Monday, March 25, 2013

Year of Faith: The Church & The Pope

Previous posts in my series of posts for the Year of Faith:
God the Creator
Jesus, The Incarnation
Jesus, The Savior
Mary, The Mother of God
The Holy Spirit

"I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church."

"He said to them, 'Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.'" (Mk 16:15) After His resurrection and before His ascension into Heaven, Jesus commissions His Apostles to take what they have been told and have seen and now understand out into the world and to share the good news with the world that God has become man and God, in the person of Jesus, has redeemed the world. "Then Jesus approached and said to them, 'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt 28:18-20) Jesus commissioned the Apostles to go out and gather the world and build the Church of Jesus Christ. This global universality is what makes the church catholic, which means "universal" or "in keeping with the whole". 

The church is one. The apostles went out to the ends of the known world preaching the gospels and converting thousands upon thousands of souls, the one Truth of the Gospel uniting them all in one, universal body, and their successors did likewise. The church is one because God is one. The church is the means by which the one God wishes to draw all peoples, all things to Himself. Thus all is connected together through God. All things good and beautiful can find a place in Jesus, the Word through whom God spoke creation. The church has the ability, as this vehicle of the one God, to assimilate all that is good and beautiful. Because God is the One, the church can find, recognize and celebrate the rays of the One Truth, the smaller expressions of God, throughout history, around the world, and, yes, even in other religions and philosophies. And because God is outside time, the Church is one on earth and after death. The Church can be considered in three groups: The Church Militant are those Christians on earth who are living, struggling against sin. The Church Triumphant are those who are in Heaven enjoying God's glory. And the Church Suffering are those who are presently in Purgatory (I'll get to more about Purgatory in November). 

The church is holy. Jesus died in order to sanctify His people, His Church. The Church, however, is comprised of sinners, and hence is in constant need of penance and renewal. As it has been said, the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. "The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offenses, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Paul VI, Credo of the People of God, 19) The church is always the spotless bride of Christ going out into the world seeking to make saints. The grace, the life of the church doesn't come from holy ministers, but from God. The church is holy because God is holy.

The Church is apostolic. The church is a sacrament of Jesus. It is not just a human institution. It shares in the very life of Christ, which is why can can profess to believe in it. "I am the vine. You are the branches." (John 15:5) It is a living organism, the Body of Christ established by Christ himself through the Spirit and this one body. The Church is grounded not on a philosophy but in a person, the person of Jesus Christ and the building of the church was not based on ideas but on the witness and testimony of the Apostles to the person Jesus Christ whom they knew and from whom they learned. The Apostles passed on their authority to their successors, the bishops and priests receive their authority by virtue of the bishop who ordains them. The church is apostolic because it traces its authority back to the original Apostles through their successors. 

The pope is the successor of Saint Peter, the first bishop of Rome. Peter was a simple fisherman from Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He left everything to follow Jesus and was there at almost every significant moment of Jesus' earthly life. During His ministry, there were many opinions about who Jesus was. When Jesus "asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter said in reply, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.' Jesus said to him in reply, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 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.'" Peter couldn't have known this except as a gift from God and the very foundation of the church rests upon this confession of Peter. 
The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.” This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope. The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” CCC 881-2
One of the most misunderstood aspects of the papacy is papal infallibility. Papal infallibility doesn't mean the pope can do no wrong. All it means is that the pope knows who Jesus is and when he summons that full authority to articulate doctrines of faith or moral precepts, he is prevented from making a mistake. And the pope is only infallible on issues of faith and morals. The pope is "a living voice of authority" to allow the flow of the life of the church to continue, as Fr. Robert Barron says, just as an umpire acts as a living voice of authority to allow the flow of a baseball game to continue rather than disintegrating into bickering. 

After Pentecost, Peter stood up in Jerusalem with the Eleven and made a speech. 
You who are Israelites, hear these words. Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know. This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.
When those who were there heard their words, they were "cut to the heart," repented and were converted. Peter's successors have always had the fundamental task of witnessing in just this way to the resurrection of Jesus even if, like Peter, it would mean their martyrdom. 
The world saw just recently how the church transitions authority from one pope to the next. I myself found it wonderful to watch but if you want to learn more about how the conclave worked and the papacy, Dorian Speed put together an awesome site: Electing the Pope
Many people appreciate the many good social works the Catholic Church does, from our schools, hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, etc., but many people likewise wish the Church would change some of her teachings, her doctrine. The good things the Church does it does because of her faith. You cannot have one without the other. The good things the Church does around the world is what we do but our faith is who we are. It is what binds us together and it is the reason we do all the good things we do. It does not change. It cannot change. And even those not Catholic or in disagreement with Catholicism should be glad of it. We do not hide in secret nor keep the world guessing; we openly profess who we are and we are always the same in our beliefs on faith and morals.

My blog posts for the Year of Faith are pretty simple and basic. If there is something the RCC teaches you don't understand or you don't understand why it teaches something, take a little time to understand better. You may still disagree, but at least you will understand why she teaches what she does. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church is found completely online. And the Vatican website has the publications of the recent popes and the documents of the Second Vatican Council. If you have a specific question, you can always ask a Catholic priest or, you can ask me and I'll do my best to respond in a timely manner. The Catholic Church holds a long and rich tradition and it is well worth becoming familiar with it.

"The Church of Jesus Christ is... a living thing, an organism, a body. Its head is Jesus himself and its life blood is the Holy Spirit. Its purpose is to be a conduit of the divine life to the world, a light to the nations, a new Eden." ~ Fr. Robert Barron

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