August 29, 2023 // Perspective

‘Totus, Totus, Totus!’: A Reminder and a Correction

Allow me to start this column repeating three times a word many Catholics know or have heard: “totus, totus, totus.”

It means “everyone” – no exceptions.

It evokes wholeness and communion.

If at any point we find ourselves searching for a word capable of capturing what it means to be Catholic Christians, “totus” may be that word. It is a term impregnated with universality and a radical invitation toward embracing, in one breath, everyone and everything that exists.

I am still processing the electrifying moment when Pope Francis said in his native Spanish, “todos, todos, todos” during the opening ceremony for the 2023 World Youth Day in front of hundreds of thousands of young people from every corner of the planet gathered in Lisbon.

It was one of Pope Francis’ clearest moments in his pontificate, calling all Catholics to remember who we are and what it means to be Church.

The pope insisted: “There is room for everyone. Everyone. In the Church, no one is left out or left over. There is room for everyone. Just the way we are. Everyone. Jesus says this clearly.”

More electrifying, however, was the roar of the multitude echoing the triadic mantra in their own languages at the pope’s invitation: todos, todos, todos; everyone, everyone, everyone. Our young Catholics spoke, guided by the Holy Spirit, in unison with the successor of Peter.

We live in a world marked by tenacious battles aiming to include and exclude. Individuals, organizations, institutions, nations, and powers fight to set rigorous criteria about who belongs and who does not belong – who gets access to be in and who stays out. Those excluded struggle for survival and (whenever possible) a place at fellowship.

Instead of acknowledging that life constantly unfolds at the crossroads of difference and the astounding array of ways in which human beings actually live out their existence, our contemporaries are enmeshed in ideological battles that divide, hurt, and sometimes kill.

Then, we hear our Catholic youth clamoring in one voice: totus, totus, totus. Such clamoring is not mere wishful thinking. It is a reminder and a correction. A reminder of God’s original project for the Church – that the Gospel of Jesus is about welcoming, not excluding. It is a correction of course, especially when talk about exclusion enters our faith communities, our schools, and even our own families.

To be a Catholic Christian must not be considered analogous to proving worth in order to join a membership club with a particular label (e.g., traditional, progressive). Sometimes we forget this. Despite our differences and opinions (and the daily struggle to make sense of the mystery of being human), ecclesial communion, for all the baptized, is our de facto starting point – we are already in! Communion is a permanent invitation.

Of course, there is sin and the possibility of someone intentionally opting out of ecclesial communion. Yet, the doors to forgiveness and reconciliation are always open. Ours is a Church with room for everyone: “totus, totus, totus.”

Hosffman Ospino is a Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College.

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