I find ideas in funny places. Maybe that is because I am always looking for new ideas, always attentive to where something fresh may come to my awareness. I read an odd collection of things. I found the idea for this inspirational reflection in a book review. The review is focused on a book I hope to read in the near future. The author of the book is a Franciscan sister, Ilia Delio. I have never met her, although I would dearly love to do so. I know she teaches at Villanova University in the Philadelphia area, so maybe I will make a trip to visit with her.
Sister Delio has a fascinating background. She is a scientist who is also trained as a theologian. She has a doctorate in Pharmacology. She was pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship when she discerned that God was calling her in a different direction. Ultimately she wound up with the Franciscan tradition. That is when she began study theology, which she now teaches. And she is writing on issues of science and religion, particularly on issues around evolution, the nature of the universe and God.
What I did not know was that Delio has published a new book. A review by Jamie Manson informed me about her new book, Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology and Consciousness. Manson’s review was given the title, “Delio breathes new life into the term ‘catholic.’” I discovered I already knew some of the things Manson was telling me that Delio was figuring out. I already knew some things about the term, “catholic.” But Delio also added to what I knew. Let’s trace that discovery through this book review.
Originally, the word, “catholic,” is a Greek word. It is a transliteration of the Greek, which means the way we see it is a letter-by-letter rendition of the Greek word into English letters. Furthermore, the original Greek word is actually a compound word. As the review rightly points out, the “cat” part is actually a preposition in Greek---literally written “kata.” That preposition means “through.” This is also what Delio learns.
The main part of the word, “catholic,” comes from the Greek, houlou, and means “whole.” The preposition coupled with the noun gives us the adverb meaning “wholly.” In this work with words Delio is following a lead of the Jesuit scholar, John Haughey. I also know his work and very much appreciate it. The book review, Manson, quotes one passage from Haughey, which summarizes the whole word exploration. “Katholikos, a substantive that is best rendered ‘catholicity’ in English…connotes movement towards universality or wholeness.”
We have taken some pains to come to the realization that our English word, “catholic” or “catholicity,” basically means universality or wholeness. While I appreciate the intent of the Roman Catholic Church using the word, it cannot in good faith claim everything around catholic. I trust there is room for Quakers, Methodists, Nazarenes and non-denominational folks, too. And who knows, maybe we will ultimately even find Jews, Buddhists and all the rest. My God is big enough to do this kind of ultimate catholic work!
What fascinates me is to get a glimpse of what Delio is going to do with this newfound knowledge. This review gives me a hint, which I share with you, but I will go to the book for the full story. The hint emerges in these words from Delio. She says that doing this background word-work shows her the word, “catholic,” to be the “truest meaning as the very inner dynamic of an evolutionary universe.” That is a bold claim. Catholicity is the inner dynamic of the evolution of the universe; this claims catholicity is the main point of the universe! This is close to the early Greek meaning of the term: catholicity points to the wholeness of the universe---its orderliness. Delio takes the term even further.
Delio does a thorough review of the term, “catholic,” in the history of the Christian Church. In the process she recovers how the term came to be applied to Jesus. Clearly, this is a Christian move, but one that intrigues me. She notes the early church used the word, “catholic,” to apply to the church, because the church understood Jesus to be catholic, a “whole-maker.” I love that way to describe who Jesus was and what his ministry was about. As she says, the ministry of this “whole-maker” was characterized by “love, mercy and compassion” and that he “healed a fragmented humanity.”
I resonate with the image of Jesus as catholic---as a “whole-maker.” I agree that sin---by whatever contemporary word you want to use---fragments, alienates, separates, dissipates, destroys and all the rest. Sin begs for healing. It will be healed when made whole again. That is the work of Jesus.
That is the same work for all the followers of Jesus. And I dare say, it is the work of Buddhists, Hindus and all the rest. I also say it is the call to work for the atheist and the agnostic. If you are human, there is “whole-making” work to do. Not to do it is to say ok to the mayhem, violence and disasters of our current world. Let’s get to work!