Friday, November 14, 2008

The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic - Part I

I want to attempt to provide some reflections upon the nature of the Church, as it is expressed in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I have chosen to use the Compendium due to its brevity and the blog is usually best suited for brief articles. We will see if I can keep this brief!

The Catholic Church offers stability to me. This is one of the reasons I was compelled to seek union with the Catholic Church. I think I am not alone in the world, among people searching for security, stability, and a place to call home. The Catholic Church offers the world a place to rest in Christ, but to also work toward the conversion of the world. The Catholic Church is securely planted on the Chief Corner Stone we know as Jesus, the rock of St. Peter and his Spirit inspired confession, the foundation of the apostles, and we are united to them in the Church as living stones. What do we know about this Church?

“The Church is one because she has as her source and exemplar the unity of the Trinity of Persons in one God. As her Founder and Head, Jesus Christ re-established the unity of all people in one body. As her soul, the Holy Spirit unites all the faithful in communion with Christ. The Church has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope, and one and the same charity.”

The God of the Church is a perfect community which has existed from all eternity. We are created in the image of God, and we, by nature, reflect His nature, even in spite of our wounds suffered as a consequence of the Fall. Our unity with God and with one another was damaged by sin and death and Jesus came to restore our relationship with God and each other. The damage caused by sin is being reversed in Christ and His Church. The Holy Spirit unites all people in communion with Christ. The chief way in which this is accomplished is through the Sacraments of the Church. Everything we experience in Christ is relational.

"The one Church of Christ, as a society constituted and organized in the world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. Only through this Church can one obtain the fullness of the means of salvation since the Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone whose head is Peter. "

In the Catholic Church the totality of the faith is available to Christians. My experience has been that each Christian community I have been in prior to seeking union with the Catholic Church, affirms and believes many of the teachings of the Catholic Faith. Some stress particular elements of the faith (such as a particular sacrament, or Church government) while other areas of the faith are downplayed or neglected. In the Catholic Church the entire faith is expounded and affirmed as being the faith handed down from Jesus Christ. Jesus gave all authority and power in heaven and on earth to Peter and the other apostles. We see in the New Testament Christ specifically charging Peter with the task of feeding the sheep, and it is Peter who stands and leads the Church from the day of Pentecost. Communion with Peter is communion with the Church which Jesus established. Many communities of Christians have, for various reasons, separated from the Church. Partly this has been due to the fault of the Catholic Church and partly because of those who left. It is the duty of all Christians to seek unity again and restore the harmony which should exist among all Christians under protection of the shepherd of the sheep Peter.

"In the churches and ecclesial communities which are separated from full communion with the Catholic Church, many elements of sanctification and truth can be found. All of these blessings come from Christ and lead to Catholic unity. Members of these churches and communities are incorporated into Christ by Baptism and so we recognize them as brothers."

The Catholic Church is quick to point out what is good about those churches which are not in full communion with her. The members of these churches are Christians united to Christ, and united to Catholics, by the sacramental grace of new birth in Baptism. This is something to be cherished and praised. In light of the fact that these churches are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, it is recognized that many elements of truth and sanctification are found outside of the Catholic Church, among these churches and communities. These areas of commonality should serve as bridges which span the gap of schism and allow us to work toward full communion and restoration of relationships among brothers.

"The desire to restore the unity of all Christians is a gift from Christ and a call of the Spirit. This desire involves the entire Church and it is pursued by conversion of heart, prayer, fraternal knowledge of each other and theological dialogue."

Unity is not an option but an imperative. How should we strive to seek unity with all Christians? Conversion of heart is needed because often, though wrongly but understandably, the Catholic Church is not judged by her objective truth but by the sinful lives of some of her members. Catholics should strive for conversion of heart, and right living, so that other Christians may see and know that the claims of the Catholic Church are reflected in out lives. Prayer is a powerful means of change and it is a key ingredient toward Christian union and charity. Fraternal knowledge requires us to know one another, spend time with one another, and to seek to understand one another. Brotherly love and devotion is key. Theological dialog must occur between the Vatican and other churches, but theological dialog must also take place between individual Christians on the local level. It is easier to have theological dialog, which is productive and charitable, when the parties involved have already practiced the conversion of heart, prayer, and grown to know each other and served alongside one another.

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