The OTHER Catholics
Remaking America’s Largest Religion
Columbia University Press 2016
In her book, The OTHER Catholics, author and Professor Julie Byrne elucidates in a very succinct and easy to read and understand manner, the very complex history of a branch of one of the world’s largest religions, Catholicism. The book’s sub-title is, Remaking America’s Largest Religion. Ms. Byrne’s book is the result of ten years of investigation, empirical study and personal experience within catholic churches that live and express their faith experience and journey outside the prevue and control of undoubtedly Catholicism’s largest branch, Roman Catholicism. More than a remaking of America’s largest religion; what the author does is give the reader an awareness or an awakening to the historical realities of the church than many people have been indoctrinated to believe is the one, true church, apart from which salvation is not possible. The OTHER Catholics gives the reader an opportunity to open her/his mind to define or re-define Catholicism and to search for a deeper understanding and meaning of theology and religion in spiritual terms that are universal, metaphysical, sacramental and esoteric.
The book gives the reader an excellent historical synthesis of the growth of catholic churches that were spawned out of political, social and theological differences in Europe among believers and followers of the man called Jesus, the Christ. The author traces the ancestry of catholic churches that established themselves in the United States as autocephalous or self-governing churches that had no political or legal obligations to Rome, the seat of the Roman branch of Catholicism under the control of the city’s Bishop, the Pope.
Of several American catholic churches, Ms. Byrne chose the Church of Antioch as her base from which to launch her 10 year study. She not only reached back into history through the church archives to understand its founders’ philosophies and motivations, but she also looked forward to the future to be able to present to the reader the metamorphosis that is the catholic church in today’s world. The author does not advocate for one church over the other, she simply provides data so that the reader can be more informed and see things through lenses that are not tinged by preconceived and often erroneous ideas; whether those ideas are self imposed or imposed by an ecclesiastic authority.
For this reader, I saw the ability of the book to help one challenge and re-evaluate the presiding purposes and goals of the Catholic Church today, compared to what they should be for a church that is said to be universal. One cannot help but ask what ‘universal’ means and in what context. If our human desire to understand the meaning, purpose and origin of life is universal, and we seek to accept and deepen the spiritual component of our existence as a person, then church is universal in that regard. The paths to understanding, growth and enlightenment are many; but the end destination is a universal goal. Humankind, consciously or not seeks out the divine and our interconnectedness to it.
There is no doubt that anyone looking for a church that can feed their spiritual hunger, grow their faith and push them along the path to their divine destiny, needs to investigate fully any church with which they choose to associate. There is good and bad out there and all seekers should proceed with cautious optimism in looking for a spiritual home. Most churches that identify as catholic will have the unifying thread of apostolic succession, sacraments and saints. How they live and interact with their faith experience may have many forms of expression from very traditional to very esoteric and everything that lies in between. The strength of Professor Julie Byrne’s The OTHER Catholics lies in its unbiased and informative exposé that hopefully will make readers aware that there are catholic churches that provide an alternative and have varied forms of expressing a truly catholic (universal search) faith that brings one into contact with her or his spiritual identity and search for the Divine.
I applaud and thank Professor Byrne for an excellent, informative and much needed book for our time. The creative and transformative Spirit of God is moving among all of humanity, gently urging us to seek out the mind and heart of God so that we may grow to be the people we were meant to be. The OTHER Catholics lets everyone know that however one defines catholic, there are places out there apart from Roman churches where one’s concept and experience of what catholic is, can be lived and experienced in a way that speaks to the individual’s need, heart and spirit. For me, it’s not a remaking of America’s largest religion but a treatise on its continued evolution.
Bishop Tom Shortell, OSFC, D.Min. is the Bishop Ordinary for Mexico for the United American Catholic Church and currently resides in Guerrero, Mexico.