Toward a “Catholic” Vision [part 2]



In part 1, I shared how Ralph McMichael offers this brief but evocative definition of the word “catholic.”

Catholic means the whole truth, about the whole God, for the whole world.

Ralph’s concise definition calls for intentional follow-through. When we hear ‘catholic’ in conversation, we should anticipate and hope for an encompassing understanding of this word. This can be a first step in helping us to aim at a holistic (and therefore holy) vision of the world.

The challenge I find in Ralph’s definition is for all of us who are baptized to be “catholic” in a genuinely biblical, apostolic and ecclesial way. This means seeking and finding wholeness and holiness within the vocation we have received together in Baptism.

Embracing a larger concept of what it means to have a catholic vision opens us to
a more expansive vision of God’s Mission throughout the world. Jesus has embraced and empowered all of us to go out as grace-enabled participants in God’s continuing mission to redeem and transform the world.

We desire ‘wholeness.’ Encouraged by the culture around us, we think of achieving wholeness as our project, as our task to fulfill, or the solution to our therapeutic needs. Approached in a more encompassing way, wholeness is reconnected with God’s Mission in the world, rather than reduced to being a feature of our personal lives. God nurtures this greater wholeness through our life in community. We express God’s Mission best when we celebrate the Eucharist together.

God’s Mission is always greater than we can ask or imagine. It is not just for us, for our families and friends. God’s Mission enables us to live into the whole truth about the whole God for the whole world. As we live forward, into this wider vision, we will find that it involves beauty and goodness, as well as our perennial concern for what is true.

On this, his feast day, we can join St. Richard of Chichester (d. 1253) in his prayer, “Day by day, dear Lord, of thee three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, [and] follow thee more nearly, day by day.”


{St. Richard’s words are quoted from Hymn 654, The Hymnal 1982 / the photo above, from a Eucharist at St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco, is by Mark Pritchard, (c) Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License}

Toward a “Catholic” Vision [part 1]



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.