I drive down the street and see a sign with golden arches and a jolly, redheaded clown. Immediately, my mind recalls the last time I chucked a chicken nugget into my mouth. I remember how my baby girl leapt in the womb when I shoved a fistful of French fries down my esophagus. And, almost instantly, my taste buds begin to crave an outlandishly large cup of sweet tea that would sustain a desert wanderer for at least a few days.
Soon, a word emerges in my brain from a Catholic communications conference I recently attended: branding. Of course, I am aware of the advertising world, especially when I suddenly start planning my next trip to DQ after seeing Blizzards on their commercials. We are constantly bombarded with brands and the messages those companies want to convey. Branding becomes an identifier, a way for a company to show pride in its product and differentiate itself from others.
- Read: Full coverage of the Communications and New Evangelization Conference
I hear one presenter’s voice linger in my memory:
“What images and messages flood your mind when you hear the brand name ‘Catholic’?” Like the Angus lined up for the McDonald’s menu, I too have been branded. Gratefully, the branding process for me did not include an iron glowing with heat, but I hope my mark is equally as evident.
However, there seems to be a lot of false advertising when it comes to my “brand,” and all too often the word “Catholic” can conjure up intense negative feelings within Christian believers and non-believers alike.
It’s true: Many of our beliefs are counter-cultural. But then again, most people rejected Jesus, too. In fact, the animosity toward him is ultimately what had him murdered. The apostles were also frequently shunned and persecuted for the message they preached on Christ’s behalf. It was their zealous pursuit of Christ that led to several imprisonments and eventual death.
And, with a brand whose lineage dates back to the time of Jesus, the Catholic Church continues to teach those same messages and hold them as Truth.
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, believed that marketing is about values. “This is a very complicated world, It’s a very noisy world,” he once stated. “So we have to be very clear about what we want people to know about us.”
Frequently, I think people receive a skewed or misguided message about Catholicism, the faith of millions across the globe. Some view us as bigots, child molesters or blasphemers. Some see the Church as a form of oppression and hate.
But those labels are not in line with the Church’s values, so I would dare to say those folks have been deceived by false advertising. After all, our mission in life is to be as much like Christ as we possibly can be.
Yet, like everyone else in the world, we mess up and fall short. Mistakes are merely a chink in our chain of human DNA, and Catholics are simply that: human. Yet, I would guess that even people who don’t know Jesus well could probably admit his character was neither oppressive nor hateful. The truth is, he was exactly the opposite: He liberated the marginalized, he protected the vulnerable, he loved those who had been outcast by society. The Church’s foundation of social justice is grounded on his words:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. …Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)
Over the course of millennia, the Catholic Church has sought to establish itself as an institution that joyfully feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, cares for the sick, visits the prisoner (Matthew 25:35-36) and looks after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). It does these things not out of self-glorification, but out of obedience to our God. We eagerly serve “the least of these” to also serve the divinity we call Lord.
For that reason and that reason only, the Catholic Church and its members have contributed greatly to the world:
- The Catholic Church created the first hospitals in order to care for the sick. Nowadays, this nonprofit health-care system includes 637 hospitals, which is equivalent to 17 percent of all U.S. hospital admissions. And, when the AIDS epidemic swept the nation beneath its cloud of mystery, the only organization to take in HIV positive patients was the Catholic Church.
- The Church established orphanages to care for the poor and take care of orphans.
- The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization on the face of the planet. The combination of funds raised by Catholic Charities, Food for the Poor, Catholic Relief Services, St. Jude’s and America’s Second Harvest along top $5,570,000,000 – a sum greater than the #1 on the list for America. That doesn’t even begin to consider financial contributions of other Catholic charities or the annual $7.5 billion its 20,000 churches fundraise. Again, these are all charities focused on the mission to serve the underserved.
- Education provided by the Catholic Church is greater than any other scholarly or religious institution, teaching nearly 3 million students each day in its 6,900 elementary schools and 1,200 high schools.
- The Catholic Church also founded the college system. There are now 230 Catholic colleges and universities with a total of 670,000 students.
- Lastly, and perhaps surprising to many, the Catholic Church has contributed greatly to the field of science. In fact, the members of the Church discovered the scientific method, and a Catholic priest intellectualized the Big Bang Theory.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once declared, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I have been branded Catholic. And, because of that, I stand for sacred scripture and social justice. I proudly act as an identifier for my faith, longing to live its logo every day.
What “brand” do you represent? How do you live its logo and what makes you proud to wear it?