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The Church is Catholic

December 16, 2018

A reflection on the 3rd Sunday, Advent C. The readings are Zephanaiah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6; Philippians 4:4-7 and Luke 3:10-18. But my reflection today is the third in a series on the Four Marks of the Church from my parish.

4 Marks of the Church part 3: The Church is Catholic

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, a day when we rejoice because Christ is coming soon. That’s why we lighten up our purple a bit and we call today, “Gaudete Sunday” or rejoice Sunday.

For the last couple of weeks, also we have been learning about the 4 Marks of the Church, as professed in the Creed: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

How many of you had actually heard of the 4 Marks of the Church before now? I have to be honest; I had never heard of the 4 Marks of the Church until about 10 years ago. I thought the four Marks were four guys: Mark the evangelist, Mark the apostle, Mark the disciple of Peter and, I don’t know, Mark the little brother of Jude…

But no, the 4 Marks are not four guys. They are the four characteristics of the Church.

When we say the Creed, we profess that we believe what we are saying, but how can we believe what we don’t understand – so that’s why we are doing this. When we renew our baptismal promises, we say that we believe in the Holy Catholic Church and we say that “this is our Faith. This is the Faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ our Lord.”

Do we know what we are professing?

Two weeks ago, our pastor in our parish, told us that the 4 Marks are like four pillars of the Church. That’s why many church buildings are built with four pillars (we have four in our church); each represents one of the marks: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Our pastor then explained why the Church is one. It is one because we profess one Faith, one Baptism and one Lord.

Last week we learned why the Church is holy. It is not holy because you and I are holy or because the pope is holy, but because God is Holy.

Next week, we are going to learn why the Church is apostolic.

Today we are going to see why the Church is catholic and you will see that the Church is catholic precisely because the Church is one, the Church is holy and the Church is apostolic.

But first:

The word Catholic is a Greek work katholikos, which means “universal”. Katá means “throughout” and holos means “all” or “the whole”. So when we put them together, it means “throughout the whole”: universal. Today we would say, global.

The first time that we know of that the word catholic was used to describe the Church is around the year 105 AD. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote a letter to the Church in Smyrna and he says that “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.” He doesn’t use the word as the name of the church, but rather to describe that the church is universal – probably because it was already everywhere.

Over the next 100 years there are several writings where people describe the church as being catholic (universal), including Clement of Alexandria (AD 160-25), who wrote that the “catholic church stands alone in essence and idea and principle and pre-eminence.” By the time of the Council of Nicaea (from where we get the Nicaean Creed), in 325 AD, all the official documents of the council are called documents of the “Catholic Church.”

In understanding why the Church is catholic, we need not go further than the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Number 868 says:

“The Church is catholic because she proclaims the fullness of faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is ‘missionary of her very nature’”.

This means:

1. The Church is everywhere and it is the same everywhere and at all times.

I’ve had the chance to be a deacon all across Canada and the US, in Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Rome, Budapest and Poland. No matter where I am or what language it is; the Mass is exactly the same. And if you go to Mass anywhere in the world today, the readings are the same; the prayers are the same. Everyone is celebrating the 3rd Sunday of Advent. There is a unity in that. The Church is catholic because the Church is one. Think of it, every day, at every hour, all the time, there is always, somewhere, a Mass being said – probably thousands of Masses being said. That’s universal. The Church is catholic because the Church is one.

2. The Church is for everyone and for all times.

Today’s second reading says that we have to show kindness to all (Phil 4:5). That’s to everyone. Jesus Christ said to go and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:20). That’s everyone. Since Pentecost the Church has been for everyone. The Catholic Church is not just the church of Europeans or Latin Americans; it’s everyone’s church. The Church is the only group that you belong to that when you come, everyone is here. There are old people and babies, and children and families. There are single people and married people. There are Europeans and Latin Americans, Africans and Asians. When you come here you don’t know if the person next to you makes $500,000 a year of if they are on welfare. You don’t know if they voted Liberal or Conservative. There are even non-Catholics here. But we’re all here. Everyone. That’s one of the things that stands out for me in today’s Gospel: who comes to see John the Baptist? Everyone – even tax collectors and soldiers. Jesus was the same. His message is for everyone. He spoke to rich people and Pharisees and Scripture Scholars and Samaritans; to Romans, to pagans, to Greeks – men or women and children. The Church is catholic because the Church is apostolic. The message of Jesus Christ is for everyone and for all times.

3. The Church holds in herself the fullness or the totality of what is necessary for salvation.

The fullness of the revelation of Jesus Christ is found in the Church that He founded. Everything that anyone will ever need in order to be holy is found in the Catholic Church. Why? Because the Church is holy. Because God is holy and He left everything we need with the Church. It doesn’t mean that the Catholic Church is better than other churches; just that we have a bigger tool box. You will find useful tools in other churches: a hammer, a saw and nails. Another church will have a ladder, paint and brushes, but the Catholic Church has all that plus power drills, screwdrivers, sand paper, pliers and cutlery and duct tape and so much more: Everything you and everyone will ever need in order to achieve holiness. The Church is catholic because the Church is holy.

So what does this mean for us?

It means that we have to also be Catholic.

We have to be one: We have to be united. They say that the worst enemy of a Catholic is another Catholic. We can’t be fighting amongst ourselves. We can’t be posting divisive comments about the Church on the internet. We can’t say we are Catholic and at the same time say that the Pope is a heretic. It doesn’t mean that there can’t be diversity, but we have to be one because that’s what Jesus prayed for. (John 17:21)

We have to be Apostolic: We have to be inclusive. We have to welcome everyone. We have to make our kindness and our joy known to everyone – not just when we’re at Mass, but everywhere. And we have to share the message of Jesus Christ with everyone.

We have to be holy: We can’t do that if we don’t know the fullness of what the Church has to offer. We have to learn as much as possible about all those tools that the Church has in order to help us be holy. For many of you being Catholic means that you go to Mass on Sunday (or most Sundays). But that’s just using one tool in the tool box.. Have you ever been to adoration? Have you ever prayed the Office of the Church or the Liturgy of the Hours? Have you read any of the Spiritual writings of so many men and women saints of the Church? Have you read papal documents? Do you follow Catholic news? Do you watch Salt + Light TV or other Catholic TV or videos, or use Formed.org? Do you help with or contribute to the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women’s League, Development and Peace, Sharelife, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Family Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Pontifical Missions or Catholic Relief Services (or any other of the thousands of Catholic organizations that exist)? A saw is great if you need to cut something in half, but it’s not going to help you open a can. You need a can-opener. It’s up to you. We can only give you so much if you only come to Church for one hour a week. I found out about the Four Marks of the Church because when I heard about that I went and looked it up.

That is cause for joy!

The ‘Church is Catholic’ means that we too have to be Catholic so that when we profess it we mean it:

This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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