August 22 and 23,
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
So often we hear references to “the Church”s an institution, a semi-corporation, an international organization and various other nomenclatures that reduce “the Church” to a thing, monolethic and perhaps impersonal. This misconception and distortion of “the Church” has sadly affected even Catholics. Therefore, as we hear in today’s Gospel according to Matthew, Our Lord’s adominition: “…I will build my Church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it.” It should give us pause to renew our understanding of just what “Church” means.
Ancient Israel, having been led out of slavery in Egypt, we formed into a people by God Himself through His champion Moses. The Israelites, believing in the one true and only God, and following His Ten Commandments became known as the Qahal Yaweh – the Assembly of God. In other words they were gathered together in a single community of faith, bound by a moral code because of God’s love for them. Most of the Old Testament, after Genesis, records the on and off relationship Israel had in following the covenant forged on Mt. Sinai. As we know, the Qahal was not only a chosen people they had a duty and responsibility to spread the good news of there being one God who dramatically “pitched His tent” in the midst of His people. Very often Israel was negligent in fulfilling its mission to the world.
In the course of time the Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, taking upon humanity through Mary, has come to pitch a new tent, a much more elevated covenant which is renewed in a new Qahal. That ancient Aramaic word has gone through several translations over the centuries. The early Church used the Greek Ekklesia, the Latins used ecclesia, the Germans – Kirche, English – Church. We see the etymological evolution coming from that primary word Qahal. So we then are that new Qahal, New Church which Our Lord founded on the faith of St. Peter. Christ was, is and always will be the head of His Church, but He, in His infinite wisdom, so often beyond one understanding, entrusts His Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to a human agent, an earthly Vicar. That Vicar, caretaker and teacher, is Peter and his successors.
Just as God is one, so too He made His Church One, not splintered, not divided, not multiple “assemblies” but, One. That unity is to reflect God Himself in Holiness. That unity and holiness is no longer for a particular group of people or nation but now is for all peoples, everywhere, at all times, ergo Catholic or universal. The guarantee that these truths be preserved during the course of time and place is that it be Apostolic. In other words, the Qahal- the Church can only proclaim, preach and teach what the Apostles themselves received from the Lord Jesus. The truths of the Faith can never be subjected to public opinion, popular vote, or manipulation. The Truth of the Faith never changes. (period).
This saves us from the winds of uncertain change, prevailing opinion, or fads. Hence, Simon bar Jonah was well-named by Christ: “You are the Rock.” Many currents may buffit and attack that Rock, but by God’s grace, it cannot be subject to passing trends.
With this in mind, we have a clearer understanding of “Church”. We understand that it is Christ’s Mystical Body. We, who are Baptized, are the Church. We are one in the Body of Christ, and as living cells we all have an important part to play in keeping these cells healthy and vibrant with right-teaching i.e. following the Gospel, and being fortified by the Ssacraments, most especially the Holy Eucharist – the greatest gifts Our Lord has left to His Church.
Our congratulations to all who last weekend and this weekend who have made their First Holy Communion.