by Roy Peachey

One of the most moving examples I have experienced as a Catholic was arriving early for Mass in the Chinese city of Nanchang. Getting muddled about the time of Mass, my wife and I arrived at least half an hour early but lots of people were already in the church. Many of them were chanting the rosary. Some were in a queue for confession. Others were simply kneeling in prayer. In other words, despite superficial differences, what was taking place in a back street of that provincial Chinese city was a scene we might have stumbled across in any church anywhere across the world. We were thousands of miles from home and yet we still felt very much at home.

The reason I tell this story is because we need to get to grips with “Catholic,” a word which is so familiar that we can gloss over it without giving it a second thought. “Catholic” means “universal” and the Catholic Church is a church that knows no geographical limits. The Catholic Church is sometimes called the Roman Catholic Church. This is only partly true. The Church is Roman because St Peter and St Paul were martyred in Rome and because the Pope is the Bishop of Rome, but it is also universal. The Church can never be limited to one part of the world. It’s simply not the case that the West has Christianity and Asia has Buddhism, for example. What is true in Rome is true everywhere. What Christ taught his disciples is true for every culture.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is ‘missionary of her very nature’.” There is a lot in this definition so, for now, we’ll restrict ourselves to the idea that the Church doesn’t have geographical limits and she doesn’t have temporal limits either.

The Church stretches out across time and space. We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the world has gradually got better and better, but the truth is that no age is perfect: we have always needed to learn from those who went before us, and especially from the saints. Because we haven’t got it all taped, we need help and sometimes the best person to turn to is a nineteenth century nun, a sixteenth century bishop or a first century fisherman. Most helpful of all is a carpenter from Bethlehem. He will never let us down.

Another way of thinking about the word “Catholic” is to recognise that we are never alone. We may not have Catholic friends or relatives but the Church is always catholic, which means that we are part of the most amazing group that has ever existed. There are people looking out for us whose existence we know nothing about. For Catholics there should never be any lonely struggles.

The Creed

The Sacraments



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