Dad was my first confirmation teacher. He taught the Presbyterian confirmation class that I attended when I was in middle school. Years later, when I became Catholic, I was Confirmed again – as a Catholic.
But when I was in that Presbyterian confirmation class, Dad made the students learn the Apostles’ Creed. When I hit the line, I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, my hand went up.
“Why is the word ‘Catholic’ in there when we aren’t Catholic?" I asked.
My dad’s explanation? The word catholic means universal. And we, as Presbyterians – or Wesleyans or Assembly of God or Nazarenes or Methodists - were part of that church. Small “c” you see.
I nodded. It made a little sense. But there was still something unnerving about it. It seemed to point to something I had never considered. We all traced our roots back to catholic – whether you were part of the big “C” church or little “c” church – whether you were part of the Church or just a bunch of churches that kind-of-sort-of belonged together in a we-don’t-really-agree-on-things-but-we-all-love-Jesus type of way.
While the Catholic Church defines catholic as universal, she has a fuller command of the definition. As Greg Willits writes in his book The New Evangelization and You, “the word universal, when applied to Catholicism, has a deeper meaning. Universal in terms of Catholicism means ‘according to the totality’ or ‘in keeping with the whole’” (69). In this excerpt, Willits cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Willits goes on to say, “In other words, the Church affects everything totally and completely. Imagine an area of our world, of your very existence, that isn’t somehow affected by the Catholic Church.”
He’s right. Even as a Protestant preacher’s daughter, I brushed up against the Catholic Church quite a few times. If you read my column, you know what I mean. Almost every column has an “I remember when” moment from my non-Catholic days. And each of those moments points toward the Catholic Church – with a big “C”.
Education. Recreation. Procreation. Cantatas. Current event. Fine arts class at a Free Methodist college. Literature class at a Presbyterian college. Friends. Eventually, politics and employment.
As Greg Willits says, “. . . it’s borderline impossible not to be affected in some way by the Catholic Church.”
It is, however, completely possible to belong to any other denomination and not brush up against another denomination. You can go your whole life as a Presbyterian and not be exposed to the Pentecostals, the Nazarenes, the New Springs of Life in Christ Non-denominational church. You get the idea.
But the Catholic Church is everywhere. And the Mass is everywhere. And the Church touches everything.
No matter where you go on the planet, you will be close to a Catholic parish. When you walk through those doors, you will encounter the same Mass – in a variety of languages with people from every race on planet Earth. When you leave the building, you will continue to encounter that Church again and again and again.
Only one church can lay claim to being truly universal – complete – touching everything and everyone. The Catholic Church.