The Catholic Church
There shall be one fold and one shepherd.--John 10
I. The meaning of the Church: 1. The word Church means literally a calling forth or assembly. In Scripture it is applied especially to the faithful, that is, to the society of all those who worship the true God in piety and holiness. 2. Other names by which the Church is designated in Scripture are the "house of God," "the flock of Christ," "the body of Christ." 3. The Church is defined as the union of all the faithful who, being baptized, profess the same doctrine of Christ, have the same sacrifice, partake of the same Sacraments, and are governed by their lawful pastors under one visible head on earth.
II. The members of the Church: 1. There are three principal parts of the Church--the Church militant on earth, the Church suffering in purgatory, and the Church triumphant in heaven. 2. The Church militant is composed of two classes, the good and the bad, both professing the same faith and partaking of the same Sacraments. The former are those in sanctifying grace, or the living members; the latter are those in sin, or dead members. 3. There are four classes of people who do not belong to the Church: (a) those unbaptized persons who never belonged to the Church, such as, pagans, Jews, atheists; (b) heretics, or those who, by denying some of her doctrines, have left the Church, such as Protestants; (c) schismatics, or those who have deserted the Church by rejecting her authority, such as the Greek church; (d) excommunicated persons, that is, those whom the Church has cut off from her communion, until they repent.
III. The authority of the Church: 1. Only in the Church of Christ is salvation to be found; hence the Fathers compare her to the Ark of Noe. Only in the Church is there a true worship of God; hence she is compared by the Fathers to the City of Jerusalem. 2. The ninth Article of the Creed commands us to believe the Catholic Church, that is, that her origin is divine, and that her powers and privileges are likewise divine. 3. It is impossible that there should be more than one true Church and one true doctrine, because truth is one and cannot contradict itself. The Nicene Creed points out four marks by which the true Church may be known--it is One, it is Holy, it is Catholic, it is Apostolic.
CONCLUSION. Our duties to the Church are to have faith in her teachings, to show obedience to her laws and authority, and to have respect for her ministers.
Catechism of the Council of Trent
Part I ARTICLE IX OF THE CREED
"I believe in the Holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints."
THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS ARTICLE
With what great diligence pastors ought to explain to the faithful the truth of this ninth Article will be easily seen, if we attend chiefly to two considerations. First, as St. Augustine observes, (1) the Prophets spoke more plainly and openly of the Church than of Christ, foreseeing that on this a much greater number may err and be deceived, than on the mystery of the Incarnation. For in after ages there would not be wanting wicked men who, like the ape that would fain pass for a man, would claim that they alone were Catholics, and with no less impiety than effrontery, assert that with them alone is the Catholic Church.
The second consideration is that he whose mind is strongly impressed with the truth taught in this Article, will easily escape the awful danger of heresy. For a person is not to be called a heretic as soon as he shall have offended in matters of faith; but he is a heretic who, having disregarded the authority of the Church, maintains impious opinions with pertinacity. Since therefore it is impossible that anyone be infected with the contagion of heresy, so long as he holds what this Article proposes to be believed, let pastors use every diligence that the faithful having known this mystery, and guarded against the wiles of Satan, may persevere in the true faith.
This Article hinges upon the preceding one; for, it having been already shown that the Holy Ghost is the source and giver of all holiness, we here profess our belief that the Church has been endowed by Him with sanctity.
THE MEANING OF THE CHURCH
The Latins, having borrowed the word "Ecclesia" (Church) from the Greeks, have transferred it, since the preaching of the Gospel, to sacred things. It becomes necessary therefore to explain its meaning. The word Ecclesia (Church) means "a calling forth." But writers afterwards used it to signify a meeting or assembly, whether the people gathered together were members of a true or a false religion. Thus in the Acts it is written of the people of Ephesus that when the town-clerk had appeased a tumultuous assemblage he said: "And if you inquire after any other matter, it may be decided in a lawful church." (2) The Ephesians, who were worshippers of Diana, are thus called a lawful church (ecclesia). Nor are the Gentiles only, who knew not God, called a church (ecclesia); by the same name are also designated the councils of wicked and impious men. "I have hated the church (ecclesiam) of the malignant," says the Prophet, "and with the wicked I will not sit." 3 In common Scripture usage, however, the word was subsequently employed to signify the Christian society only, and the assemblies of the faithful; that is, of those who were called by faith to the light of truth and the knowledge of God, that, having forsaken the darkness of ignorance and error, they may worship the living and true God piously and holily, and serve Him from their whole heart. In a word: "The Church," says St. Augustine, "consists of the faithful dispersed throughout the world."(4)
WHAT MYSTERIES CHIEFLY ARE PRESENTED FOR CONTEMPLATION
IN THE WORD CHURCH
In this word are contained important mysteries. For, in the "calling forth," which it signifies, we recognize at once the benignity and splendor of divine grace, and we understand that the Church is very unlike all other societies. Other bodies rest on human reason and prudence, but the Church reposes on the wisdom and counsels of God who has called us inwardly by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, who opens the hearts of men, and outwardly through the labor and ministry of pastors and preachers.
Moreover, the end of this vocation, that is, the knowledge and possession of things eternal will be at once understood if we but remember why the faithful of the Old Law were called a Synagogue, that is, a flock; for, as St. Augustine teaches, "they were so called, because, like cattle, which are wont to herd together, they looked only to terrestrial and transitory goods." (5) Wherefore, the Christian people are justly called, not a Synagogue, but a Church, because, despising earthly and transitory things, they pursue only things heavenly and eternal.
OTHER NAMES GIVEN THE CHURCH IN SCRIPTURE
Many names, moreover, which are replete with mysteries, have been applied to designate the Christian body. Thus, by the Apostle it is called "the house and edifice of God." "If," says he to Timothy, "I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth." (6) The Church is called a house, because it is, as it were, one family governed by one father of the family, and enjoying a community of all spiritual goods.
It is also called the flock of the sheep of Christ, of which He is the door and the shepherd.(7) It is called the spouse of Christ. "I have espoused you to one husband," says the Apostle to the Corinthians, "that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ";(8) and to the Ephesians: "Husbands love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church";(9) and of marriage: "This is a great sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the Church."(10)
Finally, the Church is called the body of Christ, as may be seen in the Epistles to the Ephesians. and Colossians.(11) Each of these appellations has very great influence in exciting the faithful to prove themselves worthy of the boundless clemency and goodness of God, who chose them to be the people of God.
THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT AND MILITANT
These things having been explained, it will be necessary to enumerate the several component parts of the Church, and point out their difference, in order that the faithful may the better comprehend the nature, properties, gifts, and graces of God's beloved Church, and unceasingly offer to the divine majesty the homage of their grateful praise. The Church consists principally of two parts, the one called the Church triumphant; the other, the Church militant.(12) The Church triumphant is that most glorious and happy assemblage of blessed spirits, and of those who have triumphed over the world, the flesh, and the devil, and are now exempt from the troubles of this life and blessed with the fruition of everlasting bliss. The Church militant is the society of all the faithful still dwelling on earth. It is called militant, because it wages eternal war with those implacable enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. We are not, however, to infer that there are two Churches. The Church triumphant and the Church militant are two constituent parts of one Church; one part gone before, and now in the possession of its heavenly country; the other, following every day, until, at length, united to its invisible head, it shall repose in the fruition of endless felicity.(13)
THE CHURCH MILITANT IS COMPOSED OF THE GOOD AND THE BAD
The Church militant is composed of two classes of persons, the good and the bad, both professing the same faith and partaking of the same Sacraments, yet differing in their manner of life and morality. The good are those who are linked together not only by the profession of the same faith, and the participation of the same Sacraments, but also by the spirit of grace, and the bond of charity. Of these St. Paul says: "The Lord knoweth who are his."(14) Who they are that compose this class we also may remotely conjecture, but we cannot pronounce with certainty.(15) Hence our Lord does not speak of this portion of His Church when He refers us to the Church, and commands us to hear and to obey her.(16) As this part of the Church is unknown, how could we ascertain with certainty, whose decision to recur to, whose authority to obey? The Church, therefore, as the Scriptures and the writings of the saints testify, includes within her fold the good and the bad; and it was in this sense that St. Paul spoke of, "one body and one spirit."(17)
FIGURES AND COMPARISONS OF THE CHURCH
Thus understood, the Church is known and is compared to a city built on a mountain, and visible from every side.(18) As all must yield obedience to her authority, it is necessary that she may be known by all.
That the Church is composed of the good and the bad we learn from many parables contained in the Gospel. Thus, the kingdom of heaven, that is, the Church militant, is compared to a net cast into the sea,(19) to a field in which tares were sown with the good grain,(20) to a threshing floor on which the grain is mixed up with the chaff,(21) and, also, to ten virgins, some of whom were wise, and some foolish.(22) And long before, we trace a figure and striking resemblance of the Church in the ark of Noah, which contained not only clean, but also unclean animals.(23) But although the Catholic faith uniformly and truly teaches that the good and the bad belong to the Church, yet the same faith declares that the condition of both is very different. The wicked are contained in the Church, as the chaff is mingled with the grain on the threshing floor, or as dead members sometimes remain attached to a living body.
THOSE WHO ARE EXCLUDED FROM THE CHURCH
Hence there are but three classes of persons excluded from the Church's pale: infidels, heretics and schismatics, and excommunicated persons. Infidels are outside the Church because they never belonged to, and never knew the Church, and were never made partakers of any of her Sacraments. Heretics and schismatics are excluded from the Church, because they have separated from her and belong to her only as deserters belong to the army from which they have deserted. It is not, however, to be denied that they are still subject to the jurisdiction of the Church, inasmuch as they are liable to have judgment passed on their opinions, to be visited with spiritual punishments, and denounced with anathema. Finally, excommunicated persons are not members of the Church, because they have been cut off by her sentence from the number of her children and belong not to her communion until restored by repentance.
But with regard to the rest however wicked and evil they may be, it is certain that they still belong to the Church. Of this the faithful are frequently to be reminded, in order to be convinced that, were even the lives of her ministers debased by crime, they are still within the Church, and therefore lose no part of the power with which her ministry invests them.
OTHER APPLICATIONS OF THE WORD CHURCH
Portions of the Universal Church are usually called a Church, as when the Apostle mentions the Church at Corinth,(24) at Galatia,(25) at Laodicea,(26) at Thessalonica.(27)
The private houses of the faithful he also calls Churches. The Church in the house of Priscilla and Aquila he commands to be saluted;(28) and in another place, he says: "Aquila and Priscilla, with the Church that is in their house salute you much." (29) Writing to Philemon, he makes use of the same word, in the same sense.(30)
Sometimes, also, the word Church is used to signify the prelates and pastors of the Church. "If he will not hear thee," says our Lord, "tell the Church."(31) Here the word Church means the authorities of the Church.
The place in which the faithful assemble to hear the word of God, or for other religious purposes is also called a Church.(32) But in this Article, the word Church is specially used to signify the good and the bad, the governing and the governed.
FIGURES OF THE CHURCH
The figures of the Old Testament have great power to stimulate the minds of the faithful and to remind them of these most salutary truths. It was for this reason chiefly that the Apostles made use of these figures, nor should the pastor overlook so fruitful a source of instruction. Amongst these figures the ark of Noah holds a conspicuous place. It was built by the command of God,(33) in order, no doubt, to signify the Church, which God has so constituted that all who enter therein through Baptism, may be safe from danger of eternal death, while such as are outside the Church, like those who were not in the ark, are overwhelmed by their own crimes.
Another figure presents itself in the great city of Jerusalem,(34) which, in Scripture, often means the Church. In Jerusalem only was it lawful to offer sacrifice to God, and in the Church of God only are to be found the true worship and true sacrifice which can at all be acceptable to God.
BELIEF IN THE CHURCH IS AN ARTICLE OF FAITH
Finally, with regard to the Church, the pastor will teach how to believe the Church can constitute an Article of faith. Although reason and the senses are able to ascertain the existence of the Church, that is, of a society of men devoted and consecrated to Jesus Christ, and although faith does not seem necessary in order to understand a truth which is acknowledged by Jews and Turks; nevertheless it is from the light of faith only, not from the deductions of reason, that the mind can grasp those mysteries contained in the Church of God, which have been partly made known above, and will be treated more fully under the Sacrament of Orders. Since, therefore, this Article, no less than the others, is placed above the reach, and defies the strength of the human understanding, most justly do we confess that we know not from human reason, but contemplate with the eyes of faith the origin, privileges and dignity of the Church.
THE FOUNDER OF THE CHURCH
This Church was founded not by man, but by the immortal God Himself, who built her upon a most solid rock. "The Highest Himself," says the Prophet, "hath founded her."(35) Hence, she is called "the inheritance of God,"(36) "the people of God."(37) The power which she possesses, is not from man but from God. Since this power, therefore, cannot be of human origin, divine faith can alone enable us to understand that the keys of the kingdom of Heaven are deposited with the Church,(38) that to her has been confided the power of remitting sins,(39) of denouncing excommunication, (40) and of consecrating the real body of Christ;(41) and that her children have not here a permanent dwelling, but look for one above.(42)
WE BELIEVE THE CHURCH, NOT IN THE CHURCH
We are, therefore, bound to believe that there is one Holy Catholic Church; but with regard to the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, we not only believe them, but also believe in them. Hence, when speak- ing of each dogma, we make use of a different form of expression, professing to believe the holy, not in the holy Catholic Church. (43) By this difference of expression we distinguish God, the author of all things, from His works, and acknowledge that all the exalted benefits bestowed on the Church are due to God's bounty.
1 Ps. xxx. 15.
2 Acts xix. 39.
3 Ps. xxv. 5.
4 Ps. cxlix. 3.
5 Ps. lxxvii, et lxxxi. I.
6 I Tim. iii. 15.
7 John x. 7; Ezech. xxxiv. 5.
8 Cor. xi. 2.
9 Eph. v. 25.
10 Eph. v. 32.
11 Eph, i. 23; Col. i, 24.
12 Aug. Ench. c. 10.
13 Aug. lib. ii. de Civ. Dei, c. 9.
14 2 Tim. ii. 19.
15 C. of Trent, Sess. 6, c. 12.
16 Matt. xviii. 17.
17 Eph.iv. 4.
18 Matt. v. 15.
19 Matt. xiii. 47.
20 Matt. xiii. 24.
21 Luke iii. 17.
22 Matt. xxv. 1. 2.
23 Gen. vii. 2; I Pet. iii 20.
24 Cor. i. 1.
25 Gal. i. 2.
26 Col. iv. 16.
27 1 Thess. i. 1.
28 Rom. xvi. 3-5.
29 1 Cor. xvi. 19.
30 Phil. i- 2.
31 Matt. xviii. 17.
32 1 Cor. xi. 18.
33 Gen. vi. 14.
34 Gal. iv. 26; Heb. xii. 22; Deut. xii. 11-14, 18, 21.
35 Ps. Ixxxyi. 5.
36 Ps. ii. 8.
37 Osee ii. I.
38 Matt, xvi. 19.
39 John xx, 23.
40 Matt. xvii. 17.
41 Heb. xii. 10 .
42 Heb, xii. 14.
43 Aug. serm. xiii., de temp.
VARIOUS NAMES OF THE CHURCH
God's Church is spoken of in the Sacred Scriptures under many figures. It is presented as a city whose foundations "are in the Holy Mountains"; a vine with its branches; a government; a temple, a bride, and again, a body, whose head is Christ.
This last figure--the favorite of St. Paul--is by far the most expressive. When the Church is spoken of as a bride, the love, singleness of purpose, community of interest, and ceaseless devotion that exist between Christ and His Church are typified. When we hear it called a city, or a form of government, we are reminded of the general unity of interest and aims that should be found among the members of the Church. The figure of the temple and its cornerstone bring out the necessary cohesion that must exist in the Church; but the image wherein Christ is represented as the Head and the Church as the Body, comprises all these and adds something more. It suggests the unity and independence of one part with another, and gives, too, the idea of life, life springing from one central principle and diffusing itself through all the members; the idea of a sensitive participation of joy and sorrow in the various parts of the living organism; the idea of growth and adaptability to different times and conditions; the idea, too. of a living soul.
DEFINITION OF THE CHURCH IN THE WIDEST SENSE
Such are some of the Scriptural answers to the question, "What is the Church?" The theologians, following the teachings of the Apostles and of the fathers, tell us that that great assemblage under the Headship of Christ are all who are bound to the Saviour by the ties of faith and of love. This defines the Church in what is called the widest sense, and embraces in its meaning all the just, whether this present life holds them in the flesh, or the shadows of purgatory enfold them, or the white light of heaven has received them. Indeed, according to St. Augustine, the angels are within the fellowship of the Church, since they are united to Christ as their Head, by supreme and most intimate love.
From this it necessarily follows that the Catholic Church reaches back to the earliest dawn of history. As St. Gregory the Great says, "The Church embraces all the just, from Abel to the last righteous man who shall live upon earth."
The Church has been likened to a heaven-descended river, issuing from beneath the throne of God, and flowing triumphantly down the ages till it loses itself in the bosom of eternity; covering the earth with the knowledge and love of God as the waters cover the sea.
Nor in the ages before Christ did the Church want an organization and a history. To the ears of Abraham, the Syrian shepherd, came the voice of God bidding him, "Get thee out of thy country," and obediently he went forth, the first missionary of God's Church under the written law, and became the founder of a divine society. All the world's religious truth was gathered into Judaism, the sum increasing and growing more definite, from Abraham on the Plains of Mambre, to the last prophet who gave his inspired message to a listening world; and all this truth and more is the treasure of the Catholic Church today. St. Paul, his poet's heart throbbing under the logician's armor, exultingly sings the glory of Christ's Church, and reminds the Jews that their fathers did drink of Christ in the wilderness; and the Eternal Word Himself shows us His teaching running through the warp and woof of human life. He bids us understand, that, as the Word, He has not only made the world, but inspired its religious teaching from the beginning, and that in His earthly mission He is binding His truths together and adding to them; establishing the law of grace upon the written law of Moses, which in turn rests upon the law of nature. The Saviour tells us unmistakably that His whole thought is for His Church--He would re-consecrate it, and with superb additions, make it the wonder of the world; from the scattered fragments build up a New Jerusalem. He seems to murmur to His Church in the words of the Prophet Isaias, "O poor little ones, tossed with tempest without all comfort, behold I will lay thy stones in order, and will lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy bulwarks of jasper; and thy gates of graven stones, and all thy borders of desirable stones. All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children."
The Church, in the strict and ordinarily accepted sense, is a visible society of men professing the same faith and governed by legitimately appointed pastors under the Roman Pontiff. The end for which this society was instituted is the eternal salvation of its members.
THE CHURCH IS A VISIBLE SOCIETY
Many have denied that Christ's Church is a real society, a society of men banded together for a distinct object, the salvation of their souls. It has been and is claimed that the Church consists of those who believe in Christ, and that no visible organization is necessary.
Now an invisible Church on earth is a contradiction in terms. As well speak of an invisible kingdom in our midst with ruler and subjects invisible, following laws that are inscribed on invisible tablets and holding inaudible converse one with the other. Abstractions are very good and very useful in the mental world, in metaphysics and even in science, but we dismiss them summarily in the practical affairs of every-day life and what so practical, so removed from mere abstractions, as religion, which is to influence each word and act, and influence them for eternity? Christ manifesting Himself to the world did not communicate Himself as an idea, or an emotion, or an inspiration to the minds and hearts of men, as He might have done; in fact as He did manifest Himself to the prophets of old. He could have been a spiritual influence dominating irresistibly a certain number of human beings, and through them guide the entire race. But He took to Himself a material body; spoke a language that men could understand; made Himself in every way a man, and employed ordinary methods of teaching and directing, ways that could be understood by all, simple and learned alike. Throughout His earthly life He insisted that His mission was to found a Church. He spoke of it in ways that His fellowmen could understand; called it a city, a kingdom, a vine. Is it probable that in establishing what He came to establish He would have given His followers to understand that He was to found a kingdom with explicit laws and ordinances, while He meant all along to be a mere influence, felt in widely differing ways by different people? That He would have no visible fellowship such as the world would know and recognize as such? Had He made Himself a visible bridegroom that He might espouse an invisible bride? Christ is not only God, a pure spirit "dwelling in light inaccessible," He is also Man with a humanity as real as that of any other child of Adam, and His Church must be a divine and human institution capable of being known and recognized by man as He Himself was known. "All power is given to me in heaven and earth." We must not forget that His power must still be exercised on earth and exercised in a way to be understood of men, that is, by laws and ordinances, and through representatives.
THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH
The establishment of His Church engaged the mind of our Saviour during His whole life upon earth. The thirty years of His hidden life were years fruitful of divine teaching for His Church. Then it was that He laid broad and deep those foundations of spirituality on which the superstructure of Christianity must be erected. Humility, obedience, poverty, meekness, gentleness, and charity, all of which the world regarded as badges of ignominy little short of criminal, He during those thirty years demonstrated to be virtues. In the most practical, the most vivid way, He taught mankind their value. He lived them in His daily life, knowing that every phase of that life would be the subject of reverent study, and its lessons the guide of unborn ages. The years of His public ministry He devoted to the teaching body of the Church and to the unfolding of certain fundamental doctrines of faith. In His death He gave the central dogma of His Church, the Redemption. In the Resurrection, He proved the divinity of His mission, His right to found a Church, and thus put the seal of His divinity upon the moral and dogmatic teaching that He had given. In the interval between His Resurrection and Ascension, He gave definite organization to His Church. And since it is the artist's final touches that seem to give distinctive life and character to his work, so these last quick, sure touches of the Master are looked upon as the creative touches that brought the Church into being. We are apt to forget the long years of waiting and of effort that He passed in Nazareth and Galilee slowly fashioning His life work, laying the foundation of that moral and dogmatic teaching which is to outlast time itself.
In establishing the teaching body of His Church, selecting the Apostles, our Lord's manner of acting may be summed up in the words of St. Paul: "The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men." The establishment of God's Church illustrates more clearly perhaps than aught else God's mysterious workings, whereby He chooses the base things of this world to confound the mighty, and the things that are not, to bring to naught the things that are.
In selecting His messengers, our Lord did not turn to the learned or powerful, but went among the poor and illiterate of Judea. He collected about Him a number of disciples, men in no way distinguished. These He instructed carefully, and when the time was come to make choice of the twelve, who were to share His priestly office and be the channels of spiritual life to His Church, "He went into a mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in communion with God. And when day was come, He called unto Him His disciples, and He chose twelve of them whom He called apostles."
The wise of this world, if they intended to set on foot some great movement to establish some world influencing society, would patiently and carefully select men renowned for intellect, for training, for wealth and for influence. Would we not consider them mad if they went to the water-front of one of our seaport towns and chose, from among the fishermen and the dock-laborers, the founders of an epoch-making organization? If some great philosopher should appoint as the doctors of his system --men whose duty it would be to change the world's intellectual thought--twelve comparatively unlettered men, timid and awkward by character and by training, would we not consider him as obsessed by folly? And unquestionably such would be the case, for in the things of the world the world's weapons and approved instruments should be used. In founding His Church, however, the Saviour looked to the spiritual fitness of His messengers in the great spiritual revolution which He contemplated, intellectual acumen, culture, and personal influence were not the things desired. He looked for men whose souls were a fitting soil from which the grace of the Holy Spirit might bring forth the fruit of eternal truth and life; men in whom the virtues which He wished to place at the foundation of His edifice--humility, poverty, self-sacrifice and simplicity--had already an abiding place. Though the world was very wise with its own wisdom and very cultured, it was yet a world steeped in ignorance regarding the things of the spirit. Systems of philosophy it knew, and literary perfection it had long ago attained, but of the knowledge of the true God and His claims upon the human heart it had not learned even the elements. God always selects fitting instruments, and in selecting His Apostles He weighed the requirements of means to end. A spiritual work needed spiritual men, men unwarped by false philosophies, untainted by corrupting pleasures, and such men were to be found only in the lower walks of life.
Again, a world-conquest by poor and ignorant fishermen would be a miracle that would astound the minds of all thinking people. They would be obliged to recognize that some great force was behind it all, and since the work was the spiritual reformation of humanity this force must of necessity, they would say, be divine.
Another reason for our Saviour's selection we find in the fact that His is the Church of the poor. One of the signs of His Messianic mission was His preaching of the Gospel to the poor, His care of the despised and neglected children of His Father, and no argument could appeal more powerfully to them than the great fact that the leaders in Christ's Church were of themselves.
The Saviour's message, too, of itself, went straight to the heart of humanity. It required no scientific training, no keen natural ability. It addressed itself not to this nationality nor to that, not to one class rather than to another, but as man to man. Coming in these very earthen vessels, it met man just as he was, stripped of ornaments and advantages, and it spoke to his heart, spoke to his conscience, "spoke from God to the God-like within him," spoke as a man speaking to his brother. Christ's choice of His Apostles was also in perfect harmony with His message and His life. His own life and especially His death on the Cross were to destroy utterly all distinctions of race, of station, and of class. The Captain to whom the world was summoned to give allegiance, the King who bade all men become His subjects, was a poor artisan of a poor village of a despised nation. So the folly of God evident in the life and in the death of the Saviour, and most evident in His manner of establishing the Church, was wiser than men, and the things that were not--poverty, humility and self-denial--brought to naught the pride and pomp and pleasure of this world, the only things that were heretofore of supreme importance.
With all His preparation, notwithstanding the foundations laid in the young years of obscurity, the lessons taught during His public life, the prayerful choice of His Apostles and their training, the end was not yet.
Carefully and tenderly had He fashioned the fair body of His Church from the clay of humanity, tempered it with His blood; it was still but a body, fair but lifeless, beautiful but barren. It must abide nine days in the darkness of retirement, in the quickening solitude of prayer, until on the morning of Pentecost the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, breathes into it, and the bride of Christ "that cometh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army in battle array," stands revealed.
THE CHURCH IS A LIVING ORGANISM
We have been considering the Church as an organized society, divinely appointed, and such it is; but we must not let these theological and historical considerations hide the fact that it is a living organism. In thinking of the Church we must not picture it as some vast power which imposes duties upon us and speaks down to us. The Saviour should not be regarded as having introduced His Church to the world and then allowing it to work its own way. It is an error to think only of what Christ's coming was to the ancient world. The pouring of that fresh and living stream into the arid wastes of human history, when the garden which God had made beautiful by His planting was turning into a parched desert of heathenism, did not cease with our Lord's departure from the earth, nor with the death of the Apostles. In the Church is the living Christ; in the Church is all the power of the Holy Spirit; in the Church is all the tenderness of the heavenly Father, and this Triune source of life is with us now in all the affairs of our workaday world. From it flows spiritual life into the very heart of humanity and human society; life into our governments, life into our commerce, life into the training of families, life into every individual soul; and consequently God and His Divine Son are as much in our daily lives as in the lives of the early Christians, the Saviour is as closely united to every man, woman, and child in His Church as He was to John who laid his head upon the Master's bosom, or to Mary, who bathed His feet in her tears. Christ then is something more than the mere Founder of His Church. He pours His own life into it, for it is His body. He did not stay apart and lay its cornerstone and rear its structure outside of Himself. He rather put it forth from His own Sacred Heart; and giving it the Indwelling Spirit, the Paraclete, took up His constant abode on earth in the life of those who love Him and obey His commandments.
His coming was the beginning of the divine life upon earth as St. John says, "The bread of God is He who cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." How intimate is that union between the active member of Christ's Church and the Head! "I am the vine, ye are the branches"; "I in you and you in me."
This, then, is what the Church should mean to us; a living union with Christ, feeling His precious blood flowing through our souls from His Sacraments; our hearts and minds throbbing in unison with the heart and the mind of the Eternal Word.
We should indeed be grateful to Christ, not only for His life and death, but likewise for the gift of His Church. Our gratitude should be practical and show itself by reverent obedience to the commands of that Church with whom Christ dwells all the days of her life even to the consummation of the world. We may then look forward to that day when we will pass from the ranks of the Church militant to those of the Church triumphant, to reign with Christ our head forevermore. Amen.
Music: Tu es Petrus by Palestrina
And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.--Matt. 16: 18-20Catholic Commentary from the Douay-Rheims Bible:
Thou art Peter: As St. Peter, by divine revelation, here made a solemn profession of his faith of the divinity of Christ; so in recompense of this faith and profession, our Lord here declares to him the dignity to which he is pleased to raise him: viz., that he to whom he had already given the name of Peter, signifying a rock, St. John 1. 42, should be a rock indeed, of invincible strength, for the support of the building of the church; in which building he should be, next to Christ himself, the chief foundation stone, in quality of chief pastor, ruler, and governor; and should have accordingly all fulness of ecclesiastical power, signified by the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
Upon this rock: The words of Christ to Peter, spoken in the vulgar language of the Jews which our Lord made use of, were the same as if he had said in English, Thou art a Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church. So that, by the plain course of the words, Peter is here declared to be the rock, upon which the church was to be built: Christ himself being both the principal foundation and founder of the same. Where also note, that Christ, by building his house, that is, his church, upon a rock, has thereby secured it against all storms and floods, like the wise builder, St. Matt. 7. 24, 25.
The gates of hell: That is, the powers of darkness, and whatever Satan can do, either by himself, or his agents. For as the church is here likened to a house, or fortress, built on a rock; so the adverse powers are likened to a contrary house or fortress, the gates of which, that is, the whole strength, and all the efforts it can make, will never be able to prevail over the city or church of Christ. By this promise we are fully assured, that neither idolatry, heresy, nor any pernicious error whatsoever shall at any time prevail over the church of Christ.
Loose upon earth: The loosing the bands of temporal punishments due to sins, is called an indulgence; the power of which is here granted.