During this month of July, the month of the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus, let us ask of our good Lord to deliver us from all evil! This Sunday is the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This weekend I share with you a message regarding the role of the Church in our lives. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
The Great Net: the net is an image of the Church, containing as it does both the just and sinners.
Today’s Gospel contains a number of parables concerning the Kingdom of Heaven – the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value found by an enterprising merchant, the great net thrown into the sea which brings in all kinds of fish, some good and others bad. (Mt. 13:44-52) The fishermen throw the good fish into vessels. The bad fish are discarded. The net thrown into the sea is an image of the Church which holds both the just and sinners. The Lord teaches this same idea on other occasions. His Church contains saints as well as sinners, His friends and those others who abandon the house of the Father to waste the inheritance received in Baptism. Yet all belong to the Church, though in different ways.
Christ ‘holy, innocent and undefiled’ (Heb. 7:26) knew nothing of sin (2 Cor. 5:21), but came only to expiate the sins of the people (cf. Heb. 2:17). The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 8) No matter what sins they commit, sinners continue to belong to the Church since spiritual goods still subsist in them - goods such as the indelible character received in Baptism and Confirmation, the theological virtues of Faith and Hope… along with the Charity that reaches them by reason of all the Christians struggling to be saints. Just as a sick or paralyzed part of the body receives assistance from the rest of the body, so it is with the Mystical Body of Christ.
The Church continues to live in her children who are not in the State of Grace. The Church seeks to work against the evil that corrupts their souls. She struggles to keep them in her fold, to bring them back to life with her love. She conserves them as one conserves a treasure not easily parted with. And it is not because she wants to carry around dead weight. She only hopes that through the power of patience, gentleness and pardon the sinner will make his return to her. It is like the withered branch which for lack of sap is allowed time to regain health and flower once more. (C. Journet, Theology of the Church, Bilbao) The Church does not forget for one single day that she is a Mother. She continually prays for her children who are ill. She waits infinite patience. She seeks to help them with abundant Charity. We ought to bring to the Lord our prayers, works, joys and sufferings for the sake of those who belong to the Church but who do not participate fully in the life of grace. We should especially keep in mind those we happen to know personally
who may need to return to the fullness of spiritual life.
The Church is made up of sinners, but it is without sin. The Church ought not to be judged on the basis of those who have not lived up to their Christian vocation.
The Church is made up of sinners, in some cases great sinners, yet she herself is free from sin. Just as one can say of Christ that He came from above and not from below, so also does the Church have a Divine origin. Christ joined her to Himself as His body and endowed her with the Gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God… This holiness of the Church is constantly shown forth in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful and so it must be; it is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus sanctifying others. (Second Vatican Council, loc. cit., 39) The Church knows that she is not a creature of this world. She is not a cultural phenomenon, nor a political institution, nor a scientific school, but a creation of the heavenly Father by means of Jesus Christ. Christ has given the Church His words and works, His life and salvation. She has been entrusted with this treasure for all generations to come. (M. Schmaus, Dogmatic Theology, vol. IV 603)
Sinners belong to the Church, despite their sins. They still can return to the house of their Father, even if it be at the last moment of life. Having received Baptism, they carry with within themselves the hope of reconciliation which not even the most grievous of sins can erase. The sin which the church finds in her children does not belong to her. It belongs to her enemy. It would be a shame if we allowed people to judge the Church on the basis of what she is not.
According to John Paul II, the Church is a Mother, through whom we are born to a new life in God. A mother should be loved. She is holy with regard to her Founder, her works and her doctrine, but she is, nevertheless, composed of sinful men. It is our duty to make a positive contribution to the life of the Church, to help her progress along the way of faithful renewal. This is not accomplished by negative criticisms. (John Paul II, Homily in Barcelona, 7 November 1982)
When people speak of the so-called defects of the Church in days gone by or in the present, they betray a mistaken understanding of the nature of this supernatural institution. Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the Church of the Lord, which He obtained with His own Blood. (Acts 20:28) Christ has watched over the Church from its foundation, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:27) As St. Paul writes to Timothy, the Church is the household of God… the pillar and bulwark of the Truth. (1 Tim. 3:15)
If we love the Church, there will never arise in us a morbid interest in airing, as the faults of the Mother, the weaknesses of some of her children. The Church, the spouse of Christ, does not have to intone any ‘mea culpa’. But we do: ‘mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’. The only true ‘mea culpa’ is a personal one, not the one which attacks the Church, pointing out and exaggerating the human defects which, in this Holy Mother, result from the presence in her of men whose actions can go far astray, but which can never destroy – nor even touch – that which we call the original and constitutive holiness of the Church. (J. Escriva, In Love with the Church, 7)
The fruits of sanctity.
The Church is the source of sanctity in the world. She continually offers to men the means for drawing close to God. Certainly our Holy Mother shines out spotless in her Sacraments by means of which she brings forth her children and nourishes them; in her Faith, which has never suffered contamination; in her most holy laws, by which she commands all men; and in her evangelical counsels which she proposes to all men; finally, in her heavenly gifts and charisms, by means of which, with inexhaustible fecundity, she brings forth armies of martyrs and virgins and confessors. (Pius XII, Encyclical, Mystici Corporis, 29 June 1943, 30)
As the fountain of sanctity, the Church has produced many saints down through the centuries. First there were the martyrs who gave their lives for the Faith. Later, history records the testimony of innumerable man and women who have spent their lives for the love of God to help others in need. Has there ever been a human want for which the Church has not shown a maternal solicitude? Countless parents have led heroic lives of silent sacrifice while faithfully fulfilling the demands of their Divine vocation. Similarly, there are those many men and women who strive to achieve holiness in the middle of the world by living apostolic celibacy. In sum, the Church is holy because all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness. (Second Vatican Council loc. cit. 39)
By virtue of the holiness of her Founder, the Church, the Bride of Christ, is forever young and beautiful, without spot or… blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27) She is always worthy of Divine favor. The holiness of the Church is an inherent characteristic, part of her nature which does not depend upon the number of Christians nor upon the depth of their
commitment to her. The Church is holy due to the constant action
of the Holy Spirit and not because of the behavior of her human
members. I would also like you to consider that even if human
failings were to outnumber acts of valor, the clear undeniable
mystical reality of the Church, though unperceived by the senses,
would still remain. The Church would still be the Body of Christ,
Our Lord Himself, the action of the Holy Spirit and the loving
presence of the Father. (J. Escriva, op. cit., 22)
As devout members of the People of God, we ask the Lord to
increase our desire for personal sanctity so that we might be
worthy sons of His Church. For this sublime mission aimed at the
flowering of a new age of evangelization in Europe, evangelizers
with a special preparation are required today. There is a need for
heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who have a
profound knowledge of the heart of present-day man, participating
in his joys and hopes, anguish and sadness, and who are at the
same time contemplatives in love with God. For this we need new
saints. ‘The great evangelizers of Europe have been the saints’.
We must supplicate the Lord to increase the Church’s spirit of
holiness and send us new saints to evangelize today’s world. (John
Paul II, Address to the Symposium of Council of European
Episcopal Conferences, 11 October 1985)
Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, St. Joseph,
St. Michael and St. Paul, may God grant us the grace to be dedicated
to the Will of God and pursuing personal holiness each day!
In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel
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