Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part XIII

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13. All are called to belong to the new people of God. Wherefore this people, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and must exist in all ages, so that the decree of God’s will may be fulfilled. In the beginning God made human nature one and decreed that all His children, scattered as they were, would finally be gathered together as one. (117) It was for this purpose that God sent His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things,(118) that He might be teacher, king and priest of all, the head of the new and universal people of the sons and daughters of God. For this too God sent the Spirit of His Son as Lord and Life-giver. He it is who brings together the whole Church and each and every one of those who believe, and who is the well-spring of their unity in the teaching of the apostles and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.(119)

It follows that though there are many nations there is but one people of God, which takes its citizens from every race, making them citizens of a kingdom which is of a heavenly rather than of an earthly nature. All the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit, and so, he who dwells in Rome knows that the people of India are his members”(9*). Since the kingdom of Christ is not of this world(120) the Church or people of God in establishing that kingdom takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people. On the contrary it fosters and takes to itself, insofar as they are good, the ability, riches and customs in which the genius of each people expresses itself. Taking them to itself it purifies, strengthens, elevates and ennobles them. The Church in this is mindful that she must bring together the nations for that king to whom they were given as an inheritance,(121) and to whose city they bring gifts and offerings.(122) This characteristic of universality which adorns the people of God is a gift from the Lord Himself. By reason of it, the Catholic Church strives constantly and with due effect to bring all humanity and all its possessions back to its source In Christ, with Him as its head and united in His Spirit. (10*)

In virtue of this catholicity each individual part contributes through its special gifts to the good of the other parts and of the whole Church. Through the common sharing of gifts and through the common effort to attain fullness in unity, the whole and each of the parts receive increase. Not only, then, is the people of God made up of different peoples but in its inner structure also it is composed of various ranks. This diversity among its members arises either by reason of their duties, as is the case with those who exercise the sacred ministry for the good of their brethren, or by reason of their condition and state of life, as is the case with those many who enter the religious state and, tending toward holiness by a narrower path, stimulate their brethren by their example. Moreover, within the Church particular Churches hold a rightful place; these Churches retain their own traditions, without in any way opposing the primacy of the Chair of Peter, which presides over the whole assembly of charity (11*) and protects legitimate differences, while at the same time assuring that such differences do not hinder unity but rather contribute toward it. Between all the parts of the Church there remains a bond of close communion whereby they share spiritual riches, apostolic workers and temporal resources. For the members of the people of God are called to share these goods in common, and of each of the Churches the words of the Apostle hold good: “According to the gift that each has received, administer it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God”.(123)

All men and women are called to be part of this catholic unity of the people of God which in promoting universal peace presages it. And there belong to or are related to it in various ways, the Catholic faithful, all who believe in Christ, and indeed the whole of humankind, for all men and women are called by the grace of God to salvation.

117 Cf. Heb. 1:2.

119 Cf. Acts 2:42.

120 Cf. Jn. 18:36

121 Cf. Ps. 2:8.

122 Cf. Ps. 71 (72):10; Is. 60:4-7; Rev. 21:24.

123 1 Pet. 4:10.

(9) Cfr. S. Io. Chrysostomus, In Io. Hom. 65, 1: PG 59, 361.

(10) Cfr. S. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III, 16, 6; III, 22, 1-3: PG 7, 925 C-926 Aet 955 C – 958 A; Harvey 2, 87 s. et 120-123; Sagnard, Ed. Sources Chret., pp. 290-292 et 372 ss.

(11) Cfr. S. Ignatius M., Ad Rom., Praef.: Ed. Funk, I, p. 252.

This paragraph speaks to the catholicity, or universality, of the Church. “Catholic” means “universal” or, in the immortal words of James Joyce, “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.‘” That is often made real for me when I worship at Mass and see the older Asian lady, bent over in prayer, hands folded before her in reverence in line to receive Holy Communion, and just behind her is a young White man with hair dyed jet black and molded into several spikes, hands folded in front of him in reverence while he, too, approached to receive the Blessed Sacrament.

All people are called to Christ, and the Church is called to bring the Good News of Christ to all people, regardless of race, culture, or geography. When any person comes to Christ, he or she is brought into the family of God, and enjoys equal stature with all others. Christ is teacher, king and priest of all, for His mission and sacrifice were to save all. The Holy Spirit is Sanctifier and Life-Giver of all, and it is the Holy Spirit Who joins all in Christ. Each believer, surrendering in Christ any arrogance or prejudice based on ethnicity, culture, or race, embraces every other believer as brother or sister in Christ, recognizing that Christ came to save all, and that his or her own salvation was won by the same grace that saves the person who comes from a different ethnic or national origin, race, or nation.

Sadly, history recounts many occasions when those baptized in Christ have forgotten their identity as brothers and sisters in Christ. It has caused no little scandal when Catholics from Germany have taken up arms against Catholics of France or Italy, or when Catholics in Spain fought against each other. Here in the United States, Catholics in the North took up arms against their brothers and sisters in Christ in the South, and vice verse, forgetting their common ancestry in the Church. As well, Catholics of one race or another have too often set aside their heritage in Christ in favor of their heritage as Europeans, Africans, Asians, or what have you, separating themselves from, oppressing or even enslaving others on the basis of ethnicity, culture, or race. Too often, we put “Christian” last on our list of identities, favoring instead other identities. But, these identities will die when we do! Do we foolishly think we will be White, or Black, or Irish, or Japanese in heaven! Do we think our national, political, racial, or social identities will matter when we stand before God’s throne? I tell you, they will only matter if we have placed them over our identity in Christ as a weapon or occasion of sin against our brothers and sisters in Christ!

Occasionally, on the other hand, I have enjoyed the experience of the universality of the Church at those moments when Catholics from all over the country, or even the world, gather together. Having never seen each other or been together, we were nevertheless able to participate together in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church. I recall when I was a volunteer for the Claretian Volunteers attending a retreat with the other volunteers in a small town outside Chicago. Another volunteer and I decided to drive around during a break. We came across a small, pretty Methodist church with a red door and decided to visit, but the door was closed. Of course, that inspired us to find the Catholic Church. After a short while driving around, we found it and went inside. There were all the accoutrements of the faith: the altar, the Stations of the Cross, the baptismal font. We immediately felt at home. In the back was a man cleaning the church. We figured it must be the pastor, so we approached him and introduced ourselves. He invited us to join him in the rectory next door and we sat around enjoying tea and cookies and talking, of all things, about purgatory. Afterwards, I marveled at how two young men from distant parts of the country could find themselves in the same small town feeling so at home in a building we had never seen before and enjoying a conversation with a man we had never met before about our common faith. It was the faith of the Church that had made it possible and brought us together.

Another experience I recall was the Mass on the Mall, when Pope St. John Paul the Great came to Washington, DC to celebrate Mass on the Washington Mall. Hundreds of thousands of people were there, and when the Holy Father intoned, “The Lord be with you,” hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country and all over the world replied, “And also with you!” We shared in the same prayers, heard the words of the same Scriptures, and partook of the same Eucharist. We were one in Christ, though from every corner of the country.

This paragraph speaks, too, of the variety in the Church, manifested by the plethora of, not only national churches and their unique traditions, but especially of the varied eastern rites of the universal Church, with their rich traditions of worship, spirituality, song, prayers, and even liturgical decor and vestment. Today, too, we have the opportunity, with the blessing of the Church, to worship according to the ordo by which our ancestors worshiped for five hundred years prior to the Second Vatican Council. All of this is a gift from God, for which we ought properly to give thanks and enjoy as his children, children from every rank and file of society, from every race and tongue, from every hamlet and crag across this wide world.

Let’s join in the praise of God with Hillaire Belloc: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!”

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

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