Category Archives: Church

Sacramental Momentum

At the beginning of his extended treatise on the Eucharist in the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas draws a parallel between our corporeal lives and our spiritual lives that helps explain the inner logic of the Sacraments.  Specifically he says “the spiritual life is analogous to the corporeal, since corporeal things bear a resemblance to spiritual. Now it is clear that just as generation is required for corporeal life, since thereby man receives life; and growth, whereby man is brought to maturity: so likewise food is required for the preservation of life. Consequently, just as for the spiritual life there had to be Baptism, which is spiritual generation; and Confirmation, which is spiritual growth: so there needed to be the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is spiritual food” (ST III, q.73, a.1).  While it is certainly a clever way to teach about the need for the Sacraments, to see it as only that would be to miss an important analogical corollary; one that has practical applications for our apostolic approach to those in various stages of conversion.

In mitigating the factions that had arisen within the Corinthian community, St. Paul reminds them of his (and our) role in the conversion of others.  It is by way of cooperation that we participate in the conversion of another, but it is ultimately God Who provides the growth (c.f. 1Cor 3:6-7).  We all intuitively grasp this and realize that our role is secondary (at best) and that only through grace does another person “grow to the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13).  Nothing new has been said so far.  But how that growth is provided is not at all intuitive.  In fact we might be tempted to think it is a mystery and only according to God’s good pleasure.  As Catholics we do know that there is one sure way that God causes growth—through the Sacraments.

 

Sacramental Inertia

This is where St. Thomas’ analogy between our corporeal lives and our spiritual lives fits in.  The analogy is not just about the inner logic of the Sacraments themselves but also represent a progression in our Spiritual lives.  Just as a living person has a natural drive toward food, the person who has been born again in Baptism has a supernatural drive to feed on the Bread of Life.  Just as the child who has been born and has nourished his life with food desires to grow up, so too in the Spiritual life there is a supernatural desire for Confirmation.  What St. Thomas doesn’t say, but which is implied, is that this supernatural desire is contained as a grace within the Sacraments.  Baptism leads to a desire for the Eucharist.  Baptism and the Eucharist lead to a desire for Confirmation.  Baptism and Confirmation lead to an increased desire for the Eucharist.  Each reception of the Eucharist leads to a more fervent desire for the Eucharist itself.  And so, through this analogy we see that within the Sacraments there are graces pushing the recipient towards the other Sacraments, most especially towards the “source and summit” in the Eucharist.  It is like Newton’s first law applied to the Spiritual life—that which is set in motion in Baptism stays in motion through the other Sacraments.

Like all theological truths, this (super)natural progression also has practical consequences, one which we ought to make profit of in our apostolic endeavors.  If we know that an infallible means of growth is the Sacraments and follow St. Paul’s model then we ought to push others towards the Sacraments.  When we meet someone who does not know God at all and is unbaptized, our focus ought to be to lead them to the Baptismal font.  Why?  Because the grace of conversion contains within itself a desire to be baptized.  If the person is Baptized, then our focus ought to be on pushing them towards Confession and the Eucharist.  Why?  Because the Baptized person is already being inwardly pushed towards those Sacraments.  They may not be able to identify the specific impulses, but they will know them when they see them.    Lukewarm Catholic already in communion with the Church?  Push them towards Jesus in the Eucharist Who is the fire that will set ablaze the most lukewarm of hearts.

I knew of a man who did nothing else but invite his Protestant friends to Eucharistic Adoration.  He reasoned that if his Protestant friends really knew Jesus, they would recognize Him when they met Him in the monstrance.  It might not happen immediately, but in many of the cases they kept going with him until it did.  If Jesus is really there, and He is, then it is hard to find a flaw in this approach.

Applying the Law Sacramental Inertia

Our apostolic endeavors are only effective insofar as we cooperate with grace already working interiorly in the person.  By making use of this principle of Sacramental Inertia we are assured that we are on the same page as the Holy Spirit.  The Sacraments become a sort of apostolic blueprint that represent a goal.  In Latin, the Mass ends with Ite Missa Est, literally “she is sent,” meaning that we are sent out into the world to bring others back with us.  Like John the Baptist our goal is simply to point out and bring others to Jesus.  If we really believe the Sacraments are what the Church teaches they are, we will make them our apostolic goals.

One last point merits our attention as well, especially if it seems that the picture I have painted is overly simplistic.  It is no coincidence that the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist (and Confession), as next steps are also the biggest obstacles.  The principle of Sacramental Inertia is not foreign to mankind’s greatest spiritual foe.  They are either mocked by direct attack, counterfeited or else indirectly attacked by attacking the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  We should be constantly aware that the last thing the Devil wants is for a non-Catholic to begin a Sacramental life and he will do all that he can to impede that.  Our approach, when not leavened with prayer and sacrifice, will always become mere apologetics.  The Sacraments are the greatest treasure of the Church and we must always recognize that sharing these gifts is our apostolic goal.

The Power of Pentecost

Within the Jewish Liturgical Year, there were seven major feasts, three of which were considered “major feasts” and were commanded as times when the males were to “appear before the Lord God” in Jerusalem (c.f. Exodus 23:14-17).  These three major feasts were the feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year, and the harvest festival.  The Harvest festival, or the Feast of Weeks was to occur on the fiftieth day after Passover (there was some disagreement among the Pharisees and Sadducees as to when the actual feast was to be celebrated).  In later antiquity, it would come to be as Pentecost (Greek for “fiftieth”) by the Greek-speaking Jews.  It was for the celebration of this feast that many Jews from throughout the world (Parthians, Medes, Mesopotamian, Egyptians, etc. as listed in Acts 2:9-10) had gathered when the Holy Spirit was finally manifest on that day.

This helps to explain why so many were gathered on that day in Jerusalem to witness the power from on high, but it does not necessarily explain why it had to be that feast day.  In other words, why was it that the Jewish Feast of Weeks found its fulfillment on Pentecost?

A word first about the concept of “fulfillment.”  When we hear this term used, there is a tendency to think “it had to happen that day in order to fulfill the meaning of Pentecost.”  In short, we can think that the purpose of Pentecost was to fulfill the Feast of Weeks.  Thinking in these terms there is a danger of thinking that the Feast of Weeks is obsolete and now only Pentecost matters.  Properly understood though we should attempt to see things the other way around.  The purpose of the Feast of Weeks was to make Pentecost understandable.  It may no longer be efficacious, but it is not devoid of meaning.  God was so demanding in the rubrics surrounding the Jewish liturgy because He wanted them to act as clear signs of the thing they were pointing to.  The Jews gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost would have recognized what was happening and were instantly moved upon hearing Peter’s explanation.  But Pentecost was not just for them.  By deepening our own understanding of the Feast of Weeks, we can enter more fully into the celebration and join those first Christians in being “cut to the heart.”

This challenge of deepening our understanding of the Jewish celebrations is echoed in the Catechism:

A better knowledge of the Jewish people’s faith and religious life as professed and lived even now can help our better understanding of certain aspects of Christian liturgy…The relationship between Jewish liturgy and Christian liturgy, but also their differences in content, are particularly evident in the great feasts of the liturgical year, such as Passover. Christians and Jews both celebrate the Passover. For Jews, it is the Passover of history, tending toward the future; for Christians, it is the Passover fulfilled in the death and Resurrection of Christ, though always in expectation of its definitive consummation. (CCC 1096, emphasis added)

In ancient Israel, the Feast of Weeks was a harvest festival in which loaves of bread were offered to the Lord as a gift of the first fruits (a minor Jewish festival celebrated just after the Feast of Unleavened Bread).  It was accompanied by sacred rest and sacrifices (see Num 28:26-31).  It was by the death of the grains of wheat, the first fruits of the wheat that the bread was to be baked.   This grain then takes on the value of a sign of the One Whom “God raised up” (Acts 2:32).  As the definitive sacrifice, He ascended to heaven where God received Him and showed His approval by pouring out His Spirit by a strongly felt sign (Acts 2:33).  Rising on the day after Passover, that is the feast of first fruits, Christ is “the first fruits of those who have died” (1Cor 15:20).

The Feast of Weeks

By this powerful sign, the Apostles now become the harvesters.  And on this day, the harvest is great, drawing 3000 souls to the Lord.  This number is far from arbitrary and it would immediately bring to mind the other aspect of the Feast of Weeks, namely that it was to be marked as a time to remember the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai.

While God was giving the Law to Moses, the Israelites fashioned the Golden Calf.  In response, the Levites were commanded “’Each of you put your sword on your hip! Go back and forth through the camp, from gate to gate, and kill your brothers, your friends, your neighbors!’ The Levites did as Moses had commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people fell” (Ex 32:27-28).  Spiritually inebriated, the Apostles, that is the priestly successors to the Levites, will put to death the flesh of those 3000 souls, each of which will follow the law because it is written not in stone, but on their hearts (Jer 31:33).

The giving of the Law was the initiation of the Old Covenant.  This indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the Faithful that will become the sign of the new Covenant, that is Baptism.  Those who are claimed for Christ, the 3000, do as Peter told them— “repent and be baptized” so that they “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

The giving of the Law as part of the Old Covenant also formed Israel as the People of God—that is the visible Kingdom of God on earth.  At Pentecost, the Church becomes the Kingdom of God that is open to all people.  This understanding helps bring clarity to the somewhat random question and ambiguous response Our Lord gives to the Apostles when, just prior to His Ascension, they ask “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” to which He replies that they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:6,8).

The Spirit of Pentecost

All of this remains mere proof-texting unless we allow the effects of Pentecost to be felt in our day.  So many within the Church speak of waiting for a “New Pentecost” in which the power of the Holy Spirit will be made manifest once again.  But there will be no “New Pentecost” because Pentecost was not a single event, but one that was to last perpetually.  The Jews celebrated the different festivals not merely to remind them of the past, but to make the past somehow present to them so that they could participate in it.  The Feast of Weeks was a time for recalling and renewing the Old Covenant and Pentecost ought to be a time that we consciously renew our participation in the New Covenant.

The first way that this should be done is through a renewed focus on our baptismal commitment to offer spiritual sacrifices unceasingly to Christ.  Likewise, we should renew our commitment to the graces of Confirmation, that is when we received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and march to the Front in the battle to win souls.  Offering Mass for the grace to live those two Pentecostal Sacraments to their fullest would be a worthy intention.

Pentecost is often referred to as the birthday of the Church.  With this in mind, a second way to live Pentecost is to do what we all do at all birthday celebrations—show gratitude for the gift of the person and offer a gift to pay our debt of gratitude.  We can often take for granted the gift of the Church and how much easier it makes our lives.  Yes, we have to deal with the human elements, that is the weeds among the wheat, but the guidance that her teaching office gives us can save us from making a lot of mistakes.  She speaks to nearly every aspect of our lives and offers us a sure port amidst the storms of life.  Amidst a culture in which we are “tossed to and fro by every wave of false doctrine,” there is great comfort knowing we have a place to go for the Truth.  By renewing our efforts to form ourselves in her teachings, to be docile to the truth and proclaim it loudly, we can pay the debt of our gratitude.  We are the new harvesters in the long line of harvesters known as the Communion of Saints.  Pray then, this Pentecost, that the Master of the Harvest will send more out into the fields, priests, and laity alike.

Separation of Church and State?

In a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association written on New Year’s Day in 1802, President Jefferson wrote what, especially in recent times, has become his most often quoted words.  In offering an interpretation of the First Amendment he said,

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State” (emphasis added).

The Catholic Church invents the Separation of Church and State

Jefferson was offering nothing novel.  Christians have been preaching the separation of Church and State for millennia.  If we look at the great cultures throughout history, the idea of a separation between the State and Religious powers was anathema.  Whether it was Egypt or Rome, the Emperors were believed to be gods themselves and religious veneration was due to them.  When Christ uttered His famous “render unto Caesar,” He did so in a culture in which Caesar thought himself divine and the High Priest or Pontifex Maximus of the official Roman pagan religion.  This was the norm throughout the ancient world, except for a single country—Israel.  In Israel, the role of king was distinct from either the priests or the prophets.  The first king, Saul, was anointed by the Prophet Samuel (1Samuel 10) and even King David himself was beholden to the Prophet Nathan who accused him of murder.

Christians have always interpreted Christ’s admonition to “render unto Caesar” as a call to keep this Jewish tradition of separating the governance of the State from the governance of the Church.  On the one hand, we can see why Our Lord thought this necessary simply by looking at man’s nature as both spirit and body.  We live two distinct, although related lives—temporal and eternal.  His utterance baptizes these two distinct powers to govern each of the lives.  Like the body and soul, there is a certain precedence of the spiritual governance over the temporal governance, but still the two should work in a complementary fashion.

Why We Need the Separation

Why the Church and State should remain distinct is not entirely clear until we add into the mix man’s fallen nature.  As an effect of man’s prodigious fall, the body tends to drag the soul down and corrupt it.  When the Church and the State are essentially one, it is the Church bears the brunt of it.  History reveals this repeatedly, especially if we look to the Middle Ages, culminating in Henry VIII’s foundation of the Church of England.  The circumstances may change but the Church always becomes corrupt when it gets too closely tied to the temporal power.

To use an American parlance, the Church/State distinction is a form of checks and balances.  The temporal authority, because he is first and foremost is trying to save his own soul in addition to his subjects, is always subservient to the Church.  The Church would, in turn, make itself the servant of the Imperium in her conduct of temporal affairs.  Each serves to keep the other in line—when the Church oversteps her bounds and gets too caught up in temporal affairs, the State is there to remind her of her mission to souls.  When the State oversteps its bounds and puts the souls of its residents at stake, the Church is there to remind it of its proper place.  While this practice may have been abused, the power of the Pope to excommunicate a rogue Christian King was very effective in bringing about conditions that were good for the soul.

When the two function in this way the citizens of the State thrive and are holy.  The culture becomes Christian, rather than a mere State that happens to have a majority of Christians in it.  The Church recognized the importance of building a Christian society—one in which being a Christian is made easier by the culture—and therefore worked out her understanding of Church/State relations shortly after the time of Constantine.  Pope St. Gelasius I (492-496) who is often credited with “inventing” the separation of Church and State said:

“Christ, mindful of human fragility had discerned between the functions of each power… His reason for so doing was twofold. On the one hand, it is written that no one warring for God should be entangled with secular things. The raison d’être of the royal power was to relieve the clerics of the burden of having to care for their carnal and material wants. For the temporal necessities the pontiffs indeed need the emperors, so that they can devote themselves to their functions properly and are not distracted by the pursuit of these carnal matters, but the emperors, Christian as they are, need the pontiffs for the achievement of eternal salvation.”

The Jefersonian Distinction

Even if Jefferson did not invent the notion of the Separation of Church and State, he did endorse an important twist to it.  What was new about Jefferson’s position—which was subsequently read into the Constitution by Justice Hugo Black—was his belief that a wall of separation had to be erected.  In other words, he thought Church and State should remain completely separate.

Returning to the analogy of the human person, you can no more put a wall of separation between the Church and State than you can between the soul and the body.  To sever the one from the other leads to death—be it the death of the person or of society as a whole.

When the complementary role of Church and State is denied, the State will go unchecked in its power.  When the State finds no authority above it then it simply does as it sees fit without any regard to the moral law or the eternal salvation of its citizens.  In order to pull this off though the State needs to promote “bread and circuses” to keep the populace from focusing on their souls.  The “bread and circuses” can take various forms, but the form of choice today is sexual license.  It is not as if the Church merely disappears in this setting.  The State sets up a new Church, one that is merged with the State.  In other words, when you set up a “wall of separation” it will always end up merging the two.

 

Return of the Church-State of Paganism

Much of the West is returning to paganism in the form of liberalism, worshipping the god of freedom.  Like all pagan gods, it demands child sacrifice, even if is cleaner this time because it is done in utero.  Its churches are universities (really all public schools) and its high priests are the judges.  The State will “tolerate” other religions and grant “freedom of worship” but any public expression, especially when it comes in conflict with the State Religion, will not be tolerated.   The Little Sisters of the Poor may have ultimately won their lawsuit, but that is only a harbinger of things to come.  The next battle will likely come for not complying with the demands of the law for gay marriage.  You must be willing to profess the new pagan creed which many Catholics, even bishops and priests, have shown themselves willing to do.

This is really a project of the Enlightenment, it simply took a few centuries for the Christian roots of Western society to actually die out.  Those roots are now, for all intents and purposes, dead.  We are living in Rome in reverse and the only way we can act redemptively is the way of the Church—martyrdom or an appearance by Our Lady.  Throughout history those are the only two ways that a society has been saved from the clutches of paganism.  Let us pray that as we ready ourselves for the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima that it is the latter.

Spiritual and Religious

“I am spiritual, but not religious.” It has become the fastest growing religious affiliation.  So popular is it, that it now has its own acronym—SBNR.  Its appeal is that it supposedly frees its adherents from the trappings of organized religion so that they may become more “spiritual.”  What it means to be more “spiritual” remains a mystery because any formal dogma or Creed would signal its death knell.  Usually it is about “connecting to God within.”  Although the popularity of SBNR has grown, it is not something new.  In fact one could say it is the second oldest religion in the world, beginning when Lucifer decided that he too would spend eternity as spiritual but not religious.

Ultimately the fall of Lucifer and his minions was a permanent refusal to have any obligations towards God.  The eternal cry of the demons is “non serviam”—“I will not serve.”  They desire to be like God, but shun religion.  Although their fall was instantaneous, many of the adherents to SBNR slide in the same direction—many not realizing what they are agreeing to when they recite the SBNR mantra.

What is Religion?

Without a doubt, some of the issue has to do with vagaries surrounding the word religious.  The English word religion is derived from the Latin religare, to tie, fasten, bind, or relegere, to gather up or treat.  First and foremost, religion is the moral virtue that consists in giving to God the worship and service He deserves.  It is part of the virtue of justice which consists in rendering to each his due.  Because He is the Creator of all things and has supreme dominion, God in a singular way has a special service due to Him.  This service is worship.

Herein lies a source of confusion, namely why God creates us and then commands that we worship Him.  This is worth investigating because it is often an obstacle for the SBNR congregants.  We offer worship to God, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, not for His sake but for ours.  We cannot give to God anything He doesn’t already have.  Instead He creates us as rational creatures not just because we manifest His goodness or glory, but because we, among all visible creation, have the capacity to appreciate it.  In other words, we worship to both show our appreciation and to grow in the pleasure that His goodness brings to us.

The SBNRer may willingly concede that they do owe something to God in terms of worship, but they prefer to connect to God privately “in their souls.”  This ultimately stems from a denial of what we are as human beings.  As body/spirit composites, we are capable of both internal and external acts of religion.  In a certain sense the internal take precedence, but these internal acts can never be wholly free from the external and must be guided by them.

As human beings, our bodies and our spirits act in unison with each other.  That which is in the mind, must first have been in the senses.  You cannot perform a wholly interior act without also affecting the exterior.  Just the very thought of God or Jesus, invokes an image in our material imaginations.  We worship both from the inside-out and the outside in.  Our external acts of devotion effect our internal acts of devotion.  One is more likely to have increased devotion in their heart to God kneeling (an external sign of supplication) in front of a Crucifix than if they are staring at a blank wall sitting on a bed.

The implications of this are obvious.  There are some external acts that are better than others at increasing devotion.  This is certainly true in the subjective sense—we all have our favorite environments in which to pray—but it is also true in the objective sense.  God is equally present in the bathroom as He is in the chapel, but it is the chapel that has been consecrated (i.e. set aside) as a place of prayer that is objectively better than the bathroom.  This is why praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament is called Adoration.  You can adore God anywhere in spirit, but in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament that Adoration occurs in “spirit and truth.”

SBNR and Organized Religion

As you probe more deeply into the motives of the typical SBNRer, you will find that really what SBNR means is that “I am spiritual, but I loathe organized religion.”  They view religion as something wholly personal and subjective.  But if it is really true that we owe God worship and that certain forms of worship are better than others, then a loving Father would teach us what those forms are.  The history of mankind outside of, first Judaism and then Christianity, has been man groping for these forms.  Some of the forms were innocuous like offering incense to the local god, while others commanded human sacrifice.  God commands definitive forms of worship to keep us from falling into two equally dangers traps—one of defect and one of excess.

There is the trap that once we realize that worship is really for us, we will worship in a way most pleasing to ourselves.  This has not only led to the Non-denominational denomination with their mega-churches and “praise and worship services” worthy of a pep-rally, but also the pop music masquerading as liturgical music in Catholic churches.  The second trap is that of excess.   The truth is that no form of worship will ever feel adequate because no merely human form of worship is.  So we keep upping the ante so to speak leading to some of the religious atrocities we still see in certain cults and Middle Eastern religions.  We need God to tell us what is acceptable and what is not.

God does not merely tell us, but He comes and shows us.  Through the sacrifice of His Son, He shows us the most pleasing form of worship—the one act that is enough.  He gives us the power to make that sacrifice our own—both through Faith (subjective) and through the perpetuation of that same Sacrifice in the Sacrifice of the Mass (objective).  The One True Religion is the one that offers that Sacrifice because it is not just any organized religion but the Religion organized by the Holy Spirit Himself.

The Catholic Response to SBNR

SBNR is really a protest movement against religious tolerance. Properly understood, religious tolerance assumes that there is a true religion and that we are willing to tolerate some people who hold only part of that truth. Tolerance respects human freedom to discover the truth. But religious tolerance has come to mean that all religions are equal. If all religions really are the same, then why should I have anything to do with any of them? But, if one of them is different because it is true, then it does matter. As the One True Religion is only the Catholic religion that can lead the SBNR away from sliding down the Luciferian slope.

This claim to be the One True Faith may seem arrogant, but it is no more arrogant than the claim that 2+2=4.  It is a statement of truth and it is a truth that has been handed down to us.  I am not the inventor of my religion, but its grateful recipient.

The Inventor died to give this religion to me.  Before dying He deeded it to its caretakers.  As proof, notice the first time that Jesus mentions His suffering on the Cross—it is only after setting up the Church upon Peter the Rock that He tells of His redemptive death (c.f. Mt 16:18-21).  Those same caretakers wore martyrs’ crowns rather so that the Faith was passed on to me.  Thousands upon thousands of martyrs and confessors boldly preached that religion so that I would have it.  Now it is my turn and your turn to pass it on to the next generation.  We cannot hide our light under a bushel.  We should not apologize for being Catholic, but we should apologize for not being Catholic enough.  Only we can show SBNR what it means to truthfully and joyfully be spiritual AND religious.

The Keys of the Kingdom

Pope Pius XI thought that the best way to protect Christian culture was to promote the Kingship of Christ.  With that in mind, he promulgated the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 so that Christ would be venerated as King over all mankind. Certainly the Holy Father was attempting to stem the rising tide of secularism.  But he also had great concerns that many would lose sight of His Kingdom in our midst.  One cannot honor the King while at the same time ignoring His Kingdom.  But what exactly does this Kingdom look like?

Sacred Scripture acts as recorded history of God’s progressive revelation of His Kingdom.  Therefore we should expect an internal coherence that makes it unlike any other book.  This means is that the Old Testament should not be isolated or seen as somehow opposed to the New Testament.  It is the same God, progressively revealing Himself to mankind within a given historical context, until in the “fullness of time” He takes on flesh to fully reveal Himself.  The reverse is also true—no interpretation of the New Testament should be made without reference to the Old Testament.  The Catechism lists this principle, which it calls being “attentive  to the content and unity of the whole Scripture,” first among “three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it” (CCC 111-112).  It is this same principle that Luther had in mind when, in his commentary on the Psalms, he said “the Bible is its own interpreter.

If, when we encounter difficult passages, we allow Scripture to interpret itself by examining it for parallels, then we will find the passage interpreting itself.  In this regard, Matthew 16 is a great Kingdom text.  The passage commends to the astute reader two very important Old Testament texts.  Unless we are aware of them, we are likely to miss what Jesus was actually doing when He declared Peter to be the Rock upon which He would build His Church.Peter Keys

First, it must be admitted that Jesus intended to form a kingdom.  St. Gabriel announces Him to Mary as a king, “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33).  Likewise, it is the accusation of kingship that is leveled against Jesus and against which He defends Himself against Pilate saying although He is a King, His Kingdom “did not belong to this world” (John 18:36).

Even though it did not belong to this world, anyone who reads the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13 knows that knows that we should expect to find the Kingdom of Heaven present in this world.  St. Gabriel gives us the interpretive key to recognizing the Kingdom in the world when he tells us that He will inherit the throne of David.  In other words, the Kingdom of God is prefigured by the kingdom of David.  The Davidic monarch was “the Lord’s anointed” (the literal meaning of the word Christ) who is the adopted son of God (Ps 2:7) and is the only human kingdom to enjoy the privilege of being founded upon a covenant (2 Sam 7:8-16); all of which point to Jesus.  But the Davidic Kingdom also has roles of administration in it for both the Queen Mother (1 Kings 2:19-20) and the Royal Steward (1 Kgs 4:6).  If Jesus really is the King, sitting on the throne of David, then we should expect those administrative roles to be filled.

How would one recognize the royal steward or “over the household” in the Davidic Kingdom? He would be the one on whom the king had bestowed his keys.  In Isaiah 22:15-22, we find an example of this:

Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: What have you to do here and whom have you here that you have hewn here a tomb for yourself, you who hew a tomb on the height, and carve a habitation for yourself in the rock?  Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you, and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master’s house.  I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station.  In that day I will call my servant Eli’akim the son of Hilki’ah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.  And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

The royal steward, Shebna, is being thrust from his office and is being replaced by Eliakim.  Eliakim will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah and will be given the key to the house of David as a sign of his authority.

One cannot help but see the parallels between this passage and Matthew 16:19 where Jesus tells Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  As the rightful heir to the Davidic Kingdom, Jesus is appointing His royal steward by bestowing upon him as a sign of investiture the keys to the Kingdom.  These keys are no mere symbol but carry with them an authority (binding and loosing are legal terms) to act on behalf of the King.

joseph_reunited_with_his_brothers

What were the limits to the authority of the royal steward?  Turning to the second important text,  Genesis 41:40, we can see that Joseph, Pharaoh’s royal steward, is given absolute power with only the limitation of the throne itself.  He was not the King and all his authority came from the King, but still his authority was absolute.  Christ the King likewise gave Peter such authority when He said whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  The difference of course is that in the case of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus offers divine protection to Peter against making any errors which is why we say that Peter was infallible in his office as royal steward or “father to the inhabitants” of the Kingdom of Heaven (the title Pope or Papa is just Italian for father).

Although this seems obvious from what has been said so far, it bears mention that the power rested not with the person holding the office of steward, but with the office itself.  This means that there was succession in the office.  Recall that Shebna is being replaced in his office by Eliakim and the keys that symbolized the office were passed along as well.

In short, it is the Church that is the Kingdom of God in our midst.  The Second Vatican Council calls the Church “the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery” and “strains toward the completed kingdom” (LG 15).  It is Christ who rules from His Eucharistic throne and the successor of Peter, the Pope that acts as His royal steward.  You cannot have the King while simultaneously rejecting His kingdom.

The Holy Catholic Church–Really?

Of all the distinguishing marks of the Church, the Church’s holiness is perhaps the hardest to reconcile with reality.  The Church’s history is riddled with scandals and scoundrels.  Even to this day, the enemies of the Church use this as a weapon to discredit the Church.  Those who might otherwise be open to the Truth found only in the Catholic Church cannot seem to get over the scandals.  Yet, the Church’s members profess boldly that we believe in “the Holy Catholic Church.”  Are we merely delusional or is there something more to this belief than meets the eye?  If we are to both profess and defend this mark of the Church, then it is necessary that we understand exactly what this means.

Sacred Scripture describes the Church in a number of ways, two of which are especially helpful in understanding the holiness of the Church.  The first is the Kingdom of God.  So important is this concept that Jesus speaks about perhaps more than any other topic in His preaching.  In describing His Kingdom He anticipates the problem of scandals that would come from the community of His disciples (such as good wheat growing with tares, etc.).  Even His handpicked Apostolic College contains Judas, so we must view scandals and scoundrels as somehow part of the Divine plan for the Church.

It is St. Paul’s image of the Church as the Body of Christ that helps us to best see how the Church is holy.  The Church has attached the term “Mystical” to it in order to distinguish it from Christ’s physical body.  It is the richness of the notion of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ that helps us to view the Church in the manner Christ intended.

At the close of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes a rather puzzling promise to the Apostles.  After commissioning them to make disciples, baptize and teach, He says “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).  What Matthew omits is just as important as what he does say.  He makes no mention of the Ascension like the other Synoptic Gospels.  To make this promise and then present Jesus as leaving would make Jesus’ presence very difficult to believe.  Instead Matthew wants to emphasize that Jesus remains until the end of time.

This enduring presence is no mere spiritual presence.  Instead, it is a physical presence just like the Incarnation.  As proof of this, when St. Paul meets Our Lord on the road to Damascus, He asks the Apostle to the Gentiles “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).  He does not ask why Saul persecutes His followers, but His Person.  One cannot persecute a “spiritual person” but only one that is physically present.

Carvaggio Saul

It is no wonder then that St. Paul in his letters (especially to the Ephesians) uses this metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ in a way that suggests it is more than a metaphor.  For the Church is the extension of the Incarnation “until the end of the age.”  The Eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, took to Himself a new body on Pentecost.  This body, like the first one, is something physical and tangible.

To understand this more fully we have to see that the human nature He took to Himself was merely an instrument.  Making the invisible reality of God in our midst, visible, His human nature acted as a sign of this.  Just as He used the physical body to win our salvation, so too He will use His Mystical Body to extend the fruits of salvation through all time and space.

With the Church as the extension of the Incarnation through time and space, we can see that it suffers from the same problem that Our Lord did while He walked the earth in His flesh.  Many people saw Jesus as one man among others, even if they thought He was somehow special or wise.  So too some may view the Church as a merely one human institution among many; one Church among many.  Some saw Him as a prophet able to exercise great powers, yet they could not understand where He derived those powers from.  Likewise there are those who view the Church as an instrument of God, but still a merely human institution.  Finally there were those who looked upon Him with supernatural faith as the “the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).  So too there are those who see the Church through the eyes of faith as a profound mystery.

In other words, we err because we see the Church primarily as an institution and not an organism.  The Church is holy for the same reason the physical body of Christ was holy—because the Person who inhabits that body was holy.  Christ is the head of the Church not as a CEO, but as the head that sits upon a body, leading it around.  As an organism, there must be a bond between the head and the body which is a living soul.  That living soul in the Church is the Holy Spirit, Who is intrinsically holy and thus the “Lord and Giver of Life.”

Seeing the relationship between the Incarnation and the Church helps not only see the intrinsic holiness of the Church, but also how to deal with the sinful members.  During the Incarnation, Christ took upon Himself all human weakness but without any personal sin on His part.  The body He assumed to Himself was plagued by fatigue and thirst, collected dirt, and bled in the Garden.  It is therefore natural to assume that He would also allow weakness in the members of His Mystical Body.  He allows this weakness precisely for the same reason that He did during the Incarnation—by identifying Himself with sinners, He was able to comfort the afflicted.  It is the weakness in the members of the Mystical Body that allows Him likewise to eat with sinners in our day.

As an aside, we can also begin to see why the Church only considers those who have been baptized as members.  By sharing the soul of the Mystical Body through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a person becomes a member and instrument of Christ’s Body (1Cor 12:13).  Just as parts of a physical body may succumb to disease and no longer be able to properly act as members of the body, members of the Mystical Body may succumb to sin and no longer act as members.  And just as no one would attribute the actions of a diseased part of the body to the person, we do not attribute the sins of the members to the Personality of the Church.  Finally just as a body has varied means to heal diseased parts of the body, so too the Church has the same power because it is always the Person of Christ who acts, even if He uses other members of the body as instruments.

In conclusion we can see why someone who says the Church stands in the way of a relationship with Christ is just as wrong as the Jews who could not accept that God would take on weak human flesh.  The Church is Christ Himself, made visible, even in the weak members of His Body.  Just as in the Incarnation the actions of the human nature of Christ were attributed to God, so too in the Church because of the oneness with Christ, its actions are His actions.  The human elements, as weak as they are act as merely the instruments with which Christ continues to teach, govern and sanctify just as the human elements were instruments in the Incarnation.  As a true body, not only is the body visible, but it must have a visible head in the person of Peter and his successors. A living person does not merely speak through writings of the past but as proof of existence He must have the ability to speak now.  The Mystical Body of Christ is no mere metaphor, but the very definition of the Church.

“‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”(Acts 9:5)