From the Pastor – September 27, 2009

“At that time, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mk 9:38-40)

Most of us call ourselves Catholics. But what does it mean to be “Catholic”? You might hear different definitions these days. When I was working in the Vatican, someone who “wasn’t Catholic” was someone who didn’t follow the Holy See in matters of doctrine. On the other hand, there exists a group called “Catholics for Choice” that purports to be “Catholic” while attacking the moral teachings of the Church and promoting the “right” of woman to kill their unborn children. I don’t think so.

The earliest recorded use of the term “Catholic Church” is in a letter that St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in 107 A.D. to Christians in Smyrna. Saint Ignatius used the term to refer to the Christian Church possessing true traditions, excluding heretics, such as those who “confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” Exhorting Christians to remain closely united with their bishop, he wrote: “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

Of course, Catholic was used in both the Apostles’ Creed (190 A.D.) and the Nicaean Creed (325 A.D.) to mean the universal Church that is One, Holy and Apostolic.

At a later date St. Augustine (354–430 A.D.) wrote: “In the Catholic Church are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep (Jn 21:15–19), down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the very name of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house.”

When we say we’re “Catholic” we affirm ourselves as part of a tradition that traces itself back to Jesus through the Apostles. And we need to read this week’s Gospel in that light. Since the time of Jesus, there have been people who recognize the power of His Name without following all of His teachings. They might not be Catholic, but they’re our brothers and sisters. Jesus came to save them, too, so we need to treat them with charity. I doubt there’ll be a theology exam to get into Heaven. Well, except maybe for the priests”¦

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty