Of Many Things

The exercise is brief, but revealing. During the first session of my parish’s adult Christian initiation program, the leader challenges the group: Draw what you think of when you hear the word church. The potential candidates and catechumens furrow their brows and grab a marker. Most of them produce a skeletal picture of a building—a square structure beneath a pointy roof with a cross on top, a few stained glass windows, a large door. Sometimes there is an open Bible floating somewhere in the scene.

These images, while not works of art, do feature a vital element of our lives as Catholics. But it is just one element. Thankfully, the RCIA at my parish (full disclosure: the director is Robert C. Collins, S.J., executive editor of America) offers inquirers the chance to delve into the many dimensions of our faith. Through Scripture study and discussion, through helpful handouts and honest feedback, by providing a faithful, familiar place to ask questions about the great Church Tradition and the many church traditions, the rite guides candidates and catechumens as they grow in their love for the beautiful, messy, historic, justice-oriented, creative, global faith community they are about to join.

Advertisement

Months later, following the Easter Vigil, the neophytes try their hand at a second image of what church means. Some draw church structures once again, but this time populate the pews with stick figures—the members of the body of Christ. Others draw a cross or a globe or a heart or fire or a dove. Many arrived at the first session inspired by our particular parish, but by the time the Easter Vigil arrives, they are prepared to be part of our larger church. They are looking for ways to continue their growth in faith. And they understand that the essence of the church can’t be captured on paper, but must be drawn with our lives.

Many Catholics, old and new, are drawn to the depth and breadth of the church and its good works across the globe, the universality of the Mass, the sense that they are part of something larger than themselves. And yet, in the midst of our busy lives, it remains all too easy to forget about this larger community, those who may live some distance from us, but are just as much a part of the body of Christ as the man or woman in the pew beside us. Whether it is the Christians of South Korea, recently visited by Pope Francis (pg. 28), or the unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border (pg. 11), we are called to be in solidarity with this global community.

It is in this spirit of solidarity that America presents the first fruits of our expanded national and international coverage. This issue includes the debut of the column Vatican Dispatch by the distinguished journalist Gerard O’Connell, who joins our staff as an associate editor and Vatican correspondent, based in Rome. He will offer weekly insights and updates from there in the magazine and across America’s digital platforms.

You’ll also notice a new page of reporting in the Signs of the Times. Each week correspondents from around the globe will provide a glimpse into pressing issues of the day. This week features a report from Jim McDermott, S.J., a one-time associate editor here, who returns to our pages as America’s West Coast correspondent. His report from Murrieta is brief but revealing. Future issues will feature reporting by Judith Valente from Chicago, Tim Padgett from Miami and Steve Schwankert from Beijing, with more correspondents to come. We hope these reports will serve as a kind of faith education. Their variety of perspectives will, we hope, better enable our Christian community to learn from one another as we strive to be men and women for others. Through this international and national reporting, we aim to draw a fuller image of what church means today.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The appointments are part of an ongoing effort to give a greater role to women in the work of the Roman Curia offices, the central administration of the Catholic church.
Gerard O’ConnellApril 21, 2018
Ivette Escobar, a student at Central American University in San Salvador, helps finish a rug in honor of the victims in the 1989 murder of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter on the UCA campus, part of the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Jesuit martyrs in 2014. (CNS photo/Edgardo Ayala) 
A human rights attorney in the United States believes that the upcoming canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero in October has been a factor in a decision to revisit the 1989 Jesuit massacre at the University of Central America.
Kevin ClarkeApril 20, 2018
Journalists photograph the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in California in 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
In California, Catholic opponents of the death penalty are trying to protect the largest population of inmates awaiting execution in the Western Hemisphere.
Jim McDermottApril 20, 2018
Photo: the Hank Center at Loyola University Chicago
Bishop McElroy said that Catholics must embrace “the virtues of solidarity, compassion, integrity, hope and peace-building.”