Summary: The word "catholic" means universal. It means we are open to all humans and open to all Truth.
Thursday of 5th Week of Easter 2014
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us a glimpse of the first ecumenical council, and an important look at the hierarchical structure of the early Catholic Church. Remember that the debate was over circumcision. Some of the Jewish Christians insisted that all the Gentile believers be circumcised, and obey the Mosaic Law. Paul and his coworkers rightly replied that baptism as Jesus practiced it was the primary rite of initiation, and that circumcision of the Gentiles would mean that Christ’s sacrificial death had no value. They objected to looking at the Church as merely another Jewish sect. Peter listened to both sides, spoke a kind of summary of the faith, and then everyone else was quiet. His words were: “we [Jews] shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Then James, representing the original Jewish Christians, deferred to Peter, calling him by his Hebrew name, Simeon, and accepting the proposal about eliminating circumcision. He did add important parts of the moral law–reserving sexual expression to natural marriage and avoiding idol worship–and a couple of prohibitions that were abhorrent to all Jews. But Peter’s judgement prevailed, and the Law of Moses is no longer our guide. Only the ten commandments, which summarize the natural moral law, are binding on Catholics and indeed all humans. Thus our one faith is complemented by one hierarchy, all taking their ultimate legitimacy from their line of succession reaching back to the twelve apostles.
Ultimately, the only commandments we need to be concerned about are the twin commandments of Christ. We must love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves. Love will make us go beyond the ten commandments to care for others, especially the poor.
The popes, successors of Peter, continue their meditation on the unity of the faith: “faith is one because it is shared by the whole Church, which is one body and one Spirit. In the communion of the one subject which is the Church, we receive a common gaze. By professing the same faith, we stand firm on the same rock, we are transformed by the same Spirit of love, we radiate one light and we have a single insight into reality.
“Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that point of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (cf. 1 Tim 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion. The Fathers described faith as a body, the body of truth composed of various members, by analogy with the body of Christ and its prolongation in the Church.42 The integrity of the faith was also tied to the image of the Church as a virgin and her fidelity in love for Christ her spouse; harming the faith means harming communion with the Lord.43 The unity of faith, then, is the unity of a living body; this was clearly brought out by Blessed John Henry Newman when he listed among the characteristic notes for distinguishing the continuity of doctrine over time its power to assimilate everything that it meets in the various settings in which it becomes present and in the diverse cultures which it encounters,44 purifying all things and bringing them to their finest expression. Faith is thus shown to be universal, catholic, because its light expands in order to illumine the entire cosmos and all of history.”
The word “Catholic” means “universal.” Our faith must be open to every human being in the world: if one believes in Jesus Christ, and accepts the sacraments, and his faith causes him to begin to act as Jesus did, then he is our brother; she is our sister. But our faith must also be open to the universe of truths that Jesus teaches through the Church. If we are what is called “cafeteria Catholics,” then we are not Catholic at all. I teach the truths of the Catholic faith because I’m not nearly smart enough or holy enough to say that what the Church has taught for two thousand years is wrong. So let us pray that we, and all the members of the Church, will be truly Catholic, truly faithful to Christ’s teachings.