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Our Church is universal

Taking the creed as its inspiration, our monthly column WHY I BELIEVE explains the Church is Christ’s body and we are its parts

By  Joseph McGrath

This month I’m taking a look at the last section of the creed and giving you the thoughts of an ordinary Catholic. Towards the end of the creed we proclaim,

“We believe in one Holy Catholic and apostolic Church.”

Believing in one Holy Catholic and apostolic Church has never seemed to be a problem for me. As a child I assumed that meant believing in the Catholic Church I belonged to. It was founded by the apostles. Later I found that the word Catholic meant universal. It’s the Church throughout the whole world that I believe in.

Now as an adult I look again at those words. It doesn’t say ‘the Holy Catholic Church’ but ‘one Holy Catholic Church.’ So what’s the difference? By saying one Church I am professing a belief in a Church that is made up of all those who are Catholics in the world. It’s not that we are churches in some sort of association. We are one church. The Church is the body of Christ so we are all parts of the one body.

Just like a body, the Church depends on its parts existing and working together to one end. I am linked to the poor farmer in Somalia in a special way. You can find Manchester United supporters all over the world. I have met them in jungle clearings in Liberia and on dusty roads in Uganda, not to mention my nephew in Manchester. They are all linked as supporters of one team.

Being a Catholic is much more than that. The health of the Church depends on the faith of that Somali farmer and me, and you too. We are a brotherhood that goes beyond ordinary flesh and blood. We are a brotherhood in Christ’s flesh and blood.

A few years ago I found myself in the town of Wekomire in Uganda. The parish had built a grotto there where an old woman claimed to have an apparition of our Blessed Mother. During the apparition her lameness had been cured and she could walk again. The grotto became a centre for prayer.

Every evening at 7pm the people gathered from many miles around to ‘praise the Lord’ and pray the rosary. Praise the Lord meant singing and dancing. At the end of the Rosary I was asked to address the people. I was totally unprepared for this, so I asked the Holy Spirit for help. The words came to me.

I spoke about our grotto in Carfin and the great devotion in Scotland to our Blessed Mother. I said that this was a devotion we shared and that as She is their mother and our mother we must all be brothers in the one family.

I am not sure if they understood anything else I said but their response showed that they understood the Church in the same way. We are one or we are incomplete. The divisions between Christians only serve to weaken the Church. The sooner we sort that out the better.

I have also come to realise that being apostolic means more than just being in a Church founded by the apostles. Just to think of it that way is a kind of a boast. It’s a bit like people who say: “I can trace my origins back to William the Conqueror.” As if most of us just appeared from nowhere.

Being apostolic must mean that we are like the apostles. We have the same task they were given, to ‘teach all nations’. Our Church must be one that reaches out to the whole world (Universal again) and bring the Good News of the Gospels. Of course the Church does reach out through the work of the missionary societies that work in the poorest places in the world.

Missionaries bring the Gospels to remote peoples in the furthest corners of the world. They bring the message by teaching and by example. Their work involves building up communities and by showing that love of neighbour that Christ taught. There is missionary work to be done nearer home. We live in a society that has drifted further and further from its Christian roots. Materialism has become the dominant religion in the west. What kind of Christmas have we celebrated? Was it spiritual or was it material? It is hard to resist the call of materialism when we are bombarded by adverts in magazines, newspapers and on television.

You and I have taken on the task of evangelising our own society. We can do so by our example. We can influence others by the way we live our lives.

Now that sounds good. I can feel happy with that because it does not require me to go out of my way to serve God. I can just be myself and let others follow my example.

There is a nagging doubt that now starts to take over. What will others see in my life that will bring them closer to God? What’s so good about my way of life? I suddenly remember Mr Fox, my third year RE teacher asking us: “If the Russians invade tomorrow and decide to jail all the Christians would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Perhaps I need to step back a bit. I’m going into 2011 with a slightly different perspective. How can I evangelise myself? How can I make my life more like the life Jesus showed us?

What do I need to do to become a real Christian? On a larger scale, how can we all work together to bring about that one, Holy Catholic and apostolic Church? Perhaps if we did that more people would see the real values in the Gospel and turn back to God.

Happy New Year.

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