What does it really mean to be “Catholic”?

When people say that they are “Catholic”, they almost always mean that they choose to go to “church” at a place that identifies (at least somewhat) with institutional Catholicism.  Catholic becomes a self-identifying label (“I am Catholic”).  However, catholic is not a noun, it’s an adjective.  The term “Catholic Church” is not a certain brand of church amongst churches.  There’s only one Church.  There aren’t many churches.  All Christians essentially belong to one church.  There aren’t numerous types of Christian churches.

The Church can only be one.  That’s because there are no divisions in Jesus.  Jesus didn’t want division amongst His followers.  His coming brought divisions into the world, but not into His Church.  So, the Church is always One in Jesus.  We who are baptized into faith in Christ are One.  It cannot be different  This is good news!  Christians of many different backgrounds, preferences, and walks of life are One.

So, what do we mean when we say “Catholic Church”?  Catholic is an adjective that describes what the Church is.  The word catholic means “universal”.  When the Church is catholic, we are saying that there is a universal quality to the Church.  There is a similar, agreeable, unifying spirit to a church comunity that calls itself “catholic”.  There is a sense of family, of charity, and of belonging.  A Church community that is “catholic” will also have universal authority figures (Pope, Bishops, priests, deacons, etc.), universal prayer (liturgy, Mass, sacraments), and universal membership (once people are in, they are “in” anywhere and everywhere there is a catholic Church).  A “catholic” Church will have one teaching about God that must be held by all members.

Why, then, are there so many “churches”?  That is because many Christians, over history, and for diverse reasons, have rejected “catholicism” in the Church.  I don’t think that this is wise. I am glad that Seminarians and new Priests are embracing catholicism in the Church without any reservations.  A Church that is essentially One must also be Catholic too.  Why would we want a Church that is practically different from one worship place to another?  Does that demonstrate the Oneness of the Faith to the world, like Jesus wanted, or does it make that Oneness harder to see?  That that make us more credible to people, or less so?

Catholicism in the Church is a good thing.  It allows all people to see that our Christian love for each other brings us together in a real way.  It’s not just something that individuals drift in and out of, and have when it suits them, or how it suits them.  A church like that is not the Church of Jesus Christ; it is a world-created type of thing.  We need a “Catholic” Church.

All believers in Christ can grow more “catholic”.  That goes for “Catholics” and all baptized believers in Jesus.  Jesus is One with each of us in a special, individual way.  This is an insight that a lot of “Catholics” don’t appreciate.  We who are in the pews and pulpits of Catholicism could open up more deeply to that personal, Spirit-filled relationship with Jesus.  But if we have that relationship,  we need to ask the question, “are people seeing how I am one with my brother and sister in Christ?”  When we start to ask that question in our parishes and schools, then we will be in store for a great revival of vocations and families.  Who wouldn’t want to be the “Father” of a church like that?  We are not a bunch of individuals, we are a Church!  We need to start loving each other like that!

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About erievocations

I am a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie, PA. I am an Assistant Vocations Director, tasked with the promotion of seminary recruitment. My blog deals with discernment of vocations, especially to the priesthood, as well as our universal call to be holy.
This entry was posted in Bishops of the Diocese of Erie and Vocations, The Popes and Vocations. Bookmark the permalink.

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