The first person to use the word catholic in reference to the Church was St. Ignatius of Antioch around the year A.D. 110 in his letter to the people of Smyrna: “Wheresoever the bishop shall appear…there is the Catholic Church.” Prior to that, the word that is synonymous with ‘universal’ or ‘worldwide’ was not used, but its meaning was inherent in both the viewpoint of the early Church as well as the words of Jesus Himself.
The great 20th Century theologian Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar noted that what was made explicit by Ignatius was implicit in the viewpoint of the early communio, a viewpoint that was both naïve and audacious. This small band of often-persecuted outsiders saw their “way” as normative for all of humanity in all places and in all times. Their confidence sprang from their Lord, who had told them to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
These thoughts ran through my head last Friday morning during the Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Chapel celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month. Leading us in our celebration was Fr. Rob Reidy, the pastor at Parroquia La Sagrada Familia, Holy Family Parish. In a land where Americanist bishops all the way back to luminaries such as Bishops Gibbons and Ireland felt that assimilation was a necessary component of Catholic life in the United States, it is a joy to see the continued strength of urban ethnic parishes in an otherwise bland world of generic suburban churches.
I understand that there is something that people find comforting in being able to stop at pretty much any parish in the country and have the same experience – much like stopping at the thousands of McDonalds or Starbucks that inhabit highway exits across the land. Yet there is something wonderfully catholic in experiencing a liturgy that resonates with a culture, an ethnos. If America is meant to be a place where multi-culturalism holds sway, then to squash the ethnicity of the Church in America – or to reserve it only for special occasions, like St. Colman’s on St. Patrick’s Day – is to ignore the richness of the many cultures that make up our U.S. Church.
For an hour last Friday morning our chapel at Saint Ignatius took on the feel of La Sagrada Familia – even down to the churros and cocoa offered after Mass, a fitting change from the usual menu of donuts and coffee. Fr. Reidy, a self-admitted gringo, concluded his time with us by appealing to the congregation to take the time to better understand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the effect that new government policies might have on the so-called Dreamers, the approximately 800,000 young people whose lives are directly affected by changes to DACA.
Fr. Reidy told the story of a young man, brought up in Cleveland and able only to speak English, who was sent “home” to Central America. Since about eighty-five percent of Dreamers are Hispanic this is probably a tale that could be told by the pastor of any Hispanic parish in America. As someone who has been in a foreign country whose language I did not speak, Fr. Reidy’s story brought back unsettling memories of being a stranger in a strange land, but it also brought to mind the realization that I had a home to go back to where everyone spoke the same language as I.
Fr. Reidy asked us to carefully consider the issues involved with DACA and to come down where our consciences told us to come down. He did not propose that there are easy answers to difficult and often complicated questions, but as the pastor of a parish where over a dozen Hispanic cultures are represented he asked us to take a stand on an issue that hangs over the heads of those to whom he offers the Bread of Life every week just as he offered it to us on Friday.
Our Catholic faith compels us to consider this issue – as we should consider all issues – in light of the Gospel, and to make our voices heard concerning the fate of so many people who are hostage to a situation that they literally did not bring upon themselves.