Saturday, May 05, 2012

One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

Adult Confirmation Class Four

To help accomplish His mission of reconciling man to God, to redeem us and sanctify us, our Savior and Lord established the Church as His Holy Bride, two become one, and He gave us the sacraments, which are administered by the Church. Man was created as a social creature, intended to exist in relationship, not in solitude. Thus, Jesus also established the Church so that we might fulfill our purpose of being in communion with each other, as well as Him. To be one with Jesus, who is the one and only savior, means to be one with the one holy Church, which is also the Body of Christ. Accordingly, we see that both Jesus Christ and the Church are absolutely necessary for salvation.

To guide and protect the Church and us, Jesus sends us His Holy Spirit, thereby assuring that He will be with us to the end of time. By His Holy Spirit, Jesus provides us graces, both sanctifying and actual, including the graces of the sacraments. We are not merely spiritual beings, but also bodily creatures, who experience things and know things by the senses of our bodies. To help us understand the reality of the provision of certain graces, Jesus instituted the sacraments.

A "sacrament" is an outward visible sign of the invisible reality of grace being imparted. A sacrament is also an efficacious sign, that is, a sign that brings about that grace. By the use of certain words and matter upon the body, we are thus able to know and understand that the Holy Spirit of Christ is acting upon us. Without such an outward, tangible sign, we might not fully realize or appreciate that God has done anything or that we have actually received these graces.

A Sacramental Church

Jesus gave the authority to confer the sacraments on the Church. However, it is Christ who acts in the sacraments and communicates through the Holy Spirit the sanctifying grace they signify, not the priest or bishop administering them. Thus, the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the personal holiness, or lack thereof, of the minister. On the other hand, the fruits of the sacraments do depend on the dispositions of the one who receives them.
(1) Baptism. Sinful man is redeemed and saved from death by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. In Baptism, one is immersed into this death of Christ, so as to rise again with Him. This baptism of the Triune God gives us sanctifying grace, so that the stains of Original Sin and individual sin are wiped away, and we are initiated into the communion of the Church. (Mt. 28: 19) As Abraham was marked with the sign of the covenant, so too is the soul of the baptized person marked with the indelible seal of Christ.

(2) Confirmation. In Confirmation, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Christ in love and truth. The Holy Spirit descends upon us, completing and bringing an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. Just as when the Spirit descended upon the faithful at Pentecost, we too are given the strength and grace and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and even endure persecution. (Acts 1:8; 2: 11) If even only as a seed, the Holy Spirit, if you accept Him, will dwell within you and graces will grow within you, and, like the Apostles, disciples, martyrs, and saints, you will be able to do that which is impossible to do on your own. The water and chrism oil of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are sanctified by Jesus and the Cross. The very being of recipient is radically altered as he or she is anointed and joined with the Christ, which means "anointed one."

(3) Confession. While Baptism cleanses us of Original Sin, it does not abolish the weakness of our impaired human nature nor our inclination to personal sin. If we examine our conscience and confess our personal sins with a contrite heart and a determination to avoid further sin, through the Sacrament of Penance, by the Crucifixion and Resurrection, we are absolved of our individual sins and reconciled to God. Furthermore, grace is given, if we accept it, to avoid further sin. (Jn. 20:22-23)

(4) Anointing of the Sick. While He was present amongst us, Jesus healed many who were sick. After Pentecost, Peter and the other Apostles similarly healed the sick. The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing, if not physically, then spiritually. Mostly, the Sacrament prepares us for the final journey in order to join God in heaven. (James 5:14-15) This sacrament confers a special grace which unites the sick person more intimately to the Passion of Christ. It gives comfort, peace, courage, and even the forgiveness of sins if the sick person is not able to make a sacramental confession.

(5) Matrimony. Man, male and female, is not merely a relational creature, but a spousal creature made in the image of the Triune God, who exists as a loving communion of persons in one being. Similarly, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, a man and woman are two made one in a communion of persons by the power of the Christ's Holy Spirit of Love. (Gn. 1:28, 2:24; Mt. 19:4-6) This communion of persons is not only unitive, but fruitful and procreative, just as the love that is God is unitive, fruitful, and procreative.

(6) Holy Orders. Those who do not marry are still, by human nature, called to love. We all exist to love and be loved in truth. We are made complete only by and in love. Thus, if we are not called to marry, we may receive a calling to follow Christ, who is the fullness of Love. By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, instituted by Jesus calling His apostles, the Church is passed on to the generations throughout time. (Mt. 16:18-19; Jn 15:16) The one priesthood of Christ is made present in this ministerial priesthood. The anointing by the Spirit in ordination to this priesthood seals the priest with an indelible, spiritual character that configures him to Christ the priest and enables him to act in the name of Christ the Head. Episcopal ordination of a bishop as a successor of the Apostles confers the fullness of the Sacrament on him, including the offices of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling.

(7) Eucharist. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said that He would be with us always, to the end of the age. In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. (Lk 22: 19-20; Jn 6:48-58) The Eucharist as the source (beginning) and summit (end) of the Faith, inasmuch as this Blessed Sacrament is the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus, even though under the appearance of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, the substance is transformed, that is to say, the fundamental basis of its being. This genuine transformation is called transubstantiation. As described by Pope Benedict, Christ takes possession of the bread and the wine, and He lifts them up out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order. Even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different.

Through the Eucharist in the one Mass, according to His Word, Jesus is with us, not merely spiritually or theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily as well as spiritually.

In a profoundly intimate way, we take His glorified Body and Blood into our bodies. The encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is not the encounter of a friend or a mentor or a teacher. It is a parental and spousal encounter. It is because the Eucharist is the Real Presence that such an encounter is the most intimate of intimate touchings. The person literally takes Christ within him- or herself both bodily and spiritually, so as to become one with Him in a mystical fashion, as in marriage, which also involves entering into another bodily and spiritually so as to become one in a communion of persons (unitive) and so as to receive life (procreative).

Only in this way is the totality of our person, body and spirit, able to be one with Him, Body and Spirit, fully and completely. Again, because we are creatures of both spirit and body, to receive Him in the entirety of our person, it is essential that we also experience the Body and Blood of Christ, which can be received only at Mass, in addition to His Spirit, which can be experienced at home. In this way, the Eucharist can truly be called Holy Communion.

The consecration of the bread and wine at Mass to become the Blessed Sacrament is not a re-sacrificing of Jesus. There is only One Mass, and there is only One Sacrifice, which is re-presented, that is, presented again. Remember, God transcends time and space, so that, not only does He extend across our concept of linear time, but for Him, specific points in time continue to exist forever. Thus, the Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross. In the Mass, in some mystical but true way, we transcend space and time and are made present at the Last Supper, we are made present at the foot of the Cross. And because we partake of His glorified Resurrected Body and Blood, so too are we made present at the Resurrection, and made One with He who rose to eternal life.
An Apostolic Church

In establishing His Church, Jesus called certain men as apostles, from the Greek word for "emissary." To the Apostle Peter, who was the first Pope, Jesus gave a special supreme authority. The original Apostles later appointed successors, whom we know today as bishops, and assistants, such as priests, who have the authority and power of administering the sacraments in persona Christi. Each bishop is the spiritual shepherd for a specific area, which is called a diocese, and he in turn delegates certain authority to pastors over a smaller area, which is called a parish.

The Church was established not only to confer the sacraments, but to teach and proclaim the Faith to the faithful and the entire world. For example, at Mass, we also celebrate the Liturgy of the Word, and thereafter receive, in the homily, a teaching on the readings. Jesus not only calls certain men to be priests and bishops, who sustain and hand on the Faith, He also calls some to be religious sisters, who dedicate themselves to the Lord like Mary and Martha. And while bishops and priests have a special authority to preach, lay catechists are given authority to teach, and all the faithful are called to be a light of Jesus to the world.

Jesus told his apostles and disciples to spread the Good News and convert all nations, and He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to guide and protect this apostolic Church always, so that not even the gates of Hell would prevail against Her -- One Holy Church that exists universally, that is, "catholic" -- not only in history, but eternally and transcendent, not only horizontally, across nations, but vertically, a communion of the faithful in this world with the faithful in purgatory, and God and interceding saints in heaven above.

The Church, as Bride of Christ, who abides with us always, is protected by the Holy Spirit and is necessarily perfect, just as Her Spouse, Jesus, is perfect. And like Jesus, the Church does not hate; She has only love for all, including sinners. Members may and do sin, and in doing so, they may cause scandal, leading others to question the Faith or the Church, or to fall away from the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, we must be very careful in our words and actions, so that we do not reflect poorly on the Church and cause scandal.

The Church is Mother and Teacher (CCC 85-87; 2030-2051)

The Church is also Mater et Magister (Mother and Teacher), where the successors of Peter (the pope) and the apostles (bishops) are guided by the Holy Spirit, and the Faith is protected from error. That is, Jesus conveyed teaching authority upon the Apostles and their successors, commanding them to go and preach the Good News, while promising that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide and protect His Bride, the Church, from error.

The teaching office of the Church is known as the Magisterium. The teachings of the Magisterium, be they on matters of faith or morals, are not the personal opinions of the pope, and they are not the "policy positions" of the Church, although they are often erroneously described as such in the media. Because God is Love and Truth, the pope and the Church are bound in their moral teachings by love and truth. Moreover, because She was founded by Christ, we are not free to change the Church as we wish. Not even the pope is free to change the Church to suit his own tastes. Faith and Truth are not arbitrary, and they are not matters of opinion to be decided by majority vote. The Church is His Church before it is ours. She is the One, Holy, Catholic (universal), and Apostolic Church of Christ, not the "Church of do your own thing."

The Magisterium provides the authoritative interpretation of Divine Revelation, both Holy Scripture and Tradition, and assures the truth of the Faith by use of Revelation and right reason, i.e. truth, as guided and protected by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus calls us to holiness, to live a moral life of love of God and love of one another. Thus, in addition to helping to form our faith, another function of the Magisterium, as guided by the Holy Spirit, is to teach us and assist us in the formation of our consciences, which involves an act of reason, not feeling. That is, moral conscience, present in the heart of the person, is a judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins him to do good and to avoid evil. Whereas the natural law discloses the objective and universal demands of the moral good, conscience is the application of the law to a particular case.

In helping us to properly form our moral consciences, the Church does not really teach anything new, anything that was not previously revealed by God or is not already written as the natural law on men's hearts and therefore discoverable and knowable by reason. Under the natural law, the concepts of truth, justice, good and evil, and values of right and wrong are deemed fundamental, absolute, and transcendent. As a component of transcendent truth, morality is objective, not subjective, relative, or situational.

However, this call to holiness is a voluntary one. The Lord does not force it or the grace of the Holy Spirit upon us. We have the free choice of the will to decline His offer to provide a light to guide us on our way. But if we insist on doing things our own way, insisting that we can choose our own truth instead of that which is lovingly given to us by the Holy Spirit through the Church, we will find it much more difficult to find our way through life in the darkness. And if we resist the Light too long, if we do not turn back to Love and Truth before it is too late, we will find ourselves in the darkness forever.

The Last Things - Salvation . . . or Not (CCC 988-1065)

In Love and in Truth, God created us. The meaning of life, the purpose for which we were made and the reason we exist, is to live in and for truth and love. In God, who is Love and Truth, all things are possible. Love and Truth can even defeat death and, so, part of our purpose for being is to live with and in God's love for all time. Thus, we proclaim our faith and hope in "life everlasting."

Our life on this earth is not the "be all and end all," but is a preparation for eternal life with God. The eternal life can even begin now if we definitively choose to respond to God and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. The problem is that many of us do accept God, but not definitively, and we then go on to be unfaithful to Him. But, we must return to Him while there is still time. Indeed, the time for making a definitive choice to accept the grace of salvation is during this life -- it ends upon death, which, as Jesus reminds us, could come at any moment. At the moment of death, each person is subject to a "particular judgment," whereby if you die in mortal sin and unrepentant, having failed or refused to seek and accept God's mercy and forgiveness, then you will have necessarily not chosen eternal life, but eternal death instead.

Hell exists as an actual state of being, although precisely what Hell is like is a mystery. Given that we are bodily creatures who experience things by our senses and understand things in a physical manner, scripture describes Hell in various physical terms, such as physical pain from fire or coldness and darkness. Whatever else Hell may be like, the worst aspect of it is eternal separation from God. And it is not God who sends us to Hell, we necessarily send ourselves there.

Why would anyone choose Hell?

Well, by rejecting God, by saying "I don't want God, I never want God," by dying in mortal sin, which separates us from Him, one necessarily chooses to be separate from God. And since true love is never imposed upon someone, God being Love, He does not impose Himself on anyone against their will. He does not save them against their will. He does not force them to spend eternity with Him against their will. One need not actively hate God or directly reject Him; by choosing to remain in mortal sin, by choosing not to be restored to a state of grace, one necessarily chooses to be apart from God, and that is what Hell really is in its essential aspect, that is what damnation is -- eternal separation from God -- God who is Love and God who is Truth, in Whom is Life itself -- eternal separation from love and truth and life. But God does not cause that separation, God does not cause that damnation out of a petulant fit of pique, He does not use His divine boot to crush, like ants, those that tick Him off. That is not who or what God is.

God is Love, and He remains Love whether you are a saint or a sinner, whether you love Him in return or whether you hate Him. God does not return hate for hate, or anger for rejection. He will always remain faithful to you and offer love in return for your infidelity, but He will not make you take His love. If you are willing to accept His love, including seeking and receiving the sacraments, including the Sacrament of Confession, such that, upon death you are not in a state of mortal sin, God will always extend to you mercy, forgiveness, redemption, and the joyous gift of eternal life with Him in Heaven. The Lord delights not in the death of anyone, He is a God of the living and desires that all be saved and reconciled to Him.

Now, in order to be able to enter the perfection of Heaven, we must ourselves be in perfect grace, or made perfect. If we are not already totally pure when we leave this world, if we are not in a perfect state of grace, we must be purified. If you die in the grace of the Lord, but with the stain of some "venial" sin, if you sincerely seek to conform yourself to God's will, yet die without full healing and repentance from sin, then the fire of the Holy Spirit must purge that imperfection from you. However, purgatory is not a "second chance" to choose to be saved after death. The time for choosing is here and now.

Although we must choose God to be saved, we must be clear that our mere choice is not the cause of salvation. We are not our own saviors (that is the error of the fruit of the Tree), we cannot earn salvation, and we cannot justly demand salvation as a right. Nothing we do, think, or believe, merits forgiveness and salvation. Only Christ is our Savior, and redemption is a completely gratuitous gift. But salvation, like love and forgiveness, is not a unilateral action. It is a transaction. The graces of salvation and forgiveness are something that is offered and given, but to be complete, they must be accepted. We must choose to accept and then actively accept forgiveness and the salvation of being with God eternally. If someone is disposed to reject what is offered, and not make that choice of being with God, then they have necessarily chosen to be apart from God. And He will respect and grant that choice.

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