The Chosen

I started this series of essays to celebrate signs of hope in Catholicism. My last reflection (“A Larger Sense of Church,” May 19) touched on the way Catholic laypeople can learn from their Protestant and Orthodox neighbors. Such conversations also, I think, help Catholics appreciate what we have to offer others, the blessings we already enjoy.

Among these blessings is surely the fact that Catholicism is as much a culture as it is a religious affiliation. In this respect, Catholics resemble Jews more than they resemble Protestants. To be sure, there have always been converts to Catholicism, individuals who have made a choice, just as there were always proselytes within Judaism, drawn to its almost inexhaustible riches of tradition and its generous vision of God’s world. But most Catholics, like most Jews, sense that they have been chosen by a tradition more than they have chosen one. They belong before they have chosen; in fact, they belong even when they have not chosen; they belong even if someone else says they don’t belong. The challenge for many Protestants is to find a church that looks like them; the challenge for most Catholics is to accept their active place within a church that has many more people unlike than like them.

The resemblance to Judaism has to do with understanding religion as a matter of shared practices. While Catholics, like Jews, know that they think differently from one another...

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About the Author

Luke Timothy Johnson, a frequent contributor, is the R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Two of his most recent books are Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (Yale) and Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church (Eerdmans).