No.32 The Church where we Belong
We are members of the Catholic Church. And the word ‘catholic’ means universal. So we ask, are we its only members? Let us look at excerpts on the subject from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (sections 830-856, given below).
* In the Catholic Church, Christ is present. Wherever there is Christ, there is the Catholic Church. In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head (Christ). From Him, the Church receives the means of salvation in their fullness: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, a valid ministry ordained in the apostolic succession. The Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race. The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost and will always be so until the day of the Parousia (The Second Coming of Christ)
Who belongs to the Catholic Church?
* All are called to belong to the Church (the New People of God). God made human nature one in the beginning, and Christ commissioned the Church to toil unceasingly and efficaciously to bring everyone together under Christ its head, in the unity of his Spirit. All people are called to this catholic unity, to which all belong or are ordered, though in different ways, They are a) the Catholic faithful, b) others who believe in Christ, and c) all mankind, called by God’s grace to fullness of salvation.
* Fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who, by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and communion, are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, and are ruled through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.
* However, even though incorporated into the Church, to be saved, one has to persevere in charity; remaining indeed in the bosom of the Church, not just in body, but also in heart.
* Other Christians
The Church is joined in many ways to the baptised, who are honoured by the name of Christian, but who do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety, or who have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter. Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. (With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.)
Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways. The Jewish People were the first to hear the Word of God. Unlike other non-Christian religions, theirs is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. God’s People of the Old and the New Covenants tend towards similar goals: expectation of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.
The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator (such as the Muslims, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Baha’is). In the first place amongst them are the Muslims, who profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day. (They also venerate Jesus and Mary.)
* The Church’s bond with other non-Christian religions is in the common origin and end of the human race: all people stem from the one stock which God created in order to people the entire earth; and all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city.
The Catholic Church recognises in other religions that search, among shadows and images, is for the God who is unknown, yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.
Need for conversion and growth
In their religious behaviour, men and women tend to display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them. Deceived by the Evil One, many have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and serve the creature rather than the Creator. Living and dying in their world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.
* To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its spiritual identity, unity and salvation. The Church is the world reconciled; that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.”
Go now, you are sent forth to live what you proclaim
To show the world you follow Christ in fact, not just by name.
Go now, you are sent forth to walk this troubled earth
To share your faith with other men and prove your real worth.
Go now, you are sent forth as God’s ambassador
By serving Him in those we meet we love him more and more.
Go now, you are sent forth, and Christ goes with you too.
Today you help His Kingdom come in everything you do.
Lord, grant us the grace and the openness of mind and heart to see you, serve you and love you in all people, without abandoning you or the teaching of the One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church, which Jesus Christ your Son has founded, defends and through which he gives light and life to the world.