When I (con)celebrate Mass or hear confessions at a Vietnamese parish, many people asked the question: “Cha (Father), you’re Vietnamese, born in Viet Nam, know the language as your first. How come you do not serve your own people?” Other times, many Catholic faithful and parishioners asked me: “How come you have to use Spanish here in the US? Isn’t English good enough?”
I got to admit, I shared similar sentiments when I first began my priestly formation. I thought that I would get to serve the Vietnamese people. I had questioned why we were required to learn Spanish in the seminary (especially for those whom English is our second language). Questions like these are natural. Just because we asked those questions, it does not mean that we are racists or want to be close-minded; however, we all have to be reminded that we are Catholics and what this reality really means.
First, with a growing trend of nationalism, sometimes we think that the Church is nationalistic. Yet, the word “Catholic” itself reminds us that we are a universal Church. No matter where we are, what language we might speak, we share and profess the same faith. One of the most beautiful things is that we can go anywhere around the world and participate in the Mass! Even though the language might be in different languages, the order and substance of Christ’s Holy Sacrifice remain the same. It is such a comfort to know that we can be anywhere in the world and still feel at home, as one family united in the faith. Even though our cultural expressions and applications of the faith might be a little bit different here and there, our beliefs are the same. This is what the Second Vatican Council calls sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful). The Church teaches that all the faithful, through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, share, manifest, and carry with them the faithful interpretation and living of the faith. The essentials of our Catholic faith cannot be duped by lesser goods because the faithful as a whole know, cherish, and protect the apostolic faith that has been handed down to us.
Second, to be Catholics means that we are not alone, nor are we a particular or nationalistic people, an isolated local or regional church community. We are in communion with one another every time we come to Mass! When we participate and offer the Mass together as the community of faith, we are joined with our brothers and sisters at each and every Mass around the world. It is, therefore, important for us to realize that is why we never pray for our own goods at Mass. That is why the Prayers of the Faithful can also be called General Intercessions because we embrace, remember, and pray for the general and greater goods of all. St. Paul beautifully reminds us that our citizenship is of heaven, with Christ Jesus. (cf. Philippians 3:20) Hence, as Catholics, we pray, work, and advocate for all, especially the poor, abandoned, and those who have no voice of their own. As citizens of a first-world nation, we have the duties not to only keep the blessings for ourselves but to share it with those who are in need. We do this humanely, financially, and spiritually speaking through works of charity, prayer, and aids to struggling areas around the world. This is the foundation of what it means to be motivated and moved by love (caritas –> charity – love). Our love for Christ should not make turn inward, worrying only about ourselves and our goods, but to be lived out in actions through our care of one another as brothers and sisters. We have to pray and discern about the particular actions and general motivations to further naturally and spiritually care for those who are loved by our same Heavenly Father. This is what we understand as faith in action: what we have received at Mass — His Words, Body and Blood — are to be shared and enlivened in our daily lives. As a first-world society and individuals, it is very easy for us to turn inward, only talking, caring, and complaining about what we do not have or worried about ourselves. Yet, we are not alone nor closed-in to our own little bubbles, because are in communion with those who share the same faith, those who are created out of love by our Heavenly Father, saved by the Blood of Christ, and continued to be moved by the Holy Spirit to seek the Greatest Good.
Furthermore, our faith teaches us that the Church is not just about this world. We are in communion with the saints and the holy souls in purgatory as well. Look at the times when we fell like we could not do it alone, but for some reasons were able to pass through the trials, it was due to many people and saints who prayed and interceded for us. It was the power of prayers, those who prayed for us without knowing who we are, those who chose to unite their pains and sufferings, those who offered their sacrifices for those who are in need that lifted us up in our times of doubt, despair, and negativity. We, therefore, have to remember that how we make it through life is not based on our own efforts or abilities, but we get lifted by the prayers of those who unite their prayers for the salvation of souls and those who are in need. It is a wonderful comfort and sense of peace to discover that we are never alone and are loved by those who pray for us in heaven as well as living saints who unite their prayers with Christ for us without knowing who we are. If we, then, have received the prayers of others, we are also called to pray for those who are struggling as well. Just as we are called to pray for the poor and conversion of heart for those who are doubting, living in despair, struggling with their demons, or strayed away from divine goodness, we are also called to assist our brothers and sisters in their time of purgation. The souls in purgatory need our prayerful support and sacrifices to aid and give them the courage to purify the things that they did not recognize or had time to work on in their earthly lives. As each and every one of us knows how hard it is to face and work on our mistakes, especially ones that are integral and part of our core woundedness, we know that we cannot do it alone. Therefore, just as we depend on others to keep us accountable and support us along the way, we need to do that spiritually through prayerful sacrifices for the souls in purgatory as well, especially those who might have no one to remember or pray for them.
You see? Our Catholic faith teaches us that we are never alone. We are loved, living, enveloped and are in communion with the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who are united in Christ Jesus. (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2) That is why we need to remember that we cannot just live for ourselves, worried only about our own particular, political, or national goods but are called to embrace, love, care, and intercede for all. We are not just called to worry and care only for those whom we like, for a few are in our own circles, but to those who are entrusted to us. From the smallest village in the middle of nowhere to the most desired or decadent part of the world, from the poorest church to the grandest basilica, we are all one people united in Christ Jesus. We are united in our diversity because of His love for us. We are Catholics because we are universally united in Him who called us together as the Church. Even though we might be different in our cultural expressions and social constructs, we share the same faith that Christ died for all of us — those who are worthy and the unworthy, those who yearn for Him and those who do not know Him, the just and unjust, sinners and holy people. It is important, then, for us to know that we are not alone and that we should try our best to help one another along the way. Those who have more share what they have so that those who have little do not have to go hungry or without. (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:12-16)
How can we ever be alone when we recognize that, even in our darkest times, we were loved, prayed for, and helped by others and their prayers? When we thought that we could not make it, it was the sacrifices of a poor person, an elderly person, or a sick patient that lifted us up. Therefore, we are called to share our blessings, unite ourselves to Christ in prayers, and care for those who are one with us in Him as well. Let us not forget what makes us Catholics and what we are called to be! We are not the Church for the few but are called to care for the many. We are truly blessed to be Catholics because Christ loves us all and we are universally united in Him. Let us seek this everlasting and life-changing love, especially in knowing that our diversity makes the Church richer and His face more radiant with different colors and shapes. This is what makes our faith beautiful… This is why we are Catholics!