Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part VIII

8. Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation (9*) through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element.(10*) For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.(73) (11*)

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, (12*) which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd,(74) and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority,(75) which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”.(76) This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him,(13*) although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.

Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to men. Christ Jesus, “though He was by nature God . . . emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave”,(77) and “being rich, became poor”(78) for our sakes. Thus, the Church, although it needs human resources to carry out its mission, is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice. Christ was sent by the Father “to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart”,(79) “to seek and to save what was lost”.(80) Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ. While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled(81) knew nothing of sin,(82) but came to expiate only the sins of the people,(83) the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal. The Church, “like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God”(14*), announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes.”(84) By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light.

73 Cf. Eph. 4:16.

74 Jn. 21:17.

75 Cf. Mt. 28:18, f.

76 1 Tim. 3:15.

77 Phil. 2:6.

78 2 Cor. 8:9.

79 Lk. 4:18.

80 Lk. 19:10.

81 Heb. 7:26.

82 2 Cor. 5:21.

83 Cf. Heb. 2:17.

84 Cf. 1 Cor. 11:26.

(9) Leo XIII, Litt. Encycl. Sapientiae christianae, 10 ian. 1890 AAS 22 (1889-90) p. 392. Id., Epist. Encycl. Satis cognitium, 29 iun. 1896; AAS 28 (1895-96) pp. 710 ct 724 ss. Pius XII, Litt. Eneyel. Mystici Corporis, 1. c., pp. 199-200.

(10) Cfr. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Mystici Corporis, 1. c., p. 221 ss. Id., Lin. Encycl. Humani genesis, 12 Aug. 1950: AAS 42 (1950) p. 571.

(11) Leo XIII, Epist. Encycl. Satis cognitum, 1. c., p. 713.

(12) Cfr. Symbolum Apostolicum: Denz. 6-9 (10-13); Symb. Nic.-Const.: Denz. 86 (150), coll. Prof. fidei Trid.: Denz. 994 et 999 (1862 et 1868).

(13) Dieitur. Saneta (catholica apostolica) Romana Ecelesia .: in Prof. fidei Trid., 1. c. et Concl. Vat. I, Sess. III, Const. dogm. de fide cath.: Denz. 1782 (3001).

(14) S. Augustinus, Civ. Dei, XVIII, 51, 2: PL 41, 614.

Jesus established and sustains His Church, “the community of faith, hope and charity” on earth, through which He makes available the truth of His Revelation and His saving grace.

The Council Fathers warn against the thinking that the visible Church on earth is somehow distinct from the Mystical Body of Christ. The Church and the Body of Christ are one, just as the person Jesus Christ is one, though fully human and fully divine. Like in Jesus Christ, so in the Church are the human and divine inseparable. The Spirit of Christ gives life to the Church, whose hierarchical structures serve the Spirit of Christ.

This same Church is the one founded by Christ and given over to Peter to shepherd and the apostles to extend and direct with authority. The marks of the Church, those elements by which we can identify the true Church, are that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The successor of Peter and those bishops in communion with him govern the Church. They are the true successors of the apostles, possessing the authority the apostles possessed.

This is what makes the Church apostolic: that the bishops are the successors of the apostles and possess the authority to extend and direct the Church that the apostles possessed, and that the faith of the Church, that faith expressed in the Creed, is the faith of the apostles.

What makes the Church one is that her Lord is One; the Baptism by which she baptizes is one baptism; the truth she proclaims and that her members profess to believe is one truth, and the Body of Christ of which her members are each a part is one Body.

What makes the Church holy is that her Lord is holy; the truth she proclaims is revealed by God and, thus, holy; the grace poured out by her sacraments is holy, and she herself, by benefit of her being the Body of Christ, is holy.

What makes the Church catholic is that her Lord is Lord over all; the truth she proclaims is for all; the grace of God given by the sacraments saves all, and that she herself is found in every nook and cranny of this world.

There are, the Council Fathers recognize, elements of truth and sanctification found in faith traditions outside the Catholic Church, and those traditions that claim Christ and their members are truly Christian, as was re-affirmed in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI. But, the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ, the whole truth of Jesus Christ, is found in the Catholic Church and only in the Catholic Church, and it is in the Catholic Church that the Church founded by Christ subsists.

Jesus spoke the truth, declaring the Kingdom of God, from a place of poverty and persecution. So, too, the Church is to follow His example. It’s true that too many in the Church seek glory and live comfortably. These give poor witness, but they do nothing to diminish the truth of the gospel. How many, however, have regarded the Church as possessing little to no credibility because her ministers give poor witness to the truth of Christ, both in the way they live their lives and in the glory they seek? How many souls have been lost because of these wolves in sheep’s clothing? It’s impossible to say, but it’s important to remember that the truth is independent of the messenger, so while some who carry the message may be poor messengers, the truth remains. How inspired, then, is Pope Francis, calling the Church to be a Church of the poor, a Church that reaches out to the poor and the suffering, likening the Church to a field hospital that cares for suffering humanity, testifying to the truth of the gospel in deed as well as in word.

Christ knew nothing of sin, but the Church is a Church of sinners and for sinners. The Church brings God’s grace of mercy to those who are lost, to those afflicted by sin and its consequences. How foolish is modern humanity that denies the reality of sin and its consequences! Every day we read of the effects of sin and sinful choices in our newspapers, or hear of it in TV and radio reports. One would have to be delusional to deny the reality of sin and its consequences. Yet, many today choose delusion over reality or, being willing to recognize the sinfulness of others, even still deny their own.

This is why it is so essential for the Church’s ministers, and all her members, to live authentic lives of penance and renewal, constantly re-committing ourselves to Christ, to the gospel, and to the Church, which holds within her holy hands the sacraments that were given to her by Christ specifically for the purpose of pouring out His grace to the lost, the forsaken, and the suffering. An authentic witness will draw men and women to the Church, to Christ, and open their hearts to be receptive of His grace of mercy and salvation. This is the mission of the Church, and all the sinners within her who betray the Spirit of Christ by their sinful choices, glory-seeking efforts, and love of the things of this world must not distract her from that mission.

May it be that, empowered by the Risen Lord to overcome challenges from within and without, the Church will ultimately remain true to Christ and bring to Him a fruitful harvest in the end. Amen!

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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