Last week I stopped off, mid-morning, to have a cup of coffee in Wimbledon. The cheerful waitress asked me if I was a Catholic priest. Then she went on to tell me that she was a Catholic, but her friend had said that she needed to become a Christian and get baptised. I explained that she was already a Christian, and (whatever else she might have needed in the way of sacraments) she had already been baptised, and only once was possible.
She seemed puzzled by my assertion that Catholic and Christian were not opposites. I simplified. ‘Everyone who follows Jesus Christ is a Christian. The majority are Catholic Christians, in the East there are mainly Orthodox Christians, and some are called Protestant Christians.’ I went on, ‘I expect you know that all Muslims are followers of Mohammad, but some are Sunni Muslims and some are Shia Muslims.’ Yes, indeed, she had heard of this and so she grasped the answer to her Catholic/Christian question.
But I was left with a nagging resentment, not against the waitress’ friend, but against whoever had taught her that Catholics were not Christians. For such people have claimed the name Christian as exclusively theirs. No doubt they and I would disagree over significant parts of the Faith, including some of its fundamentals. As Protestant Christians they would maintain that I had added things which were not in the Bible. As a Catholic Christian I would maintain that they had arbitrarily cut out parts of the Bible they didn’t like, and were ignoring 2,000 years of Christian history during which the Holy Spirit had been very active. What I would not and could not do is deny that they are Christians, if they believe in God the Trinity, have been baptised in the three-fold name of God, and are sincerely trying to live the Christian Way.
So, please my Christian brothers and sisters, let us have no more of this. And coming at this story from a completely different angle, does it not prove the value of the clerical collar. Without it my cheerful waitress would never have engaged me in this discussion. My French friends who recently complained to me about ‘invisible clergy’ surely have a point.