Oct 9, 2013
On her TV program, “Martha Bakes,” the talented Ms. Stewart cannot contain her delight when she makes a yeast dough. She swoons: “Look at the sheen—so soft and shiny! The aroma is bee-you-tee-ful, and the fragrance gratifies all the senses!” Her exuberance is preceded by meticulous instructions: proofing active yeast, blending it into the flour mixture, and letting it rise to double the size. The yeast dough serves as the basis for baking a variety of baked goods from breads to sticky buns and sugar buns to monkey bread. “Soo pretty, soo delicious,”she concludes, proudly gazing at her culinary works of art.
It’s a wonderful phenomenon—yeast. It permeates the lifeless flour and causes it to grow. The power of yeast is felt in the brewing of beer and in the making of wine. The yeast plant is a fungus that grows with no particular limits to its borders. Only if the yeast is alive and active will it interact with the dough so that it will rise.
Recently, our Holy Father spoke of the Church as leaven. He is not the first to do so, nor will he be the last. In the Matthean parable (13:33), the reign of God is like yeast which a woman took and kneaded into three measures of flour. Eventually the entire mass of dough began to rise. The image of yeast was a favorite in the Early Church, because everyone understood the inner dynamism and power of yeast with its limitless ability to make things grow, even in small beginnings with “three measures of flour.” They grasped the comparison—that the yeast referred to the Church as an unlimited and growing reality, “destined ultimately to be present everywhere and to affect everything, though by no means to convert everything into itself” (Walter Ong, “Yeast,” America Magazine, April 7, 1990).
The word catholic (from the Greek kath, through or throughout and holos, whole) finds its Latin counterpart in the word universal (from the Latin unus versus [ad] alios, literally, one turned toward others, the many). A full understanding of the word catholic implies not uniformity but a dynamic openness to all peoples and cultures with their different ways of expressing their belief, both Catholic and otherwise. Thus by definition, the Catholic Church is catholic in scope.