“It makes me stronger in my Catholic faith by being among non-Catholics,” says Glenmary Brother Craig Digmann. He lives in Trousdale County, Tenn., and reaches out to non-Catholic Christian churches there. “My ministry has everything to do with Catholic identity. Everything I say and do reflects how the non-Catholics are gonna view Catholics in the Catholic church. I’m present as far and wide as I can be in a county.”
Brother Craig is uniquely focused: his primary job isn’t to build the Catholic community, it’s to be invited to step into the doors of as many other Christian communities as he can.
“Generally, in counties where we serve, fewer than one percent are Catholic. So I have a real sensitivity of how they look at our Catholic Church.” So his first approach is to answer questions about the Church. “Oftentimes they’re inquisitive, and want to hear more.” Often people have a Catholic relative or in-law somewhere out of town with whom they’ve never really broached the topic. Just out of curiosity, “they want to know more, to hear more. That kind of opens up the door for dialogue.”
Others, though, might have prejudice about Catholic beliefs (Catholics are thought to worship Mary instead of Jesus, for example) and governance (the Catholic Church is all about the pope). “Education is one of the biggest things I do,” he says. But dialogue always goes both ways, says Brother Craig.
Along the way he has both deepened his own Catholic identity and learned to appreciate the gifts of others.
“I’ve really come to appreciate the structure of the Catholic Church,” he says. “Sometimes I see a lack of structure in others’ worship services, and it gets to be a kind of wandering.” Or it gets to be a similar sermon every week. “There are some that, you know, it’s ‘Make sure you get saved or you’re going to hell.’ I’ve seen churches that’ll do that Sunday after Sunday.”
Catholics celebrate the holidays in a bigger way, he observes. Speaking of some local congregations, he says, “They’ll have a Christmas play, but there is only a little bit of Christmas, then the climax is the crucifixion and death and resurrection of Jesus. It just seems out-of-whack for a Catholic.” (During Christmas, Catholics focus on the Incarnation.) He speaks of the Christmas Octave for Catholics compared to a hasty end of things for many of his neighbors. “I was amazed at how many churches did not have a Christmas service on Christmas,” he says, unless it falls on a Sunday.
On the other hand, Brother Craig learns from his Protestant neighbors some things that Catholics could do better: hospitality and fellowship, for one thing, he says. “They’re good at that,” he says. “And there’s an openness to creativity in the service. In many churches, the pastor will say, ‘Be open to the Spirit. If there’s something on your heart, make sure you share in the service.’ That opens up the door for participation of anybody in the church.”
This story first appeared in Glenmary’s Cultivate newsletter.