What is the Catholic Church?
‘Are we nearly there?’ How often has that question been asked on some family journey? It is an experience, known to so many people, and it provides a good entry point into this important question. The Diocese of Leeds, we say, is part of the Catholic Church. So just what is the Church? It might seem something rather distant, something not really for ordinary people.
Not so! The Catholic Church is no more strange or distant than a family. In fact the best way to think of the Church is to regard it as a family on a journey. Of course it is a quite unusual family and it is on a very special journey. As a family it is unusual in that it does not live in a particular place at a specific time. It is composed of all those people throughout the world who believe in Jesus Christ, who commit themselves to his teaching and who regard him as their Lord and leader.
Of course many people will believe such things but not regard themselves as Catholics. So we must add that the Catholic Church in particular is made up of that part of the Christian family which is united in its beliefs, in its worship and in its acceptance of one earthly head, now Pope Francis. As Catholics, while firmly holding our own views, we welcome other believers as our fellow Christians and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
So the Catholic Church is above all a family, but also a family on a journey. We travel through time, along the years and indeed the centuries, always seeking to understand better and to grow more faithful to the teaching of Jesus, our Head. What about our destination? Can we answer the question, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ Well, the answer has got to be, ‘No’. We believe the promise of Jesus that he will come again. His coming will mark the end of history and the final moments of the journeying of His Church. But He alone knows when this will be. Meanwhile we journey on, trusting, hoping and above all, loving all people as equal children of God.