I was standing in line for Confession this afternoon.  My parish is almost always blessed with long Confession lines.  As I waited, I looked at and listened to the people around me.  Men and women, young and old, in many colors and sizes and shapes.  Some young mothers had infants with them, who made funny and sweet noises.  I gazed at the delicate beauty of a tiny hand.  The next generation that would, before long, add to the Confession lines.

I was deeply moved by this little microcosm of humanity, by this quiet little portion of society lined up along the wall of a church.  Reflective, perhaps anxious–I still get a bit jittery while waiting for Confession–seeking out healing and mercy, renewed liberty and restored wholeness.  Each of us having strayed, each of us having gotten entangled in the fallenness of the world, each of us having been wounded, in some way or another, to some extent or another.  Only God, God’s priest, and each of us could know our own stories.  But they make up one bigger story, in which we all share, in which we all have our part.

Standing in line for Confession, with all these different people, sharing in a universal drama of redemption… this is one of the things that puts the “catholic” in “Catholic Church.”  I hear many different takes on catholicity–universality–as it relates to the Catholic Church.  Some people hold that it means the Church must embrace everybody and everything.  The Church does not embrace everybody and everything.  After all, there are a great many people and things in the world that are directly contrary to her, and sometimes openly hostile to her.  She may look mercifully upon them.  When necessary, in the interest of protecting her children, she may assume a fighting stance against them.  But embrace them?

The Church does what she can, however: she embraces everybody and everything that she finds within her reach.  The glory of the Church is that so many people in the world put themselves within her reach, eagerly and with abandon!  People of every race and language, ethnicity and culture, talent and ability.  These things they bring with them, and much more besides.  Everything that is good, true, and beautiful–these the Church joyfully embraces!  She embraces them regardless of the flaws she recognizes only too well, having seen them always and everywhere.  This is what makes her catholic.