(From Fred Herron, Wood, Waterfalls and Stars: Catholic Schools and the Catholic Imagination, pp.101-103: Emphasis added)
- The first characteristic of Catholicism is its benevolent understanding of the human condition. That is, Catholics exhibit a ‘realistic optimism.’ While sickness, sin, and death are reality checks for us all, the Catholic imagination clings to a positive and hopeful view of life. Catholicism is not naive about the sinfulness of the human condition. The Catechism notes that while human ‘nature bears the wound of original sin,’ human beings still ‘desire good’ and ‘remain an image of (the) Creator (#s 1707 & 2566).
- A second characteristic of Catholic Christianity is its belief regarding the sacramentality of life. Thomas Groome puts the case comprehensively: ‘This principle reflects the conviction that God mediates Godself to humankind, and we encounter and respond to God’s grace and desire for us through the ordinary of life–through nature and the created order; through human culture and society; through our minds and bodies, hearts and souls, through our labors and efforts, our creativity and generativity; in the depths of our being and through our relationships with others; through the events and experiences that come our way; though what we are doing and what is going on around us; through everything and anything of our world.’
- Catholicism has an essential belief that humankind is made for each other and emphasizes community and relationship. While affirming the rights and dignity of the individual it insists that humanity has an essentially communal nature. Our stories are meant to be shared. Our search for salvation is not a solitary one. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, as well as our own.
- A fourth characteristic of Catholic Christianity is its commitment to history and tradition. The Catholic imagination sees tradition as a lived reality which permeates our identity. Tradition seeps into the ‘marrowbone’ and shapes who we are. Religion, for Catholics, is not a preference as much as it is a world-view. It is not [only] what we believe but who we are.
- Catholics appreciate wisdom rationality. Langdon Gilkey has argued that ‘there has been throughout Catholic history a drive toward rationality, the insistence that the divine mystery…insofar as possible be penetrated, defended and explicated by the most acute rational reflection. Reason and revelation are partners.’
- Seeking holiness in our lives is an essential Catholic characteristic. This spirituality is nurtured within an ecclesial context which involves the sharing of images and stories.
- A truly Catholic Christianity is committed to working for justice. There is a dual commitment to the dignity of the person and to the common good of all. Basic justice has three elements to it: its commutative (one on one), distributive (group to person) and social (person to group). A Catholic understanding of justice is rooted in its anthropology as it treats people with dignity and teaches them to promote the rights of all.
- James Joyce wrote in his Finnegan’s Wake that ‘Catholic means here comes everyone.’ The root of the term ‘catholic’ means including everything and everyone. Perhaps the best synonym we can find for ‘catholic’ is ‘inclusive.’ This notion challenges us to become a community that demonstrates a hospitality and an oneness to all.”