Unique & United: Church’s Diversity Testifies to Truth
Can you imagine John Williams’ Star Wars orchestral scores, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, or George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue performed with only one type of instrument? Or even more impossible: one scale… or one note?
An orchestra’s beauty and power derives from the diversity of instruments, sounds, musicians, notes, and many other factors—all playing various parts toward communicating one piece of music.
God works similarly!
Within the Roman Catholic Church, we see a wide variety of gifts from God called charisms, manifested in diverse spiritualities. Even further, most Roman Catholics here have no idea that Roman Catholicism is just one of many expressions of the Catholic faith.
Let’s reflect on how God is working through both types of diversity.
In San Antonio alone, we see a wide variety of religious orders—Franciscans, Oblates, Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Claretians, Jesuits, Salesians, and more. One might ask: Why are there so many? Don’t they all believe the same thing? Don’t they all do similar work?
Each person who has ever existed, has been gifted with a unique set of experiences, characteristics, talents, etc. Just so, the saints who founded each religious order, lived within different cultural, historical, and personal circumstances. While every religious order professes the same faith, their charisms are unique.
For example, the Carmelite community trace their origin to the Prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel, and emphasize listening to God’s voice interiorly. Their charism is contemplation, and they wear distinctive uniforms or habits. Whereas, the Marianists were founded during the French Revolution and grew among small faith-sharing communities. They emphasize inclusive social outreach, and wear clothing similar to the people they are serving. Side-by-side, these communities look very different, but they compliment each other and work toward the common goal of union with God and love of neighbor.
In San Antonio, we are also blessed to have Catholic communities other than Roman Catholics. These include the Maronite, Byzantine, and Syro-Malabar Catholics. Walk into any of their gatherings for Sunday worship, and you’ll not only hear different languages spoken or sung, but you’ll also notice different forms of our sit-stand, bow-kneel Catholic calisthenics. You’ll see different ways of receiving the sacraments—which may even have different names. For example, what Roman Catholics call the Sacrament of Matrimony, some eastern Catholic Churches call the Mystery of Crowning.
How did this happen? When the first apostles were sent forth and empowered by the Holy Spirit, they went to many peoples and cultures to spread faith in Christ. Today under Pope Francis, there are different hierarchies of leadership for many Catholic Churches.
At the same time, we are all one Church, one Body of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that there are diverse histories, symbolism, theologies, forms of holiness… “The mystery celebrated in the liturgy is one, but the forms of its celebration are diverse.” (cf. 1200, 1202)
In other words, our Catholic family is the most beautiful orchestra. When we profess during Mass that the church is “one” and “catholic” (universal), this is what we mean.
“From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. […] The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity.” (CCC 814)
This is beautiful, good news in an increasingly divided world. How can so many different people, languages, cultures, histories, theologies, and missions be united? God shows us how; in the Church. Let’s embrace this good news and share it with others. We need to be witnesses for God through unity.
I encourage and challenge you to learn more about the various expressions of our one faith. Do not be afraid of differences; the unity among these unique expressions will help us all together testify to the living God among us!
Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is a regular column of this Catholic evangelization apostolate that answers Christ’s call by guiding people to encounter Him through pilgrimages, conferences and outreach. Read the column monthly in Today’s Catholic newspaper.
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