Reflections on the Great Catholic Communion

It is amazing to think about the great Catholic communion of believers, across the epochs of history. Today, we are comprised of more than 1.2 billion members, spanning all seven continents and employing almost every language known to humanity. Yes, there are real issues of concern within our communion – most pressing is the need for resolute determination to protect children, to bring healing to victim-survivors, and to foster accountability for those Church leaders who are derelict in their fundamental duties to God’s people. All three of these goals are interrelated.

In the midst of the challenges that Catholics face, it is helpful from time to time to take a step back and marvel at the ways in which God is present – beautifully present – in the Catholic Church. Beauty and sin have always been intermingled among the reality of the Church and her members. This is not a cause for complacency – rather, this should be the impetus for Catholics to ensure and insist that the Church lives its mission with integrity and in fidelity to Christ and the Gospel.

In celebrating the good that is the part of the Catholic faith and our tradition, I could point to many important dimensions: greatest servant of the poor in the history of western civilization; greatest patron of the arts in this same history; our sacramental life; the depth of the spiritual tradition and patrimony; the robust Catholic intellectual tradition, including Catholic social teaching; and the diversity of our communion – we literally have everyone of all stripes, persuasion, and background. Our diversity, rooted in unity with Christ and unity of faith, is a great gift to the Church.

Even beyond these gifts, I have been moved in the last several days by the reality of the spiritual communion we share as Catholics. We are family – members of a great body, with Christ as our head. Catholics share a deep bond of spiritual fellowship that begins at our baptism, is enabled by the Holy Spirit, and which does not end with death. This spiritual communion includes all believers – saints and sinners – our relatives who have passed – and our fellow Catholics today who may be separated by geography. Below, I share a couple of stories that convey the positive reality of our Catholic communion.

Last Sunday I was in Austin, Texas and decided to attend Mass at the beautiful St, Mary’s Cathedral. I enjoy going to different Catholic churches when I am away from the parish because I inevitably come away with a new idea or two. But I have to confess that when the priest or deacon gets up to preach, I always hold my breath a bit wondering if the homily will be enlightening or miss the mark. Of course, these things are subjective – what I might find a dud, another finds enlightening.

To my delight, the homily the priest preached was one of the best I have heard as a Catholic – delivered with passion, Scriptural foundation, exhortation, and nuance. His main point was that sometimes Catholics want to emphasize the academic side of the faith or the call to service – both of which are important. But, he insisted, the essence of the Christian faith is to awaken to the presence of God and in our lives and in the world, and from this foundation, to live a life of authentic and lively faith. He beautifully wove into his homily illuminating quotes from the spiritual master, Thomas Merton. Well done brother – I am thankful you answered Christ’s call!

Today, I celebrated Mass in south Texas with the family who is extending me hospitality during my sabbatical. In Minneapolis, amidst fresh new snow, parishioners of the parish where I am pastor, celebrated our patronal feast day: Notre Dame de Lourdes. Our parish is the first in the United States to be named for the apparition of Mary at Lourdes, France. I offered my Mass today for the parish and for its flourishing. While we are separated physically, I am heartened that the bond of our spiritual fellowship we share as members of this great Catholic communion remains strong. In these challenging times, this reality is a source of gratitude and consolation.