When my wife and I first went house-shopping, one of our prayers was that we would find a place with good, Catholic neighbors.
God answered our prayer, but as only God can. Across the street lives a physician and his family. A Wanderer and New Oxford Review reader, he frequently passes along his previously read issues of Crisis and Catholic Eye for my reading enjoyment.
Next door lives a retired judge and his wife. One day last summer the woman approached my wife, asking, “Which newspaper is it that your husband writes for? Is it the National Catholic Reporter?
We read that paper religiously. It's progressive and headed in the direction that we think the Church should be going.”
“He works for the National Catholic Register,” was my wife's only reply.
Needless to say, the physician and the judge have their differences. In fact, I've been told that, one year, when Paul Wellstone was running for the Senate, the judge placed a sign supporting Wellstone on his front lawn. In response, the physician put up a cardboard, hand-made sign that read “Wellstone Supports Abortion. Do you?”
It's a curious thing, this triangular relationship representing the various facets of the Church. The physician, in his 50s, traditional in his thinking. The retired judge, older and more liberal in his views. And me, the 30-something Catholic journalist — trying to stay on good terms with both of them. It occurs to me that the three of us form a microcosm of the Church at large.
I came to know about the Catholic faith as much through the Register's pages as through the Catechism. As a disgruntled Lutheran, I had begun attending our neighborhood Catholic Church with my Catholic wife. Each Sunday, on the way out, I would pick up that week's copy of the Register. In its pages I found a “voice” I had not often heard — the voice of Christ as a light in the darkness. I savored its unique perspective on the news, reading it from cover to cover. I remember feeling terribly disappointed on Sunday mornings when all the issues had been snapped up from the vestibule before I had a chance to grab one.
I quickly grew to love the Church, but only gradually came to recognize the extent of its internal struggles for true unity. Anxious to understand the problem, I began to read. Today, looking out my window at my Catholic neighbors' homes, I think of a passage that resonated with me several years ago — and seems even more enlightening now. It's by G.K. Chesterton, from his classic work Orthodoxy. He wrote:
“As I read and re-read all the non-Christian or anti-Christian accounts of the faith … a slow and awful impression grew gradually but graphically upon my mind — the impression that Christianity must be a most extraordinary thing. For not only (as I understood) had Christianity the most flaming vices, but it had apparently a mystical talent for combining vices which seemed inconsistent with each other. It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. No sooner had one rationalist demonstrated that it was too far to the east than another demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west.”
It occurs to me that the three of us form a microcosm of the Church at large.
Little did I dream when I first read that passage that I would one day write for the Register. Or that G.K.'s observation would take on a whole new meaning for me. Like Chesterton, I find that I catch criticism from all sides. Those on the left describe my work as “conservative,” while those on the right suggest that it is too “liberal.”
It brings to mind my initial confusion as a fresh convert to the Catholic faith when confronted by two parishes within our diocese. One took great liberties with the liturgy; the other practiced the Tridentine rite. To my way of thinking, the Church was neither right nor left. The Church was the Church was the Church.
That was also made clear to me through the actions of my seemingly disparate Catholic neighbors. Last fall, while I was recovering from back surgery, the judge and his wife paid to have a lawn crew pick up all the fallen leaves from our yard. Then, at Christmas-time, the physician' s family brought over gifts of toys and hand-made blankets for our children, a quilt for our newborn, and books for my wife and me.
Christ, it seems to me, represents both perfect truth and perfect charity. He chased the moneychangers from the Temple, but also cured the sick. He did not emphasize one at the expense of the other.
Whether left or right in their views, both neighbors demonstrated authentic Christian acts of love — with absolutely no expectation for anything in return.
While they may differ in their beliefs, their actions testified to the fact that, in Christ, they can offer the world a consistent Christian witness.
On those days when the bickering wears on me, I remember Christ's admonition that we are to “love our neighbors.” I recall our neighbors' acts of generosity and love. And I pray that, in the words of Our Lord as recorded in the 17th chapter of John's Gospel, one day they — we — “may all be one.”
Tim Drake is managing editor of Catholic.net.