Defining ‘Catholic’ — what’s it to you?

Chris Benguhe, seen here in this 2008 file photo, has been writing his “A Better View” column for The Catholic Sun since 2001. He is asking readers to respond to his question of whether his topics are “Catholic” enough. Let us know in the comment box.
Chris Benguhe, seen here in this 2008 file photo, has been writing his “A Better View” column for The Catholic Sun since 2001. He is asking readers to respond to his question of whether his topics are “Catholic” enough. Let us know in the comment box.

I am doing a lot of thinking lately about what it means to be Catholic.

Mostly because some have commented my columns were not “Catholic” enough; that I wrote about things you could read elsewhere.

Chris Benguhe is a columnist for The Catholic Sun. Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.
Chris Benguhe is a columnist for The Catholic Sun. Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

Well, I would like your opinion, as well as your consideration of what you believe it means to be Catholic.

To begin this thought experiment, I went through all my columns over the last few years to see what I have written about.

I have written about why it’s important to care for and respect our aging parents when it’s not easy to do so.

I have written about how we need to love and appreciate the mentally ill and do all we can to help them out of their nightmarish prisons of their minds.

One of my frequents odes has been to the value of aging, and how we can learn so much from our elders; in fact we should look forward to growing old. And even looking old. This, when society and media are obsessed with the vanity of youth and have an almost compulsive need to rid the world of any reminders of our mortality, as if we will never die.

I have written about the dangers of a fame-obsessed world and how we “everyday mortals” are lucky not to be famous. Because we know the importance of humility, the lifesaving value of accountability to others and we realize that the star in our lives should be the light of Christ, not some “American Idols.”

And in just about every column, I have in some way talked about how we need to appreciate our flaws, our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses as a constant reminder of our need to reach out to others and to God for help and love — not the “religion of success.”

I have not gone out of my way to remind readers of the very applicable biblical references for all the topics I write about because I feel shoving rules and commandments down someone’s throat can get in the way of the power of a simple story or anecdote. I was taking another very good storyteller’s lead on that, namely Jesus Christ.

Since the word “Catholic” itself actually means “universal,” I thought these everyday topics of people everywhere were important.

But what was most important for me was to discuss how we as Catholics had the responsibility and opportunity to solve problems in a Catholic way, as opposed to an insensitive and self-serving worldly way.

And I believed it was OK to veer out of the hallowed halls of my local church to do so.

But I am human. I can be wrong. Tell me if I am. Tell me what you believe it means to be “Catholic.” But also please tell me if I am right and if the topics I have been talking about have been “Catholic” enough for you.

I absolutely cannot write about these ideas anywhere else in the secular media. They flat out refuse to publish them.


  1. Catholic is Universal. Catholic is Christianity, the faithful followers of Christ, who taught us to be His hands in this world; to Love God above all; and Love our neighbors as ourselves.

  2. It near fails to surprise me how narrow minded people can be. Maybe you should just randomly insert “Jesus,” “Holy Ghost,” and “God” in your next article. I believe if they truly read your articles they would see that you can discuss religion and God without constantly using the words.

  3. To me being Catholic is the drive of my life. I have gotten to know God through hard times when everything around me seemed meaningless. I have searched for the truth, have questioned the truth, and I have founded it in the Catholic Church. It took 40 years of my life to find the real meaning of being Catholic and have found peace because I know now what the purpose of my existence is. But now I look around me, even in my own family and with close friends, and realize that we do not speak the “same language”, they do not understand that the sacraments are more than just protocol, but the source of grace, strength, light, and the assurance of being loved from God, that is almost impossible to not to love Him back. I have come to understand that “dormant Catholics” need to be waken up with more authentic Catholic practices, like Pope Francis, Mother Theresa, St. Francis of Assisi did. “Go and spread the Word, if necessary speak” St. Francis of Assisi. And not with action of well intended Catholics who intend to do good, but are more judgmental than loving… and God is Love, so let’s love more … and let Him judge.

  4. I am a practicing Catholic. I love my faith. I think you do an awesome job of writing about things that are relevant. You make us think. You do not preach. I wouldn’t read you if you did. I don’t know who is saying your writing isn’t “Catholic” enough, but they need to visit Pope Francis. Keep up the good work!!

    • I agree I believe his articles are “Very Catholic”. There’s a wonderful theme and message based on the characteristics of Faith, Hope and Love. This is what the People of the Catholic Church (not the building) should display to others – on a universal level. Jesus himself said, “The 2 greatest Commandments are these: “Love God above all else with all your heart, mind, strength and soul” Then he adds: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Expressing the importance of the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is One of the many things Catholics stand for. Always including the examples of Pope Francis, Mother Theresa and other saints are important for these people are the model and way all Christians should be that exemplify the Beatitudes. (Attitudes of being a true Christian) 🙂 Keep up the good work!

  5. The notion that Mr. Benguhe’s columns are not “Catholic” enough is upsetting to me as an active Catholic and avid fan of his writing. However, it’s more upsetting, heartbreaking, actually, that he “cannot write about these ideas anywhere else in the secular media. They flat out refuse to publish them.” Mr. Benguhe offers a perspective that I don’t find elsewhere, and reading his column is something I look forward to with each edition of the Catholic Sun. The struggles Mr. Benguhe shares about caring for his mother, the need for us to act with love towards the most vulnerable of our society and the reminder that we can triumph over tragedy are most definitely “Catholic” notions. Those and the other insights he provides directly reflect my faith, and I hope that I will continue to have the opportunity to read and consider his faith-filled thoughts in future editions of the Catholic Sun. If I can’t read him here, then where?

  6. Given that much orthodox Catholic writing is dull, didactic, and lacking in any persuasive qualities, it’s understandable that “some” might not appreciate Mr. Benguhe’s skills, intellectual depth, and broad appeal.

    After all, do notions or insights like the following even sound “Catholic”? They read like a self-help book or, worse, writings by one with a less than reverent worldview:

    “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”

    “If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.”

    “The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar.”

    Oops. Although those pithy-isms read like something Benguhe could have written, they were in fact penned by that well-known New Ager and virulent anti-Catholic . . . G.K. Chesterton.

    Case closed.

    Benguhe is heir to a wonderful tradition of witty, persuasive, well-read, and articulate Catholic apologists who don’t write or appear the way “some” expect them to. Benguhe is a unique and powerful voice for The Sun. Don’t lose him or make him change.

    A final Chesterton quote is appropriate: “In matters of truth the fact that you don’t want to publish something is, nine times out of ten, a proof that you ought to publish it.”

  7. I save Mr. Benguhe’s column in The Catholic Sun to read last. His column gives me something special to contemplate and savor after having “digested” the rest of the newspaper. His articles are about the “stuff” of real life–universal issues which affect us all at one time or another during our life’s journey. I love his insight as he reminds us that it is important to practice our Catholic faith daily and to reach out to others with God’s love. Mr. Benguhe enriches my Catholic Faith. I am grateful for that and grateful that The Catholic Sun publishes his column. Please keep up the good work.

  8. My connection to Chris Benguhe is that when I was struggling with a deep personal affliction in our family, I just happened to attend a day he was speaking at the Catholic Retreat in Scottsdale. The tools and hope I received was God’s perfect timing. I am a Christian who was raised Catholic and have journeyed different Christian paths along the way. I attend a Nazarene church currently, but have been from Baptist to nondenominational to Lutheran, etc. My experience has been that when God wants to use a person to their maximum potential, they will not be limited by titles, or positions, or boundaries that are set by men. If we all would embrace the greater good of mankind, as Chris does, I believe God’s mission of sending His love and healing wisdom into our world would be more fully accomplished.

  9. I’ve read several Chris Benguhe essays and don’t remember any of them being out of line with Catholic teachings.

    My basic beef is the Oprah-ization of mainstream Catholic media. There is never a sense of urgency and Catholic news is reported as if everything is OK i.e. “The Pope washed feet,” or “Jesus knew how to cook,” or “The Pope won’t wear red shoes”.

    As less than 20% of Catholics in America and less the 5% in Europe keep the Sacraments, Church clergy never seem at least a little concerned. When the Catholic Sun reports on ‘immigration reform’ (Which we do need) the writers are silent on the terror that the drug cartels spread on both sides of the border. When the Catholic Sun talks the forgiveness and tolerance we should provide to other cultures and religions, there’s nothing but ‘crickets’ on the hundreds of thousands and even into the millions of Christians that are being slaughtered in Muslim and atheist countries.

    I skim through the hard copy of the ‘Sun’ every month and skip through the online once a week or so but I’m a Catholic nerd and I read lots of stuff. I’m curious about specific comments being made regarding Benguhe’s work but the Catholic Sun has always been very good at not making waves and staying under the radar.

  10. The Orange Counry Register (southern CA) has a Monday ‘Faith & Values’ section that you can see about possible publishing opportunities. I enjoy it a lot because of the different bylines and religious backgrounds of the writers. On another note, I don’t know if I’m a dormant Catholic, having been baptized as a baby, since I cast myself out due to my inability to believe the church’s teachings and positions on a wide range of things, however I will say the new pope is inspiring and your column would be the teaser to get me to thinking again about whether I could ever be Catholic again. (Ah the world of social media connectivity, I found you through a friend’s post). The more we as Christians and people of all faiths talk about caring and doing for the least among us the better. If this column is any indication you ought to keep up your writing.

  11. If Chris Benguhe’s writing does not reflect Catholic values, then I must need to be schooled again in what Catholicism truly is.

  12. Your topics are timely and universal! Keep writing these great articles. They are thought provoking and plant the seeds of the teachings of Jesus in the hearts and souls of many.

  13. I saw this post on the following blog. It’s written by a Catholic mother who is asking what it means to be Catholic. I agree with it.

    What Is a Catholic Mom?
    Hello Ladies,

    I have been putting off this question for a long time. I don’t like it. If you are Catholic and a mother then you are a Catholic mom. But lately a friend of mine (not a mother) was asking me why I do things one way and not the way other Catholic mothers seem to. Do you need to go to church every Sunday as a family? Do you pray the rosary (or a decade) nightly? Do you work outside the home? Do you home school or send your child(ren) to Catholic schools? Do you wear long skirts? Cover your head in church? Obey your husband? Use cloth diapers? Carry your baby in a sling as opposed to using a stroller?

    To be fair, my friend couldn’t care less about diapers or strollers; but other moms DO care. And they WILL give their opinion.

    Before I get derailed in the politics of motherhood I would like to make one thing perfectly clear: No matter our vocation, we are called to do it with great love. This includes motherhood. This includes working outside the home. This includes our studies. This includes our family life. In fact, it begins within our own family. To be precise – with the most vulnerable within our family: our children, our elderly, and our most vulnerable.

    Perhaps the first question we should be asking is what does it mean to be a Catholic? After all, motherhood is one of many roles we are called to play. We do not start out as mothers and one day our children will leave our home. But God calls each and every one of us to follow Him.

    The reason I am taking a step back from motherhood is that it is so all encompassing that sometimes it does not make the best starting point. As I said earlier, it’s too easy to get derailed. Yes, the above questions are important. Yes, every mother needs to explore them. That is why it is so important to have a firm understanding of what you, as a Catholic and as a mother, bring to your home and to society.

    The rules and the Spirit:

    Okay, I already said that being a Catholic is more that following ‘the rules’. In this context I’m talking about the outward trappings and not substance. Do I wear a long skirt? Do I have rosary beads hanging off my rear view mirror in my minivan? Do I make it to church every week with all of my children freshly scrubbed and in their Sunday best?

    But there are other, more important rules; rules that are as unpopular as they are important.

    Some people think that we don’t need rules, that we are intelligent human beings who can handle the consequences to our actions. Fair enough. I am not the morality police. Nor do I want to be. But let’s take a closer look, shall we?

    Imagine driving a car in a town without any traffic laws. A car is not evil. The driver is probably not evil. But together it can make for a dangerous, even deadly combination. Now I have several friends who are firefighters and police officers. I can tell you that they have absolutely no sense of humor when it comes to running red lights, speeding through school zones and cross walks, drunk driving, or using a cell phone while driving. Does that make them fascist? Cruel? Eager to exploit their authority and hand out tickets? Possibly. Or maybe they’re just sick of scraping innocent people off the street. Maybe they want to go to sleep without having nightmares. Maybe they are just, gasp, trying to protect us from our own stupid and thoughtless decisions.

    Now let’s look at the moral equivalent of a car wreck. Ever talk to a Catholic mother who is wondering when she should take her daughter to the doctor to be put on birth control? Twelve is too early but kids are having sex earlier these days… What if she’s at a party and gets drunk? Is thirteen too early or too late? CRASH! How are these questions even possible?? But you can’t get away from what is ‘out there’. The problems of children raping children and drug and alcohol abuse have been featured on Oprah, Dear Abbey, and countless news stations.

    And who is to blame? The television? The parents? The children themselves?

    There are also other, smaller rules that we break every day and we don’t think much about them until the consequences creep up on us. This is where I really appreciate speaking with priests because they have heard everything. People do not go to confession when they think that what they’re doing isn’t so bad. People go to confession with their regrets and their heartbreaks, desperately wanting to undo the past. No priest can ever say the specific sins he hears in a confessional but a priest can speak in generalities. Most frequent cause of divorce (for men): pornography. That’s right. They begin to see women as sexual objects instead of people. This attitude spills over into their marriage and parenting. Biggest regret for women: allowing themselves to be seen or used as sexual objects and/or what they have done to “prove” that they are free from the shackles of their femininity. For children: what they have done to gain love or approval from their peers, including lying.

    Somewhere along the line we have forgotten the critical point: each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God and is worthy of dignity. This means that I have been created to be more than a sexual or political object. I am more than a woman silently raising her children. I am more than my education, my paycheck, the fulfillment of my ambitions or what I contribute so society. And I firmly believe that this is where so many of us get it wrong. Our imaginations cannot encomapss the wonder of God so we wonder if God is even there. So we get it into our heads that our ambition is more important than God’s will for us. We can’t fathom God’s love for us so we settle for what we can quantify. It is time to stop.

    How can we teach our children that they have worth if we believe that our own worth is limited to our achievements or based on the approval of others? How can we help others if we are suffering from the consequences of breaking the rules ourselves?

    Jesus is continually reminding us of our worth when He invites us to partake of His presence in the Body and Blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist. He continually reminds us of the dignity of others. He is constantly inviting us into a personal conversation with Him about how best to use our time, talent, and treasures. Why do we continually deny the dignity that God Himself instilled in us when we were conceived? Why do we deny it in others? We all want to live in a just world where we are respected and treated with dignity but we don’t dare reach for it.

    Every single Christian has been commissioned by Jesus to seek out and serve the most vulnerable of society. This service may include fixing food and keeping house. It may include changing the diapers of an infant or an infirm adult. This service will probably be unglamorous and frequently isolating. Do it anyway. This service might call an educated woman to work within the home or challenge an uneducated woman to further education. This will probably be frightening. Do it anyway.

    We all know this. This is nothing new. Perhaps what I am trying to say is that Catholicism isn’t merely a set of rules which must be obeyed. It is not a way of differentiating ourselves from others. It is an invitation by God to live more deeply in Him. It is joyful and adaptable. (Frankly, anything that has been around for over 2000 years and spans continents needs to be adaptable.) It has structure that is timeless and recognizable. It is a way of asking God “what do I do with my time, treasure and talents?” in a way that there is hope of hearing a personal answer instead of in formulaic response.

    And for us Catholic mothers? It begins within our own homes, with our children, our elderly, and our most vulnerable. It begins before we are mothers and will continue after the overwhelming aspects of motherhood are over.

    And through the grace of God the rest will fall into place from there.

    May God continue to bless you!

  14. Chris Benguhe’s columns are about as Catholic as you can get – the elderly, the mentally handicapped et al, are some of the most neglected in our society and definitely whom Jesus was talking about when He told us “What you do for the least of my Brethren, you are doing for Me!”. Chris writes about Catholicism in practice and reaching out in love through Jesus, which is something our new Pope would greatly appreciate and agree with! He’s my favorite Catholic Sun columnist and I greatly miss his work when his columns are omitted!


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