This week, The Compass offers its annual “Total Household” edition to every Catholic household in the Green Bay Diocese. That means 340,000 of you are seeing this paper.
We are the Catholic Church. However, we are also the “catholic” church with a lower case “c”: As in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church,” the words we pray Sundays in the Creed.
Most people think “catholic” in the Creed means “Roman Catholic,” referring only to those united under the pope in Rome and separate from other denominations.
However, the word “catholic” has been part of the faith expressed in that Creed since long before the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, or even the Great Schism of the East and West in 1054 A.D.
It was in the first Christian century that St. Ignatius of Antioch, martyred in 117 AD, first used “catholic church” in a letter (around 110 AD) to Christians in Smyrna (now in Turkey). He wrote, “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”
Here Ignatius showed us the real meaning of “catholic”: to belong to Christ. This means belonging to the universal church that accepts one Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, accepts one baptism and one Eucharist, and strives to love God and one another as it works for and looks forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God.
That’s what the lower case “c” in our Creed means: it doesn’t mean “Catholic” as in a denomination; it means “catholic” in the sense that the original Greek word katholikos, meant “universal” and came from a phrase means “dealing with the whole.”
So “catholic” really means “Here comes everybody,” because, in a very real sense, the church of Christ is a whole, undivided because we are all one in Christ. And remember, other faiths pray this very same creed — written in the 4th century — on Sundays. Lutherans, Episcopalians and Methodists, among others, all pray for the universal (“catholic” with a lower case “c”) church.
Now, since we live on the human side of eternity, we know that our universal nature in Christ — our “catholicity” with a lower case “c,” is not yet perfect. We have divisions. But it is our job as Christians to work toward perfect unity. That is what it means to evangelize, one of the key themes in Bishop David Ricken’s 2011 pastoral (see pp. 10-17).
“To evangelize means: to show this path — to teach the art of living,” Pope Benedict XVI said about “the new evangelization” that has been such a theme of his own pontificate. The Holy Father added that this “art of living” brings joy to others — just as Christ brought joy when he walked on earth.
As we walk through Holy Week toward Easter, the most joy-filled time in our Christian year, we will see many new faces at church. “Here comes everybody” will take on new meaning.
And that means we will have many opportunities to say, “Welcome. Let’s share the joy.”
Christ came that all might be one (Jn 17:21), that joy and faith in God might be universal — “catholic,” if you will.
This edition of The Compass seeks to evangelize. We ask you to join us in the mission, given by Christ, to make joyful disciples of all nations.
It’s our job as “catholic” Christians to evangelize in our everyday world. As we enter Holy Week and Easter, remember “Here comes everybody.” Be prepared to say, “Welcome!”