Why Do We Call Ourselves Catholics?

by Edmond Lo
The Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60:1-6

Ephesians 3:2-3A, 5-6

Matthew 2:1-12

Two decades have gone by since God woke me up from my deep slumber of spiritual inertness to the splendor of the Catholic faith. Like the dry bones that came to life after hearing the prophet Ezekiel’s prophesy (cf. Ez 37:4-10), the heartbeat of my soul, which had been slowing down to a pulse barely audible to the ears, suddenly regained full vitality when I started reading the teachings of the Church Magisterium, in which the Petrine Church faithfully carried out her maternal duty to “keep” and “feed” me (cf. John 21:15-17, 19:27). The transformation was complete and overpowering. Since then there had not been a dull moment whenever the word of God was proclaimed. The Mass readings of the Epiphany of the Lord are no exceptions.

The mystery never made known to previous generations is now revealed to St. Paul through the “holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph 3:5). So we are told in the second reading. What is this mystery all about? Are you saying, Mr. Apostle, that we are privy to a top secret that has remained hidden for thousands of years? Now that you have aroused our curiosity, we really need you to reveal the secret! St. Paul minces no words in telling us the truth: “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6).

This is unthinkable! The Gentiles, whose abhorrent customs God did not want the Israelites to conform to, and from whom Israel - God’s own nation - must be set apart (Lev 20:24-26) somehow will be members of the same body, i.e. of the same Church of Christ!

While not fully revealed, the mystery has been alluded to by Isaiah when he foretells the glorious future of Jerusalem, a prefiguration of the Church, in these amazing words: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come…Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of the nurses” (Is 60:1, 4). The Church in God’s plan is catholic. Her catholicity or universality has been foretold by Isaiah.

The Magi story in the gospel reading is often read in conjunction with the “kings and “nations” in Isaiah 60:3 as a reference to the catholicity of the Christian faith[ Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth – the Infancy Narratives, p. 96.]. In celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord, we rejoice not only in learning a “top secret”, but also in knowing that the plan that God, the Father, has made for humanity since time immemorial included not only the Jews but everyone, not only Israel but all nations. We are the Catholic Church – the Church of all nations – a name already in use at the time of St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 108 A.D.).