The Church and the Gathering of Nations

This weekend Fr. John O’Malley will be celebrating the Masses at this parish and speaking about Cross Catholic Outreach, a ministry that joins our Catholic faith with the provision of needed assistance in poorer areas of the world. This ministry partners with churches and groups whose values we share for such projects as providing relief from natural disasters and war, arranging food, dignified housing, and medical assistance to the poor, and assisting economic development through agricultural improvements, education, and cleaner water and living conditions generally. These presentations are a good opportunity for a brief discussion of the universality of the Catholic Church.

The term “Catholic” comes from the Greek word catholicos, which means “universal.” For the Church is universal throughout space and time, gathering the best of every nation into a final homeland. See, e.g., Psalm 2:8; Psalm 87; Isiah 60:4-7, 66:18-21; Rev. 12:22-26. When St. Paul describes the Church as the body of Christ, in which every part has a crucial role, see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 12, the most obvious meaning is that all people are united together in Christ and each person has an important contribution to make. But, at another level, we can see the application to different cultures and nations and how it is that the whole Church, and each one of us, can benefit from the goodness of every country now and at all times.

Thus, we are certainly called to give assistance to people who need our material help to live in a dignified fashion as sons and daughters of God. But the poorer nations of the world also give to us many things, such as hope for the future, lessons in community, simplicity of life and faithfulness, and also in many cases priests and religious brothers and sisters form wealthier countries where vocations have been declining.

In learning about the Church and cultures in other lands, we also see how the glory of God is shown forth in many ways. For, as the sun and rain are the same throughout the world, but they produce different types of food and natural beauty in each place, so the Gospel and the sacraments are the same in all lands, but they produce goodness in an inexpressible variety of ways. In assisting the people of other lands and appreciating their gifts for God and His Church, we help bring about what we profess at every Mass and become more and more the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” of the almighty God.