Monday, February 13, 2012

God and His Church

(Book Study:  Ten Habits of Happy Mothers by Meg Meeker – Habit #3)

“To believe that the Church is “holy” and “catholic,” and that she is “one” and “apostolic,” is inseparable from belief in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 750

In this chapter, Meg makes two mistakes.  First, in an attempt to please everyone, she speaks in generalities which appeal to no one.  And second, she reinforces the misunderstanding that God and His Church are separable.  Now, I don’t think she makes these mistakes out of malice, but rather ignorance and fear.  I suspect, that like many of us, she received very poor catechesis as a child, and does not recognize the importance of the Church.  However, instead of seeking the truth from the Church herself, she decided to seek it within herself.  She may have Faith and be a member of the Church, but she doesn't appear to trust the Church as founded and protected by Jesus.  As a woman who also finds that faith, hope, and trust don't come easily, I can empathize with her struggles, although I don't share her conclusions.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that God and His Church are inseparable.  So first, we need to understand Faith.  Through His Revelation (Scripture and Tradition), God has revealed Himself to us, and our response to this Revelation is what we call Faith.  “By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God.  With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer.” (CCC 143)  But Faith is different from other human knowledge and actions because it is a gift from God received through grace, hence it is more certain and true.  Faith is founded on the very word of God who, as Scripture tells us, can neither deceive nor be deceived.  In other words, It is not a belief or an opinion.  (See CCC 153-159)

To connect Faith with God and His Church, let us turn to our Creed.  “After confessing “the holy catholic Church,” the Apostles’ Creed adds “the communion of saints.”  In a certain sense this article is a further explanation of the preceding:  “What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?”  The communion of saints is the Church.”  (CCC 946, emphasis added)  “The word “Church” means “convocation.”  It designates the assembly of those whom God’s Word “convokes,” i.e., gathers together to form the People of God, and who themselves, nourished with the Body of Christ, become the Body of Christ.”  (CCC 777)  The Church is certainly the assembly of the followers of Christ.  But it is more.  “The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and men.”   (CCC 780, emphasis added)  God has big plans for the Church, because it is not simply a gathering of people, but rather it is the path of drawing all people to Him.  At Baptism, we are “freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.”  (CCC 1213, emphasis added)  Baptism is not, however, the end, but only a beginning.  “Baptism is the sacrament of faith.  But faith needs the community of believers.  It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe.”  (CCC 1253, emphasis added)  In God’s divine plan, the Church is essential for the salvation of each member.  “All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:  Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the (Second Vatican)  Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation:  the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church.  He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door.”  (CCC 846)

The faith of the Church precedes the faith of each member.  “It is the Church that believes first, and so bears, nourishes, and sustains my faith.  Everywhere, it is the Church that first confesses the Lord . . . It is through the Church that we receive faith and new life in Christ by Baptism.”  (CCC 168)  Abraham did not come to believe on his own, but rather God chose to reveal Himself to Abraham.  Abraham was entrusted with the Revelation of God, and instructed to share it.  “Because he was “strong in his faith,” Abraham became the “father of all who believe.”  (CCC 146)  Likewise the Apostles did not come to Faith by themselves; they had been taught by others, especially by Jesus who chose to reveal to them the fullness of the Faith.  The Apostles in turn were not to keep this Faith to themselves, but rather to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  (Mtt 28:19)  “Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips.  In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men.”  (CCC 75)  The Faith is handed on from father to son, from mother to daughter, from one generation to the next.  We are members of this amazing Church because someone else heard and accepted God’s Revelation and shared it with us.  Of course, it is not as simple as hearing the Good News; we must choose to accept it as well.  And it is not enough to accept it for ourselves; we are expected to share it with others.       

I want to make a connection here with the Liturgy.  Through the liturgical year, we re-live the mysteries of our salvation.  And in doing so, we also learn the doctrine of the Church.  I think Scott Hahn says it well:  “In the course of the liturgical year, Christians receive repeated exposure to the major events of salvation history.  The lectionary orders the Church’s readings – Old Testament foreshadowing and New Testament fulfillment – for proclamation at Mass.  The celebration of the other rites – sacraments and sacramentals – applies the same pattern to the course of a lifetime.  Because of the lectionary’s unfolding, the weeks, the seasons, and the years tell a unified, continuous story, and in the process, teach doctrine.”  (Signs of Life pp 54-55)  In addition, the liturgical and sacramental tradition of the Church is an indispensable tool for building the community.  Through our practice of the Catholic sacraments and traditions, we not only re-live the events of our salvation, but we create a culture that is common to all Catholics.  This culture nourishes the Sacramental (or Catholic) Imagination by providing us with a living Faith. In the Apostles’ Creed, we profess our belief that the Church is “one.”  This word “one” signifies our belief in the unity of the Church.  And this unity is real and visible.  “(The) unity of the pilgrim Church is . . . assured by visible bonds of communion:  profession of one faith received from the Apostles; common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments; apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family.” (CCC 815)  In our Profession of Faith, and in our practice of Faith, we witness to the unity of the Church.

So, I conclude now with this question:  How can we build a community that is faithful to God’s design for His Church? 

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