In an earlier age, having catholic tastes or a catholic perspective meant breadth in one’s approach to the world and to objects of interest within it. A “catholic” vision would therefore be expressed in terms of what it includes rather than what it does not.
We live in an age when words and ideas are prone to partisan and ideological interpretation. Too easily, we settle for narrow and limited meaning. When we now hear the word “catholic,” we assume the reference is to an institutional branch of Christianity. Though we find the word “catholic” in the universally accepted Apostles’ Creed, we allow lesser concerns to shape our concept of what it means for the Church to be catholic.
My friend and former teaching colleague, Ralph McMichael, offers this brief but evocative definition of the word:
Catholic means the whole truth, about the whole God, for the whole world.
His definition may help us reclaim the word, so that even ‘free church’ believers might be comfortable using it. Catholic has to do with the whole, with what is universal.
A catholic vision will include all that is beautiful and all that is good, as well as all that is true. Arguably, anything less falls short of being catholic.
I am continually challenged not to settle for less than this encompassing and holistic vision.