Small ‘c’ Catholics,
Embracing All by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Yes." And he replied, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old."
When we say that the Church is “catholic,” we mean that she is “universal.” Our Lord uses the image of the dragnet to indicate the universal character of His Church: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.” (Mt 13:47) Of course, “Catholic” (capital “C”) also functions as a title for the Church and a way of distinguishing her from denominations or other churches.
But it is only an accident of history that the Church of Christ bears the title “Catholic.” So, while Christ’s Church is indeed the Catholic Church, she is first of all “catholic” (small “c”). In short, Christ’s Church is both Catholic and catholic.
The Church is catholic, first, in the literal sense of the word. She is universal, embracing people of every race, nation and country throughout the world and throughout history. She takes in fish of every kind. Her mission extends to every group: rich and poor, educated and uneducated, saints and sinners. No one is turned away from the Church because of race, ethnicity, nationality, class or caste. And a good thing for us.
But this also means that no one is off the hook: all are called to holiness. In this sense, the Church’s catholic character reveals her to be the most democratic institution in the world. She calls all without exception to join her ranks. And she proposes to all without exception the lofty ideal of holiness, to be saints.
A genuinely catholic outlook, then, guards against what Cardinal Newman called “parties” (and we would call “cliques”) within the Church. It avoids making the Church into a social club or, worse still, a political unit. For us to be catholic, we must be welcoming to all who desire to come to Christ – not just people like us, not just those we like, but all who seek the Lord.
The Church is catholic also because of her universal power to forgive. She holds the authority to forgive every sin, from the slightest to the most severe. No sin escapes the Church’s power to forgive in Christ’s name. From the earliest days of the Church, groups have risen that want to restrict this aspect of the Church, to withhold forgiveness for one sin or another, from one group or another. Just as men once criticized her Founder – “He receives sinners and eats with them” (cf. Lk 15:2) – so some have disputed the Church’s mercy.
The sadder situation, however, is when people place themselves beyond the Church’s power to forgive. To them especially Catholics should make known the catholic character of forgiveness. This universal aspect of forgiveness implies that, as the Church forgives all sins, so also must her members. If we Catholics are truly catholic, then we must forgive every sins against us – from the slightest to the most severe.
Finally, the Church is catholic because she possesses all truth. Every religion possesses some aspect of the truth. But only the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of the truth. In Our Lord’s parable, the net brings in all kinds of fish – presumably both those easy to catch and those more difficult. So also the Church holds all truths, both those easy to embrace (the resurrection, heaven, forgiveness, the Eucharist) and those more difficult and demanding (the crucifixion, hell, sin, confession).
To be catholic means that we accept the fullness of the truth – all the truths the Church teaches, not just those we happen to like or find easy to grasp. Again, some would like to restrict the catholicity of the Church by accepting some doctrines, but not others. They might choose the truth about freedom but deny the immorality of abortion, or embrace the truth of the Eucharist, but deny the evil of contraception. Such people cease to be catholic, because they embrace not the fullness of the truth, but only the parts that they like. If we call ourselves Catholic, we must show ourselves to be truly catholic, embracing all truths, not just the convenient ones.
Every Sunday we profess our faith that the Church is catholic. As we do so, may we be truly catholic – by welcoming all people to Christ, by forgiving all sins against us and by embracing all truths taught by the Church.
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