To be a believing Catholic, it is necessary to understand that God, the Maker of all things, entered into the history of His creations in order to redeem us from sin by His sacrifice on the cross. And that since He would spend hardly any appreciable time on earth after that act of redemption, He established the organization we know as the Catholic Church, to carry out the work of sanctifying His people during His earthly absence.
Through the Apostles appointed by our Lord, and by their successors in His priesthood, He would continue His work of sanctification, distributing His graces through the Mass, the Sacraments and the sacramentals. Through the Apostles and their successors, He would also communicate the things He wished mankind to know about Himself, as well as the way in which He expected mankind to behave toward Him and toward each other. We say, therefore, that the Catholic Church is the unique custodian of the Sacraments, the Faith, and the Morality given by God to man. As a result, we can also say that redemption from sin and the salvation of all who are saved, flows through the Catholic Church.
Understand, please, that this claim to the uniqueness of Catholicism is not just a boast that “our ideas are better than other peoples’ ideas, because they are our ideas.” The claim is made because it is God’s idea, and not our own. There is only one God, and one of His attributes – perhaps His primary attribute – is His unchanging existence. In a manner of speaking, this one, unchanging God displays the “same face” to all mankind. There is not a set of truths for one group of people, and a different set for another group – God’s truth is universal – the same for each and every person. Likewise, God expects the same standards of moral behavior from each and every person – universally.
In fact, that is how the Church came to be known as “Catholic,” for “Catholic” comes from a Greek word that means “universal.” The sacraments, the beliefs, and the morality are the same on this continent as on any other; in this city and nation as in any other. There is not a separate truth for Englishmen, not a separate morality for the Chinese, and not a separate set of Sacraments for the French – all these things are universal – they are Catholic.
Since they are not the private inventions of men and women, none of these things can be voted upon. There can be no committee to decide whether or not we are going to believe in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, or how many Commandments we choose to observe this year, or how many Sacraments – these things have already been decided for us by God.
Understand, too, that this universal mission of the Catholic Church is undiminished by the sinful nature of the men who lead Her or the members who belong to Her. Following Her teaching would, of course, lead to the heights of holiness. And some do follow that teaching quite well, and will be numbered with the saints of heaven. Yet it is an historical reality that that some of our people, our priests, our bishops, and even our Popes have been evil men. But that evilness is their own personal failure, and changes nothing at all of God’s universal truth. It has been said, perhaps facetiously, but also quite correctly that the existence of the Catholic Church for two thousand years, in spite of the quality of Her leaders, is proof positive of Her divine protection.
We must also note that the universality of the Church cannot be changed by the desire to be “politically correct,” to make other people feel better, or so that “we can all just get along.” Again, the truths in question are God’s truths, and are not subject to negotiation.
But, above all, if any of what I have said this morning seems to be self centered or parochial – or, if it seems in any way to exclude or denigrate any group of people, we must always return to the universality of the Catholic Church. For the Catholic Faith is not the exclusive property of those who happen to have been born into the Church, or who were lucky enough to come across Her later in life. It is our obligation, as much as we are able, to share this gift with every other man and woman. Look at Saint Paul’s words: “If it be possible … have peace with all men …if thine enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good."[ii] Even more so, if that be possible, God wants us to share the Bread of Life with those who lack it; to nourish them with His Truth, and guide them with His morality.
Perhaps the greatest sin of Modernism is its refusal to speak of the universality of the Catholic Church, its forgetfulness of the universal need for the things which the Church alone possesses, and its negligence in praying to God for the conversion of those mentioned in the words of Pope Pius XI:
the prodigal children who have
Clearly, our Lord demands such prayer and such sharing of the universal gifts of His Church, for surely He was pleased with the idea that “that many would come from the east and the west, and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” – for His Kingdom is the Kingdom of the Universal Church
And, perhaps, there is a bit of a warning here as well, in the possibility that “the children of the kingdom may be cast out into the exterior darkness, with weeping and gnashing of teeth." And, certainly they will be, if they repudiate the Kingdom itself and chase after those “erroneous opinions” or the “darkness” of false religions – allowing themselves to be “overcome by evil” instead of “overcoming evil by good.”