One, holy, Catholic, and apostolic...the four marks of the Church. Today, let me concentrate on Catholic.
That’s because I’m now visiting the Church in India, and I am thus very much aware that the Church is everywhere. From here, I’ll go to Poland, to join two million young people from all over the globe, and Pope Francis for World Youth Day.
“Everywhere”; “all over”; “everybody”; “universal”; “all-embracing”; these are all synonyms for “Catholic.”
A Catholic belongs to a family that is not bound by the chains of time and space. In our spiritual family, the Church, we have older brothers and sisters in the faith, as we look all the way back to the folks in the Bible, the saints of the ages, and our own ancestors in the faith as members of our family.
And, as I am vividly reminded now, the Church is not constrained by race, blood, or maps. Here in India, I can find the same Catholic faith I savor in the Bronx, on Staten Island, or up in Ulster County.
Historians tell us that Christianity was the first religion not to be identified with a specific tribe, nation, race, or culture. True, we are grateful that we came from a race—the Jews—but Jesus was clear that His invitation to salvation was intended for all the nations, not just His beloved Israel. As a Jewish theologian observed to me recently, “We Jews don’t accept Jesus as our savior, but we have to admit that we are happy that through Him the one, true God of Israel has been preached to all the nations.”
So, the apostles knew that being a follower of Jesus meant being a missionary, and they took his last command, “Go teach all the nations!” literally.
One of them, who at first had doubted that Jesus had even risen from the dead, St. Thomas, brought the faith to India. The Church is apostolic, the Church is Catholic.
Here the Church, while ancient, seems so new, young, and alive. It is still a tiny part of the census of India—maybe only 1 percent of the teeming population—but, it is growing, and it is respected. The rest of India admires the tiny Catholic community for its unity in faith, its devotion to prayer, and its service to the community, especially in its splendid schools, hospitals and clinics, and works of charity.
Well, almost everybody admires the Church. Sadly, while not surprisingly, there is persecution of the Church, led by Hindu fanatics, which has given us today martyrs and confessors of the faith. Yet, the Church grows...
So much so that the little Church in India is itself missionary, as the world thanks God for the radiantly committed Catholic faithful, priests, and sisters who are serving splendidly in all parts of the Church universal, as we are gratefully aware here in the archdiocese.
Visiting my brother bishops, and priests, so many sisters and families here in this subcontinent, is a retreat for me, as I see the oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of His Church.
Not long ago, I hosted a rather prominent visitor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Sunday Mass. He and his wife are not Catholic, but I put them in the front pew. After Mass he commented to me, “I couldn’t help notice the dazzling variety of people who walked by us coming up for Holy Communion! Young and old; socialite and homeless; black, brown, yellow, and white; features, dress, and accents from dozens of countries. You’ve got quite a diversity here!”
Don’t compliment me! Praise Jesus! He commissioned His Church to be Catholic, and, as James Joyce noted, that means “Here comes everybody!”
I see it here in India; I’ll see it in Krakow; I see it at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“I believe in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.”