20th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Every Sunday when we gather here at Mass we profess our faith together. This creed contains the core of our belief in God and Jesus. At the end of the creed there is the part on the Church, which we often breeze right through: we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Yet, these 4 marks of the Church are of great importance. These 4 marks must be present in order for the authentic Church of Christ to be present. One, holy, and apostolic are terms that are quite familiar to us. The Church is one, because it was founded by Christ, Holy because it is guided by the Holy Spirit, and apostolic because it is founded upon the Apostles whose missions is carried out now through their successors, the bishops. But, what does Catholic mean? Many of us think of Catholic as an adjective to describe ourselves or the Church: I'm Catholic, I belong to the Catholic Church. But, the word catholic has an ancient meaning, it is a Greek word that means universal. The church is catholic precisely because it is open to everyone. Nowadays we just assume that the church should be open to anyone, but we see in the gospel that this was a new and radical concept.
We have to try to put ourselves into the biblical mindset. Remember where Jesus was coming from. He was born into the house of David, he came as the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. God chose Israel to be his own special possession. The woman from the gospel was a Canaanite, these were the people who inhabited the Land before Joshua led the chosen people into it. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Israelites and the Canaanites in conflict. The biggest issue that divided them was their belief in God. Canaanites worshiped their own pagan God, while the Jewish people worshiped the Lord. So, while it seems that Jesus is pretty harsh to this woman, there was good reason to do so: the Canaanites did not worship God: Jesus was God. But, we notice that when the woman worships Jesus and shows her faith in him, Jesus instantly grants her request. Jesus came first to the Lost Children of Israel. But, while this salvation came first to the Jewish people, it also came for the whole world. This Canaanite woman shows us that faith in Christ is the pathway to salvation, not genealogical heritage. We should all be quite grateful for this, since most of us are not biological descendants of the Hebrew people.
The Church, therefore, must be as universal as Christ. Jesus came as a human being to save all of humanity. Therefore, the only requirement for becoming a Catholic is humanity. The Church is the community for any human person who wishes to worship God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This might come as a surprise to many, because the Catholic Church has the reputation of being somewhat closed to outsiders. This often comes from our practice of Holy Communion. Under normal circumstances we only share the Eucharist with those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church (see canon 844 if you are reading this at home). But, this law of the Church does not mean that we do not want everyone in the world to share the Eucharist with us. Rather, it says that in order to come to Christ we must all be like the Canaanite woman who fully professed her belief in Jesus.
There can be no question that the Church is open to absolutely everyone who wishes to follow Jesus. But, it is also true that not every person in the world is in full communion with the Catholic Church. This is a true shame. We should be praying for unity every day. All of us should see ourselves like St. Paul, who was the apostle to the gentiles. He saw it as his mission in life to bring the good news of salvation to everyone in the world. We should be reaching out to others. Is there anyone you know who is not Catholic but might be interested in learning more about the faith? St. Matt's will soon be beginning our RCIA program. You never know, your invitation might bring someone closer to Christ. Also, this year we are beginning a RCIA program specifically for teens who are interested in becoming Catholic. Keep an eye on the bulletin for more details.
But, the best way for us to carry out this mission of bringing Christ to others is through our example. If people see us living joyful lives of Christian service they will want to know more about us and about the Church. They will want to know what gives us the strength to follow Jesus, and we will be able to tell them: every Sunday I gather with others who worship Christ to celebrate the Holy Mass, and I receive my strength from the Holy Eucharist.