques, but also to not completely throw out his way of seeing. He reflects largely on the need for differing opinions and the need for both sides to be able to lower their guns and balance each other out. We live in a constant tension of “already and not yet” in this world and dualistic tensions are present in so many different areas of life and Catholic theology: “In the history of Christian theology, there has always been a creative tension represented by these terms (the meanings of which must be properly held together): mystery/sacrament; hidden/revealed; veiled/unveiled; unknowable/known; transcendent/immanent; intangible/tangible; invisible/visible” (At the Heart of the Gospel, p. 168-169).
“Blessed John Henry Newman asserts that the object of a Catholic education is to ‘reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God and have been put asunder by man’ (SP, sermon I). We are all disintegrated creatures in need of healing. No one can claim to live in perfect balance here. In order to work towards that balance, it can be a fruitful exercise to reflect on our own leanings. […] Whatever direction we may lean, we can be sure to find a certain ‘push-back’ coming from those who lean the other way. This kind of push-back is understandable and even healthy in our search for the proper balance between what appear to be ‘competing truths.’ But sometimes such push-back can escalate into an unhealthy and vitriolic polarization. To the extent that we harden our own positions and refuse to affirm the truth the other is trying to uphold, we only aggravate the rift and deepen the wound. The way to overcome polarization, then, is for those on different sides of a question to humble themselves and acknowledge the truth that the other side seeks to uphold.” (At the Heart of the Gospel, p. 50-51)
In Portugal there is only one Catholic university, which is the only place that offers theology and the only place where seminarians study. In Portugal there is also only one main Church: the majority of the population is Catholic, even if most people are “non-practicing” or have varying degrees of adherence to Catholic teaching. This has its disadvantages, but it also has its advantages. It’s an opportunity to learn from and work with other people that are “push-backs” and it’s a place where people are at least united under the same roof… where we can grow if we are humble enough to learn from one another and accept the guidance of our Mother Church.