A Congolese priest listens to the second reading proclaimed by a Korean lector. To the right of the priest stands a Filipino deacon, to his left, a Latino altar server. Around me in the pews, there are Indian families with the women wearing their traditional sari, and African families wearing customary garments for men and women, the latter including those beautiful headpieces. Among the rest of the congregation, I see people of different races and ethnicities, including other Hispanic families like mine.
That is a picture of a typical Sunday Mass at my parish, St. Michael the Archangel in Aurora. A Mass attended by people of different backgrounds, traditions and languages but that are united by one same faith under one same name, Catholic.
What grabs my attention the most from this picture, is the English with many accents that we hear on any given Sunday at Mass. For the priest, the deacon and the lector mentioned, English is their second, third or fourth language. The different accents reminded me of another picture from a few years ago; it was a bilingual Mass at St. Pius X Parish in Aurora, where a Caucasian deacon proclaimed, with an accent, the Gospel in Spanish. Prior to him, one of the readings was proclaimed in English by a Spanish-speaker (yours truly) with his own accent as well.
These different accents, these different pictures of people from different cultures and traditions interacting at church are a beautiful reminder of what the word “catholic” means: universal.
Ever since I learned that meaning when I was a teen, for the mission of the Church is to go forth to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:11), it has been clear to me that my Church is bigger than my parish, than my diocese, than my country, and my own native tongue.
Just think about this: at the very moment you are at Sunday Mass, millions of people around the country —and hundreds of millions more around the word— are celebrating the same sacrament, reading the same readings, reflecting on the same passage from the Gospel and called to the same mission after Mass. That is quite astonishing!
Or maybe not, since the Church has been always about reaching out, about going forth to take God’s message of love throughout the world. So it is very impressive, but in a way, is also business as usual for the Church. It is us who sometimes forget how big our name “Catholic” is.
A simple definition of the word “universal” means that it is for all humankind. That is why the Church is missionary by her nature (consult “Ad Gentes”), because her essence and commission by Christ is to continue preaching the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Church’s missionary essence also means each of us has a personal call that is driven by the same spirit of giving and sharing what we are. In this context, St. John Paul II said that the Church “possesses a dynamism that concretely unfolds in preaching the Gospel, in spreading the faith and in calling to conversion” (General Audience, April 19, 1995.)
Primarily, we are children of God, blessed in so many ways. And because we have one same Father, our identity goes beyond skin color, culture, language, or speaking English with an accent. Our Catholic identity is bigger than our national identity. The Church has no borders, just areas of service.
By nature, Catholics ought to have an open heart to go forth, starting with those next to us, in the next pew at Church and in our communities, especially with those in greater need. By nature, we should also never settle in terms of sharing and learning our faith. That is part of the dynamism St. John Paul II talks about. It is part of the richness of our universality.
Abraham Morales is a seasoned communications consultant and the former associate director of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver. He lives in unincorporated Arapahoe County with his wife and two daughters.