Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7 · Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 · Mt 15:21-28

Thursday, April 17, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. In his homily he referred to the bicentennial of the creation of the first dioceses in the United States after the nation's original diocese, Baltimore, was created. He said, ''Two hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole.''

Each Sunday, when professing our faith, we call attention to the ''Four Marks'' of the Church, that it is ''one, holy, catholic and apostolic.'' What many miss is that when professing the third mark, catholic, it is not capitalized. What does this mean?

St. Ignatius, one of the Fathers of the Church, in his letter to the Smyrnaeans in about A.D. 110 referred to the ''catholic church'' for the first time. He wrote, ''Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the catholic church.'' Wherever the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church. At the time, by ''catholic'' Ignatius meant the one and only church. The word itself means ''universal,'' and over time, that is the meaning it has taken on for us today. In light of this, the Pope's homily, and in light of our readings, we should challenge ourselves with the question, ''Are we truly catholic?''

A pastor new to a parish observed that the parish had three formal celebrations of First Communion: one for the parish school, one for the Sunday religious education students, and one for the Hispanics. The pastor quickly decided that this would change. First Communion is a parish celebration, he reasoned, not a celebration reserved to groups within the parish; therefore, there would be only one First Communion. All three groups balked, but eventually conceded. Four years later, however, there are still whispers of discontent.

Today we read that Jesus was stopped by a Canaanite woman. She was a Gentile having nothing to do with Judaism. Acting in step with his fellow Jews, Jesus ignores her pleas for help for her daughter who ''is tormented by a demon.'' Acting according to cultural norms, Jesus parrots the behavior of his fellow Jews of the day: ''Jesus did not say a word to answer her.'' Uncomfortable with her persistence, the disciples plead for Jesus to get rid of her. Jesus, offering the standard response of Jews to non-Jews says, ''I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'' We might think it strange, but common to the discourse of the day, the woman and Jesus debated.

This debate proved to Jesus the woman's faith, and He granted her request. That Jesus would have healed a Gentile and a foreigner would have been cause for scandal. She was not part of the group. She was an outsider. Jesus acted as the culture would dictate that He should have acted, but then Jesus taught us something. With Jesus, there are no outsiders.

With the influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants, many have retreated into a ''group mentality,'' a mentality that is challenged by our readings today and by our Pope during his visit to the United States. The divides are not always based on language. They are at times based on issues such traditional or modern, orthodox or liberal, Latin or English.

Isaiah tells us that ''the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ...them I will bring to my holy mountain. ...their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.'' Again we are challenged. Are we ''catholic''? Are we truly universal? Do we find a place at the table for all who seek to sit with us?

Do we still bring ''together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment''? Have we ''come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole''?

We must learn and teach what it means to be Catholic. It can be uncomfortable and perhaps irritating if the Opening Hymn is in a language not our own, but do we really want to shut out the witness to the faith of any group within the Church? The Jews did not trust outsiders, but Jesus taught by action that the Gospel is for all.