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December 20, 2008

December 21st Holy Spirit Novena
Scripture selection is Day 6 Period I.

The Novena Rosary Mysteries  
for December 21st are Glorious.

   

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December 20, 2008

    

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from Response in Christ,
        by Fr. Edward J. Carter, S.J.
 

TWO    Christian Life
   within the Church

 

1.  The Church as People of God and Body of Christ

The Christian lives out his following of Christ within a communal framework. God communicates Himself to us not as to isolated individuals, but as to individuals who make up a religious community. We are the People of God. Each of us is intended to be a fully active member of the Church according to his vocation. The Church is not made up of active hierarchy and passive masses. The Church is not meant to be a community in which the bishops actively teach, guide, and sanctify a passive group of faithful. Rather we are all to be fully active, contributing members. Obviously, we contribute diversely according to our basic vocations and personal uniqueness. But to live a full and actively contributing life, a life open to attaining mature holiness—this is the vocation of all of us. There are no second-class citizens in the Church.

The People of God, as they themselves live the Christ-life, are called to a life of service. They are called to a mission of helping to channel the Christ-life to all men. As a pilgrim Church traveling through history to eternal life, the People of God have the privilege and responsibility of assisting Christ in the continuing work of redemption.

Some two thousand years ago Christ walked this earth teaching, healing the sick, forgiving sins, extending His mercy and kindness. By such a life which culminated in death and Resurrection, Christ redeemed the world. This objective redemption was accomplished by Christ alone. Through it, He won for men of all time the necessary graces for their salvation and sanctification.

However, it is necessary that such graces be distributed to each individual as he plays out his part in the drama of human existence. Such a distribution of grace is the work of subjective redemption. Unlike the work of objective redemption, Christ does not execute subjective redemption alone. Rather it is Christ and His members who complete the work of redemption.

Christ walked this earth those many years ago in His physical body, and through that body objectively redeemed the world. Today, He still walks the earth completing the work of redemption. However, He now walks the earth according to a different type of existence. He does not walk the earth in His physical body, but rather in His Mystical Body, the Church, the People of God. Through the members of His Church, Christ continues to be present to men as He teaches, administers the sacraments, extends His mercy–all done through the members of His Body, the Church. This mystical Christ, in turn, derives all supernatural power from Christ, the Head, who reigns gloriously with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

    The Church, therefore, is the earthly continuation of Christ's redemptive Incarnation. This mission which the Church has, although a great responsibility, is also a great privilege. So it is for the individual Christian within the Church. Christ asks him to fulfill a unique role in the continued working out of salvation history. As we have previously stated, no one else can fulfill this unique role except the individual Christian. This is so because no human person in the history of mankind is exactly like another. Each Christian is a unique imitation of the Trinity. Through each Christian Christ wants to continue His redemptive Incarnation in a special way. Each member of the Church is called upon to offer Christ a new humanity through which Christ may express Himself to the world. In proportion as each Christian so offers and commits himself to Christ, the Church in her entirety more and more mirrors forth Christ to the world. This Christ, whom the Church portrays to the world, is the Christ who is prophet, king and priest.

        2.  The Church in Relation to Christ in His Threefold Mission

        a)  Christ as Prophet

The historical Christ was the central figure in the long list of God's prophets who have assumed such a vital role throughout the course of salvation history. As Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament prophets were the spokesmen for Yahweh, so most perfectly is Christ the spokesman for His Father. A prophet, then, in terms of salvation history is a specially commissioned teacher sent by God to His People. What is the task of the prophet? His role is in some way to reveal God and God's plan for man's salvation and sanctification.

    Christ accomplished the task of the prophet in an eminently perfect manner. Through His unique words of wisdom He made a deep impression upon His hearers: "Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and his teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority, and not like their own scribes." (Mt 7:28-29). Through this teaching Christ gradually revealed the nature of God. He revealed this nature, not only as It is in Itself, but also as It is in Its relationship to men. Above all, He taught men the love and mercy which their Heavenly Father has for them. He did this in a manner which was radically adapted to their understanding, using the language and mode of speech which was familiar to them. Through the use of the most simple story Christ would often bring out the most sublime truths concerning God. His story of the Prodigal Son as given in St. Luke is an exquisite, graphic presentation of the loving and merciful attitude of God toward the repentant sinner.

    Yet Christ did not reveal the Father and the Father's plan only through word. He also did so through His actions. At times the events of His life were a more eloquent revelation than His words. The crucified Christ, as He hangs in silence upon the cross, speaks volumes to the world concerning the love and mercy of God, the justice of God, and the heinousness of sin. In short, it is the total person of Christ in all His words, actions, gestures – in everything – who reveals the Father to men.1 This revelation of the Father includes within itself God's desire for man's response. For God does not reveal Himself in Christ to man for any empty purpose. God tells us He loves us, that He gives Himself to us in Christ, and that He wants us to respond with a love of our own as we live the way Our Father wants us to live: in Christ, Who is the way, the truth and the life.

    The Church, the People of God, is destined to continue Christ's prophetic, revelatory office.2 The most obvious way she does this is through her official teaching mission. Primarily through the pope and the bishops, the Church has the responsibility of continually presenting the message of Christ in a manner which is relevant to the men of various ages. Yet it is not only the pope and the other bishops who accomplish this teaching mission. The theologian, the priest in the pulpit, the teacher of religion and theology, the mother and father educating their children according to the principles of Christ – all such people offer examples of the various ways in which the members of the People of God contribute to the continuation of Christ's prophetic or teaching office.

    There is another manner in which the entire People of God contribute to the Church's teaching mission. The official teachers in the Church, namely the pope and bishops, depend to a considerable extent upon how the Holy Spirit is operating within the entire People of God. The People of God in their universal grasp of matters relating to faith and morals assist the official teachers of the Church in their duty of correctly projecting the truth of Christ to the Church and world. An example of this is contained in the procedure which preceded the definition of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Pius XII speaks about this procedure: ". . . We considered it opportune to ask all Our venerable brethren in the episcopate directly and authoritatively, that each of them should make known to Us his mind in a formal statement. Hence, We gave them Our letter 'Deiparae Virginis Mariae', a letter in which these words are contained: 'Do you, Venerable Brethren, in your outstanding wisdom and prudence, judge that the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin can be proposed and defined as a dogma of faith? Do you, with your clergy and people, desire it? ' "3

    Consequently, we see the soundness of the newly discovered dialogue within the Church. The more open are the lines of communication between the pope and the bishops of the world, between bishops and their priests, between priests and their people, between religious superiors and subjects, the better is the possibility that the truth of Christ the teacher will more perfectly permeate the entire life of the People of God, and ultimately the life of the world.

    We have said that the historical Christ taught the truth of God not only through His words, but through His actions, His attitude, His gestures. In brief, He taught through everything He was and did. So it must be with the Church. The Church continues the teaching mission of Christ, not only through her verbal and written teaching, but also through her actions and attitude, and, summarily, through her total being as it is visible to men.

    We see, consequently, why the Church must concretely show her concern for the poor, the oppressed, the one who suffers from racial prejudice. The truth which the Church preaches concerning social justice must become incarnated in the visible, concrete action she undertakes for such a cause. Since the Church is the continuation of Christ, she must act as He did. Christ not only told men that He loved them, He proved that love in a concrete, tangible, incarnate manner.

    It is entirely appropriate that Christians be present at demonstrations concerned with a true and just cause, even though, of course, they are not usually representing the Church in an official capacity. The witness of priests, religious and laity demonstrating for racial justice is a powerful witness of the truth of Christ that all men are created equal. Sometimes such action is much more effective in projecting to the world the Church's concern for the racially oppressed than are the pastoral letters of bishops regarding racial equality.

    Every member of the People of God is called upon to continue the teaching mission of Christ. The baptized Christian is incorporated into Christ who is prophet, king and priest. This incorporation is further perfected through confirmation. Therefore each member within the Church receives a real share in the prophetic, kingly and priestly mission of Christ. In relation to our present topic concerning Christ as prophet or teacher, no member of the Church can excuse himself from carrying forward this particular mission of Christ. Some of the various possibilities open to all within the Church have already been suggested. We now emphasize a constant and ever available opportunity which is present to all, namely, the witness of a truly Christian life. A life constantly lived according to the truth and example of Christ is a powerful, persuasive witness to Christ and His message. Perhaps because there are too few such Christian witnesses, Christianity has failed to make the desired imprint upon civilization. For it is only when mankind sees the truth of Christ concretely lived out by Christians that such truth has the power to draw men to Christ and His Church in any great numbers.4

          b) Christ as King

Vatican II reminds us that Christ is not only prophet, but also king: "Christ, becoming obedient even unto death and because of this exalted by the Father. . . , entered into the glory of His kingdom. To Him all things are made subject until he subjects himself and all created things to the Father that God may be all in all."5

     Through His Incarnation, Christ as man became king over creation. In assuming a human nature, He united to Himself man and also the material creation below man. In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, Christ is the physical center of the Universe.6 Through His redemptive sacrifice, which is the culminating act of His Incarnation, Christ strengthened His title as king.

     Christ has redeemed man, and as a consequence of man's redemption, the whole physical universe has been redeemed.7 The appropriateness of nonrational creation being redeemed together with man himself is evident. In God's original act of creation He gave man dominion over material creation. This part of creation was meant to serve man in his quest for happiness here and hereafter. With the intrusion of sin into God's creation, man and nonrational creation were both affected. Through his misuse of God's creation by sin, man not only puts disorder into himself, but also into the creation which he misuses.

     Christ's redemption is meant to restore the disarray caused by man's sinfulness. Christ through His redemptive grace desires to heal more and more the sinfulness of man as this affects man himself and man's relationship to the material universe. Christ as king wants His redemptive grace to spread out and touch deeply man and the physical universe. With grace man relates properly to the material universe, for he more and more brings the material universe back to its role in God's creation, namely, that it serve man in achieving his temporal and eternal happiness. What is man's happiness? Because of the Incarnation, there is now only one destiny for man both here and hereafter. That destiny is a supernatural one in Christ. The material universe, through Christ's redemptive Incarnation, has therefore entered into this supernatural structure. Man and the physical universe have both been marked with the blood of Christ. More and more they are to be Christianized, that is, ever more perfectly drawn into the supernatural order established by Christ and centered in Him.

     To extend this kingly influence of Christ over creation is the task now of both Christ and His Church. We have long been aware that this means deepening and extending Christ's kingdom as regards man himself. But we are just beginning to realize what it means to extend His kingdom to everything which pertains to man. Vatican II, in opening up the Church to everything which is good in the world, has impressed upon us the fact that the Church, in prolonging Christ's kingly mission, must be deeply involved not only with man himself, but with everything which is of authentic concern to man. The council unmistakably tells us this: "The faithful, therefore, must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, as well as its role in the harmonious praise of God. They must assist each other to live holier lives even in their secular occupations. In this way the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace."8

     All within the Church are called to extend the influence of Christ as king. Each member of the People of God has a share in this kingly mission. Each must fulfill his role according to his vocation, talents, opportunities and graces. But fulfill his role he must. No one but the individual Christian in question can fulfill the particular role which God has intended for that individual. The Christian's quest for holiness is thus intimately connected with his response to Christ the king. The more ideally each Christian responds to this call of Christ, the more the entire Church can fulfill her mission of continuing Christ's kingly mission. This mission consists in imprinting the name of Jesus Christ more deeply upon the entire universe, men and matter alike.

c) Christ as Priest 

Christ is prophet, king, and, finally, He is priest. Consequently, the Church must prolong the priestly mission of Christ as well as His prophetic and kingly offices. But because of the centrality of Christ's priestly office in His own life and that of His Church, this theme will receive detailed treatment in the chapter devoted exclusively to the liturgy.

 

3. The various Vocations within the Church  

The three great offices of Christ as prophet, king and priest are not exclusive of one another. Each of them contains the other. This is so because they are part of the overall mystery of Christ which is radically indivisible. What is this mystery of Christ?  It is God's concrete plan of our redemption in Christ. It is the ultimately mysterious, transcendent, wholely other God desiring to communicate Himself to us in love. It is this same God asking for our response in love. All of this – God's gift of self to man and His request for man's response – all of this is centered in Christ and mediated by Christ. Therefore, we have the term, mystery of Christ.

This mystery of Christ can be approached under the headings of Christ as prophet, king and priest. We have taken this approach thus far in this present chapter because, among other reasons, it is one of the dominant ways in which Vatican II presents the mystery of Christ to us. But Again we emphasize that the mystery of Christ with its various offices and individual mysteries is profoundly one. When we speak of the Church as prolonging Christ's Incarnation, or of prolonging His threefold mission, or of prolonging the mystery of Christ, we are really expressing the same basic reality.

No one group or component part within the Church can perfectly relive and continue the Incarnation. Even the total Church cannot perfectly continue the Incarnation with its prophetic, kingly and priestly offices. We can therefore understand why various spiritualities or spiritual "schools" have arisen throughout the history of Christian spirituality. All these spiritualities are basically the same. All of them are aimed at reproducing and continuing the life of Christ in their adherents.  But each of the various spiritualities – Franciscan, Benedictine, Dominican, Ignatian, Carmelite, to give leading examples – is in its own way somewhat different. Each reproduces in its members the mystery of Christ in a slightly different fashion.

What we have just said concerning the divergent spiritualities within the Church can be applied even more so to the various vocations. All states of life radically aim at one and the same Christian holiness. This is so because we all receive the same life of grace in Christ. All relive and continue the Incarnation in the same basic manner. Yet it is still true that there are differences according to which the various states of life within the Church prolong Christ's prophetic, kingly and priestly missions. God has destined that there be various vocations within His Church in order that the richness of Christ may be more perfectly projected. 

a)      The Laity 

In considering the incarnational aspect of the Church in continuation of Christ's redemptive work, the vocation of the laity is most significant. The lay state, because of its intimate connection with temporal, terrestrial values, is best able to witness to the incarnational dimension of Christianity. From this particular point of orientation, let us consider the Incarnation itself.

Through the Incarnation of the Word, God has immersed Himself into this world of men with all its created values. In assuming a real human nature Christ has united all men to Himself. But man in his human nature is not an isolated being. Man's human nature situates him in a created order, which, despite its great complexity, is profoundly united. The individual man is united with all other men and with the rest of creation. Through His Incarnation the Son of God thrusts Himself into this unified situation of man and becomes the center of it.9

Christ has become the center of the world of man in order to elevate it to a higher level of existence through His redemptive work. He has come to give a new life to man and his world. This new life affects not only man himself, but the whole of material creation over which man is meant to have dominion. It is not only man who is to be further Christianized but this entire world order with all its authentic values.10

Compared to the priest and religious, the layman is in a peculiarly advantageous position to carry the truth of Christ into many of the more temporal aspects of men's lives.11  By his very vocation and life situation the layman is intimately involved with the political order, the economic structure, the business  world,  family  life  and  other  temporal  values. Through His humanity Christ radically involved Himself with all these concerns of man. It is true that He Himself was not involved in government, cultural pursuits, marriage and the like. But the fact that He did not directly confront these areas of human existence does not mean He was not deeply concerned with them. When the Son of God assumed human nature He also assumed all the authentic involvements of human existence. All of these concerns of man, then, along with man himself, have been incorporated into the Incarnation.

The Incarnation must be continually applied to all these areas which pertain to man. This actually happens through Christ united to His members. The People of God, who are His full members, have a special task in extending the Incarnation to all the legitimate interests of man; in our present context, we repeat that it is especially the task of the Church's laity to penetrate with the truth of Christ those many areas of human existence which are partially or totally closed to the priest and religious.

Such an extension of the Incarnation to all the authentic values and involvements of human life does not mean that the supernatural destroys the individual finalities attached to culture, economics, government and the like.12 For example, the principles and finalities involved in the science of economics must be respected by Christian and atheist alike. The principles involved in a sound economic structure are the same for both. But the ultimate view of the economic structure will be different for the true Christian. He sees that the economic structure is intended by God to serve the basic needs of all men throughout the world, and that it will not do so unless Christian principles based on the truth of Christ are involved, however indirectly. This is an application of the theological truth that man cannot long avoid serious moral disorder without the grace of God. Consequently, serious moral disorder in the worldwide economic sphere cannot be avoided without the grace of God, which because of the Incarnation, is also the grace of Christ. To put it positively, a just economic structure can never be achieved without the healing and elevating grace of Christ. This is merely one example of how Christ's incarnational grace applies to man's total situation. The same basic application can be made to all aspects of man's terrestrial existence. And, it is the layman who must mediate this incarnational grace of Christ to all these aspects.

However, the lay vocation cannot by itself give an adequate expression to the total mystery of Christ. One of the great dimensions of this incarnate mystery of Christ, as just stressed, is the fact that God has inserted Himself irrevocably into the tangible and terrestrial world of men through the human dimension of His Son. God, therefore, is most intimately involved with His creation; yet He is ultimately above this creation, transcendent to it. It can be no other way, otherwise we have to admit to pantheism.

In Christ's historical life we find witness to both the incarnational and the transcendent. As He related to man and, radically, to all the concerns of man through His human nature.  He obviously gave an incarnational witness. Yet through this same human nature Christ also witnessed to the transcendent aspect of God. For Christ, in His radical human renunciation, pointed beyond His human nature to His divine nature, and to the other transcendent realities of Christianity.

What do we mean when we speak of Christ's radical human renunciation? First of all, Christ did not independently dispose of His own life by determining for Himself the plan of man's redemption, but selflessly followed the economy of salvation established by His Father. He further surrounded such a fundamental renunciation with a life of utter simplicity:  He did not marry; He did not possess riches. By such a life Christ pointed to the ultimate reason of His being with men. He wanted to draw them to the Divinity. Christ, by the very manner of His life, demonstrated to man that there is something above marriage and riches, something above culture, something above all human values. He is in no way condemning these for as Creator He is ultimately responsible for them.  But through His life with its unmistakable element of renunciation Christ gives us this message: He has come to give us a share in His divine life. All other things surrounding man – marriage, material possessions, and the like – are meant as aids in living this divine life in this earthly situation. We are not meant to make ends out of means. If certain men, and indeed, the great majority, choose to be involved with marriage and other various human values, let them always remember to be involved according to the Father's will. Let them remember that these various incarnational values are always meant to lead man to a closer union with the transcendent God, a union which, having its very real beginnings here below, reaches its culmination only in the beatific vision. Christ Himself gave up so much in order that we may not mistake His message. Consequently, Christ, in the manner of life He adopted, unmistakably witnesses to the role of both the incarnational and the transcendent in Christianity. 

a)      Religious 

If the layman witnesses primarily to the incarnational in Christ, the religious witnesses more perfectly to the transcendent. Vatican II states: "The profession of the evangelical counsels,  then,  appears as a sign that can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfillment of the duties of their Christian vocation. Since the People of God have no lasting city here below, but look forward to one that is to come, the religious state whose purpose is to free its members from earthly cares, more fully manifests to all believers the presence of heavenly goods already possessed here below. ... The religious state clearly manifests that the kingdom of God and its needs, in a very special way, are raised above all earthly considerations."13

Yet this witness to the more transcendent aspect of Christianity is not the only value which the religious state contributes to the Church. Because of its communal nature, religious life allows for a corporate apostolic endeavor with all the advantages which accrue to a common effort. There is a need in the Church for more effort on the part of individuals in furthering Christ's redemptive work. The laity, as they carry Christ to the marketplace in their manifold activities, provide such a contribution. On the other hand, the great value of corporate service given to Church and world by the religious state has been proved over the centuries.

There is one final advantage which the religious state offers to the life of the Church. Although all the People of God are called to the highest holiness, the religious state offers special advantages in the pursuit of holiness to those so called to such a vocation. Vatican II teaches this, thus continuing the traditional teaching in this regard.14 Let us not try to hide this teaching of the Church. In our efforts to bring out the true greatness and necessity of the lay vocation, let us not minimize what the Church has taught and continues to teach concerning the excellence of the religious state.  (This is not to say that all religious live up to this excellence. Some religious are apparently less advanced in holiness than many lay people.) We should remember that the special aids to holiness connected with the religious state are beneficial to the entire body of the Church. For the holiness of religious helps everyone in the Church just as religious in turn are helped by the holiness of those of different vocations. 

b)      Bishops and Priests 

The bishops of the Church, under the leadership of the pope, and the priests who assist them have a very special share in Christ's prophetic, kingly and priestly offices. Vatican II tells us: "Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, presiding in place of God over the flock, whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing."15

Vatican II therefore points out that the ordained ministers of the Church have a certain dominant role in the life of the Church, but that this dominion is one of service, one that is meant  to fashion  the People of God into a more perfect image of Christ. The main force behind such service must be that of love. This is the force with which Christ in His own redemptive life first fashioned the People of God. Christ was perfectly effective in establishing His Church because He loved perfectly. Everything He did had redemptive value because of His love for the Father and men. So must it be with the ordained ministers in the Church. The more their teaching, ruling and sanctifying offices are permeated and guided by the principle of Christian love, the more effective these offices will be. John L. McKenzie says: "Love is the supreme motivation both of the officers and of the other members of the Church; with this motivation anything like a power structure is forever excluded from the Church. Love is the only power which the New Testament knows.”16

An application of this essential connection between love and authority is seen from the history of the early Church. Authority at that time was usually exercised through persuasion and exhortation rather than through command.17 As the Church has grown through the centuries, the command of law has to some extent replaced the former ideal. At times the image of law has far overshadowed the image of love which should always be obviously attached to the exercise of authority in the Church. Happily, through the impetus of Vatican II, the majority of those holding authority in the Church seem to see the need for returning to the more pristine use of authority portrayed in the gospels and early Church, a use in which love clearly predominates. Obviously, however, external law will still be necessary, even more so than in the days of early Christianity. This must be for several reasons. One reason is the obvious waywardness of some of the Church's members, a waywardness which tends to increase to a certain extent as the Church's numbers increase. (This is not to say that the Church's overall holiness cannot at the same time be increasing.) This same problem faces any growing organization.  Consequently, because numerous persons within the Church will not live a minimum Christian life unless commanded, the Church has increased her laws over the centuries.18 Also, the very complexity of life within our present-day Church requires more external legislation than was necessary in the early Church. However, to reiterate, the image of love must always predominate over that of law and command in the Church.

If the bishops of the Church, aided by their priests, are to rule, teach and sanctify according to the mind of Christ, they must also be willing to listen to their people: "Let him [the bishop] not refuse to listen to his subjects, whom he cherishes as his true sons and exhorts to cooperate readily with him."19 Unless bishops are willing to have dialogue with their priests, and bishops and priests with their people, the Church of Christ will not mature at the pace God intends. There is but one People of God united together in Christ through one Spirit. The various elements who make up the People of God must know how the Spirit is working in all the Church's members.

One of the great tasks of the hierarchy is to judge how the Spirit is working in the mass of the faithful. Many of the great movements in the history of the Church have been initiated from the bottom up.20 The hierarchy's role in such movements has been, first, to confirm that the breathing of the Spirit is authentically present, and, secondly, to implement what has been thus inspired by the Spirit.

Bishops and priests also have to learn to listen to members of the laity who have much to contribute to the Church's life because of their competence in various areas. For the faithful to live a truly Christian life in today's world involves many complexities; for the Church to relate properly to today's world and to Christianize the same also involves a complex situation. The competent layman can in many ways help provide bishops and priests with the numerous answers which are necessary if the Church is both to guide her own faithful in their Christian lives and help the same faithful bring the whole of creation closer to Christ.

The responsibility of the Church's ordained ministers toward their people is quite evident. There is a corresponding responsibility of the faithful toward the hierarchy and all those who directly share in some way the hierarchy's mission, such as the priest and the religious superior. Not to relate properly to authority in the Church is not to relate properly to Christ Himself. Vatican II states: "Therefore, the sacred council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and him who sent Christ. . .”21

 There have been sins, even grave sins, throughout history in the exercise of Church authority. Those who have sinned have answered, or will answer, to Almighty God. But all the sinfulness in the Church has not been on the side of those possessing authority. Often their task has been made extremely difficult because of the sinfulness of their subjects. If the members of the People of God had, in reasonable numbers, been what they were called to be in Christ, the excessive law and regimentation characteristic of too much of the Church's history would probably have been reduced.

The faithful in the Church, then, accept the fact that hierarchical authority has been willed by Christ for His Church. They have the right to expect the best from such authority. But, given our human situation, the faithful will not always be recipients of a Church authority properly exercised. To expect otherwise is to be unrealistic. Sinfulness is part of our human condition, and we suffer because of the sins and shortcomings of others. Consequently, the members of the Church should not think it strange if they suffer to some degree from the sinfulness of those who in their positions of authority shape the institutional life of the Church.

Christ suffered tremendously from the sinful structure of the world into which He had immersed Himself through his Incarnation. He was "hemmed in," limited, in many ways by this sinful structure. For instance, His exalted and sin-healing message was rejected by many of those to whom He preached because sin had blinded and hardened them. Finally, the sinful structure of the world in which Christ found himself ultimately crushed out His very life.

The follower of Christ within the Church has to expect that he also will suffer from the sinful element which still remains in the world despite Christ's redemption. Part of this sinfulness experienced by the member of Christ will derive from the very ones to whom Christ has entrusted authority within His Church. Is the Christian to rebel against such sinfulness and error? Not if he is a mature Christian. He will do all he can to eliminate such abuses according to God's will.  And, of course, there can never be a question of submitting to an obviously sinful command. But to the extent that there is no sin involved, to the extent that appeal to proper moral principles will not allow him to go against structure in its various forms, and to the extent that the Christian cannot change the situation, he will submit to the suffering involved in living within the structure of the Church, a structure which in certain ways will always be marred by man's sinfulness. So did Christ act in His own earthly life. As Christ conquered sinfulness by submitting to the death which sinfulness heaped upon Him, so will the Christian use the suffering imposed upon him by all that is not right within the Church. As Christ redeemed the world by such a submission, the Christian helps to further the redemption by a similar submission.

In summary, all within the Church, whatever their vocation, make up one Body of Christ, one People of God. Pope, bishops, priests, religious, laity – all need one another, all are meant to help one another. St. Paul states: "Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptized, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink." (1 Co 12:12-13).

In such a spirit as described by Paul, the Church is meant to grow more and more into the full stature of Christ down through the ages.22 If the members cooperate as they should according to their respective vocations and roles, the Church continues to that extent to die with Christ – yes, continues to purify herself – and thus continues to rise more and more with Christ as she shares more fully in His life of grace. In this manner the Church integrally grows in the holiness of Christ. In this same manner the individual Christian grows in the holiness of Christ, provided he properly fulfills his role in the life of the Church. But this is not all. As the entire Church and her responsive members progress in the holiness of Christ, they draw the whole world, the whole of creation, along with them into a closer union with Christ. This process will reach its completion with the second coming of Christ. Then Christ will administer the final touches to the work of His redemption. At that time, the Church, her members, the rest of men, and all of creation will receive the Final share in Christ's redemptive work. At that time Christian holiness will be brought to its ultimate completion. 

 ________
         1. Cf. R. Latourelle, The Theology of Revelation (New York: Alba House, 1966), p. 359.
         2. For a contemporary, creative approach to the Church's prophetic office, cf. H. Nouwen, Creative Ministry (New York: Doubleday, 1971), pp. 1-40.
         3. Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, cited in The Encyclicals of a Century (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul), pp. 386-387.
         4. Cf. Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1963), p. 209.
         
         5. Constitution on the Church, No. 36.
         6. Cf. Christopher Mooney, Teilhard de Chardin and the Mystery of Christ (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 70-103.
         7. Cf. S. Lyonnet, "The Redemption of the Universe" in The Church, compiled at the Canisianum, Innsbruck (New York: Kenedy, 1963), pp. 136-156.
         8. Constitution on the Church, No. 36.
         9. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, No. 5.
        10. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Church, No 36.
        11. Loc. cit.
       
12. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. No. 36.
        13. Constitution on the Church, No. 44.
        14. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Appropriate Renewal of the Religious Life, Nos. 1, 12 and 14.
        15. Constitution on the Church, No. 20.
        16. John  L.  McKenzie,  Authority  in  the Church  (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1966), p. 85.
        17. Cf. J. Powell, The Mystery of the Church (Milwaukee: Bruce 1967), p. 111.
        18. Cf.  W.  Grossouw,  Spirituality  of the  New  Testament  (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1964), pp. 44-45.
        19. Constitution on the Church, No. 27.
        20. Cf.  Karl  Rahner, Theological Investigations, Vol. III (Baltimore: Helicon. 1967), pp. 103-104.
        21. Constitution on the Church. No. 20
        22. For an extended, current treatment on the Church, cf. R. McBrien, Church: The Continuing Quest (New York: Newman Press, 1970).

                              

 

 

 

 

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                From Fr. Joe's Homilies - Cycle B

2nd Sunday of Lent
 

Genesis 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18

It happened some time later that God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ he called. ‘Here I am,’ he replied. God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you.’ 

    When they arrived at the place which God had indicated to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

    But the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ he said. ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy,’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your own beloved son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son.

    The angel of Yahweh called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self, Yahweh declares, that because you have done this, because you have not refused me your own beloved son, I will shower blessings on you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed my command.’

 

Romans 8: 31-34

After saying this, what can we add? If God is for us, who can be against us? Since he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for the sake of all of us, then can we not expect that with him he will freely give us all his gifts? Who can bring any accusation against those that God has chosen? When God grants saving justice who can condemn? Are we not sure that it is Christ Jesus, who died-yes and more, who was raised from the dead and is at God's right hand-and who is adding his plea for us?

 

Mark 9: 2-10

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain on their own by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became brilliantly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus, ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.

As they were coming down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean.

   

 

March 12, 2006

INTRODUCTION – (Genesis 22, 1-2. 9a. 10-13. 15-18; Romans 8, 31b-34; Mark 9, 2-10) Our stained glass window here in the sanctuary is an illustration of the story in our first reading of Abraham ready to sacrifice his son. Recall how God had made many promises to Abraham, promises that Abraham had to wait many years to see fulfilled. Among those promises was that he would be the father of a great nation. However, it wasn’t until he and his wife Sarah were very old that his son Isaac was born. Several years after Isaac’s birth, Abraham sensed God calling on him to offer up his son as a human sacrifice. Human sacrifice was not unusual at that time. Abraham loved Isaac. Just as an aside, this is the first time the word "love" appears in the bible. Besides his love for his son, Isaac was the fulfillment of all the hopes and promises God had made with Abraham. What could Abraham have thought? Did he displease God and God was canceling his promises? How could he kill his own son? But how could he disobey this God who had never let him down? I might point out a couple of interesting facts. Mt. Moriah is believed to be in Jerusalem, the very spot where King Solomon would build the Temple some 800 years later. As you know the Temple had a history of being destroyed and rebuilt a few times. The beautiful mosque called the Dome of the Rock now stands on that spot. It was built by followers of Mohammed in 690 B.C. It’s the golden dome you often see when you look at a picture of Jerusalem. It is an issue over which the Jews and the Moslems are fighting today. The more conservative Jews want to tear it down and build a new temple in its place. The Moslems are determined not to let that happen.

HOMILY – Two mountains dominate our readings today: Mt. Moriah, the place where Abraham’s faith was tested and another mountain, which was most likely Mt. Tabor, where Jesus was transfigured. I think these two mountains symbolize the ups and downs of every life. We have those times when our faith is tested, moments when we think God is demanding too much of us, moments when it seems God is asking us to give up all the blessings he had previously given us. And we have high moments, moments when God seems so close, when his presence fills us with wonder and awe, moments of blessing that we do not want to see come to an end. Often we have no control over where God might put us at different times in our lives: whether we find ourselves on Mt. Moriah facing great trials, or we find ourselves on Mt. Tabor in a state of ecstasy. But for most of us, most of the time we’re somewhere in between, plugging along every day. Difficult times often seem to last forever but they seldom do. Abraham’s time of trial ended when God said "hold off, you don’t have to sacrifice your son. I just want to know you were willing to obey me." Sometimes that’s all God wants from us is for us to say "Thy will be done." And the joyful moments in our lives end all too quickly. The apostles wanted to stay on Mt. Tabor forever but our Lord said it was time to go back down. There was a lot of work and very hard times ahead of him.

Not mentioned is a third very important mountain. It is foreshadowed in the story of Abraham and Isaac. God did not demand the human sacrifice of Isaac, but God’s only son was to remain faithful to his mission even at the cost of his life on the hill of Calvary. Calvary also casts its shadow over the glory of Mt. Tabor. St. Mark makes an obvious connection between Jesus’ passion and death and his transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Mark tells us specifically the transfiguration took place six days after Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death. And Mark ends his narration of the transfiguration with Jesus telling Peter, James and John not to tell anyone of the vision until he had risen from the dead. The obvious linking of Jesus’ death and resurrection with the transfiguration tells us that while Calvary reminds us of Jesus’ suffering and his cross, it is also his hour of glory that brings us salvation, hope and peace.

The transfiguration was not only a revelation of the divinity hidden in Jesus but it was also a preview of his future glorification in the resurrection. It is also a preview of the glory God the Father wants us to share with his Son. The transfiguration is the fourth of the new mysteries of light for the rosary. As I was meditating on this mystery the other day I wondered how often the apostles experienced Jesus’ glory like this? Only once and it was only three of them. They had to simply go on faith the rest of the time, seeing only the human side of Jesus who ate and slept and grew tired and was sometimes sad or angry just like them. Those special moments when we experience God’s special closeness, when Jesus’ presence is tangible to us, when our lives are touched by glory are few and far between. Most of the time we have to simply go on faith. But it is a faith that will lead to future glory. St. Paul asks us in today’s second reading: "is it possible that he who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all will not grant us all things besides?" 

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