Primer on the Church Part II:
Christ Is Still at Work in His Church & Caritas







The Resurrection has glorified Christ’s humanity permanently and enabled the power of the glorified body to communicate Jesus’ invisible and eternal life through signs Christ instituted while he was on earth. His glorified body communicates this eternal life through the sacraments and especially Holy Communion: “As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word [the Logos] as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure [societas] of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body” [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium, #8.1].


By baptism, a new humanity is “clothed” (Gal 3:27) in Christ and permitted to enter the heavenly Jerusalem by the new way Christ established (cf. Heb 10:20). The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven (Rev 21:10) by the sacred authority of the apostolic (Rev 21:14) minsters “to bind and loose” (Mt 16:19, 18:18 Titus 1:5-7 1 Peter 5:1). The baptized (“clothed” in the name of Christ cf. Rev 14:1) are given access to the lamb of God who has conquered death for them. It is celebrated especially “on the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10 cf. Heb 10:25).


From Part I, notice again that the development of koinonia is from societas to communio. Through his ordained ministers, the very foundation of the heavenly city (Rev 21:14), Christ opens himself to communion (Rev 21:22 1 Cor 5:7-8) and awaits to “nourish” (Eph 5:29) those who love him and await his glorious return. Christ becomes for them the bread of life and the cup of salvation (John 6:58 Mt 26:26-28) to accomplish participation in his glorified life. For “liars” and the lawless who try to enter, he becomes judgment (1 Cor 11:27 Rev. 22:15).





Jesus nourishes every baptized soul through communion with Himself so they are able to complete the journey of earthly life to heavenly life through, with, and in Him by faith…the mystery of faith. The transition from earthly life to heavenly life is gradual as the Spirit works within human freedom to develop Christ’s virtues within human souls (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11). This all happens in mystery (sacrament) and the Spirit so that Christians may grow into Christ (cf. Eph 4:15) and make what was exterior become more interior by frequent Holy Communion in the desire for unity.


The signs which Christ instituted at the Last Supper make truly present the invisible reality of the heavenly kingdom which comes forth from Christ’s resurrected and glorified body (and as depicted symbolically in Revelation 21). Since the glorified body is more subject to the higher power of “eternal life” than to time and space, so Christ’s glorified body remains invisible while Christ effects our gradual transformation through visible signs on earth which bestow his continuing heavenly ministry and union. He appears as a sacrificed lamb (cf. 1 Cor 5:7-8) in the separation of body and blood shown under the appearance of separated bread and wine.


“Seated at the right hand of Power” (cf. Mark 14:62), Jesus is still really, truly and substantially present from heaven to Christians whether they are celebrating according to the ordinary or the extra-ordinary form in the West. The mark of apostolicity in the souls of ordained ministers makes this sacramental reality possible. The three original Churches confirmed by Peter – even before Peter was in Rome – are still with Peter’s successors: Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria (both in the Western and Eastern liturgies and the continuous fellowships even as Sister Churches).


The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1203 briefly alludes to this implicit koinonia and communio: “The liturgical traditions or rites presently in use in the Church are the Latin (principally the Roman rite, but also the rites of certain local churches, such as the Ambrosian rite, or those of certain religious orders) and the Byzantine, Alexandrian or Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite and Chaldean rites. In ‘faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity, and that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.’”


Speaking ecumenically now – and tightening statements more dogmatically in the next paragraph – New Rome (Constantinople) is still celebrating the Divine Liturgy faithfully and validly. Its eparchs today share the kiss of peace with “Old” Rome, the See of Peter. The Church in Russia – Moscow which once viewed itself as “Third” Rome – manifests the Liturgy faithfully and validly, seeking to restore apostolic Christianity to Russia. There are many true places on earth where the City of God is realized in the Church on earth sacramentally, but sin, ignorance and lack of charity keeps Christian communities divided and apart from perfect unity.



Communio based on love in the truth and the call to holiness



There is only one true Church of Christ on earth and it subsists in the Catholic Church with Saint Peter’s successors and all Churches in full communion with those lawful successors and keys of Peter:


"This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth" [cf. 1 Tim 3:15]. 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, 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." [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium, #8.2, bold mine.]


No doubt, there have been many ruptures in the communions already mentioned and even Popes have fostered ruptures through their personal sinfulness. Sin obscures the existential from the essential. The faithless politician and Communion issue per Part I, makes discussion even more complex. Nevertheless, the focus must look to eventual healing without ignoring much needed correction and repentance. So what can bring us all into a more perfect union and koinonia with the one true Church of Christ? What is just as necessary as apostolicity? What can help us navigate all the complexities that have arisen from human sinfulness, ignorance, and the ravages of time and cultural distance?





The Church is not only apostolic, sacramental, and united with Peter. Personal holiness, inseparable from abiding in charity, is essential. Holiness is more than being merely about the holy sacramental character^ that marks the souls of the baptized, confirmed, and/or ordained ministers of God, “written on their foreheads” (cf. Rev 14:1). The character and holiness which comes from God must be allowed to lead to on-going conversion and abiding in the One who alone is holy. It must lead to worshipping in Spirit and in Truth for these gifts to be personally possessed. Such worship occurs in the daily living of the Christian…personal holiness.


The Book of Revelation depicts symbolically that abiding in Christ is about living in the Heavenly Jerusalem even while upon earth. The ever-sacred and holy characters granted in baptism are about having sacramental access to enter the Holy of Holies, Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of the Power. These holy sacred characters exist for worship in Spirit and in Truth wherein we are sanctified by communion with Christ in the free surrender of our human wills to the true Good, God’s loving will.


The characters are meant to lead Christians to be “transformed by the renewal of their minds, proving what is the will of God” and “presenting their bodies as a living sacrifice to God” through the acceptance of God’s loving will in their daily-living (cf Romans 12:1-3). The holy characters lead from exteriority to personal interiority and transformation. Moral living, sanctification through faith in Christ, is highly liturgical and necessarily sanctifying as the Letter to the Romans and the Catechism clarifies in paragraph 2031:


“The moral life is spiritual worship. We ‘present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God [which is your spiritual worship]’ [Romans 12], within the Body of Christ that we form and in communion with the offering of his Eucharist. In the liturgy and the celebration of the sacraments, prayer and teaching are conjoined with the grace of Christ to enlighten and nourish Christian activity. As does the whole of the Christian life, the moral life finds its source and summit in the Eucharistic sacrifice.”

True unity in the Church is achieved in holiness, worshipping in Spirit and Truth by faith in Christ. It involves self-knowledge of one’s own ignorance and self-centeredness, repentance and the willingness to love one’s neighbor as one’s self and actually sacrifice for others. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn 3:16). Christians must work in the Holy Spirit and faith “to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor 5:4) and this life which is spoken of is the charity of God which frees us from sin and makes us holy. “God is charity, and he who abides in charity abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).


For this reason every Christian must strive to enter more fully into charity individually and thus to love others in truth. Every Christian is called to holiness. It is not only for their own salvation, but for the restoration of unity to the Church. Charity is the heart of Christ and the only place where true unity abides and can be restored.



Conclusions: The Call to Holiness



To abide more fully in this charity of God is the heart of Christian unity where Christ unites every human with himself and one another: “Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:11-12). Yes, unity must be “perfected” and it is perfected by developing in charity. There are many imperfect unions and forms of koinonia. Each Church must be perfected in love to grow into Christ’s charity and grow closer with one another and abide in the one who presides in charity…Christ the philanthropos – as well as the office of Peter which is supposed to serve the unity of faith. Christ established the office of Peter for unity of faith and morals and as a court of last appeal (cf. Jn 21:17 Mt 16:19). Love seeks unity and develops unity. Love does not allow a throw-away culture or for Christians to discard one another.

It does little good to proclaim oneself the true Church when the proclaimer does not abide in charity and lacks the virtues of Christ. Such causes only confusion and serves hypocrisy and division. Truthfulness without the form of charity (the desire for unity and development in Christ) is not truthfulness. Nor can something be called charity that is not sustained by truthfulness. Mercy without the kind of truthfulness which promotes conversion of the sinner is not mercy because only the truth makes one free and capable of authentic love.


The truth must be loved in that it provides unity with the Good and makes one good. Words and dialog must be spoken truthfully for the sake of restoring unity and promoting unity. Without compromise of the essentials of what Christ instituted, only by acts of charity and speaking the truth in love, will wounds and divisions be healed. The truth hurts, but it must never be spoken in order to simply hurt others. Such would just be vindictive and wicked and violates the goodness of the truth. The truth spoken without love is not really the truth.


“St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie.” --John Paul the Great at the Canonization of Edith Stein






The fullness of the Church is where all four marks are present: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic (including Peter’s keys). This primer on the Church is not a fantastical edict, correction or bull. Nor is it the place to condemn all the errors of ecclesiology. Rather, this essay is the continued call of Vatican II, a call to personal holiness through dedication to charity and honest frequenting of Holy Communion. It is a summary of the essentials of the Church and a call to restoration of the essentials for the glory of God to shine through the existential reality of the Church on earth.


Come Lord Jesus!


endnotes:


^ continuing some of the thought of De La Soujeole from Part I and Aquinas.




Matthew A. Tsakanikas, STL, STD is an associate professor of theology and editor of catholic460.com