Everything we have heard today concerns the nature, mission, and practices of Holy Church. That is to say, it concerns the Trinity, and you, and me, and how we conduct ourselves. The Church is the “sacrament of salvation”: when people want to know what salvation looks like and where it comes from, look to the Church—and see the Trinity, and you, and me, and how we conduct ourselves. The Church is the “Mystical Body of Christ”—Jesus the Head and we the Members—fully alive with His Most Precious Blood pulsing through our veins, fully alive because we are united by the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, Power, and Love.
Hear the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: “All men are called to this catholic unity which prefigures and promotes universal peace. And in different ways belong to it, or are related: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation” (Lumen Gentium, 13). That statement was made less than fifty years ago, but the roots of it are found in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, where we see the Church’s borders being opened to Gentiles (non-Jews). This manifestation of divine mercy points to the fulfillment of Jesus’ desire for unity under the care and direction of one Shepherd.
Complete unity is, as we well know, a work in progress. We see this in the same first reading, where the Apostles have decided (in the first Church council, held in Jerusalem) whether the Gentile converts should be forced to enter the Church through the rituals of Judaism. In an example of genuine compromise, both sides listen to each other, consider the truth in each other’s views, be willing to hold their own views with some levity, and be willing to give up something for the sake of Christ’s peace: in this example, the Gentile converts will observe certain Jewish dietary and marriage laws, while the Jewish converts no longer are to demand circumcision.
The heavenly Jerusalem described in the second reading is the consummate model of Christ’s peace, for it comes from heaven and joins the blessed with all who await the blessing of everlasting life. It joins Testaments Old and New. It joins together every human division. Our present endeavor is to assist in the bridging of every gap with openness, honesty, and willingness. This includes the gaps between peoples, and most important, the gaps between the truth and us. Here the Church’s magisterium, or teaching authority, leads the way—not as Truth’s master, but rather as its servant.
When it comes to the issues that are so divisive in society, it is important to remember the Church’s role of fostering peace through truth and charity. There is the ever-present tendency to caricature people and issues, to make personal attacks and so forth—somewhat understandable because religion and politics are so important to the survival of the human community. The Church engages in politics because politics has to do with people and the way they treat each other. She cannot back down from the Truth of the Gospel and the Church’s teachings for the sake of human respect. She doesn’t intend to drive people away, nor will she retain them under a false sense of unity. We know how the Cross continues to be revealed in the many forms of human suffering, especially of the innocent; but we can’t forget the suffering that the whole Church experiences as people fall short of, and even reject, the full and splendid truth about themselves.
For this reason we ceaselessly invoke the Holy Spirit who first descended upon Mary and the Apostles, begging for a new outpouring of divine life upon the People of God—that, whatever “side” we may be on with respect to a given matter, we may attain unity and peace to be the best possible example to the world, even if our greatest success lies in demonstrating our utter dependence on God’s mercy.
BGT 1 Corinthians 9:25 πᾶς δὲ ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος πάντα ἐγκρατεύεται, ἐκεῖνοι μὲν οὖν ἵνα φθαρτὸν στέφανον λάβωσιν, ἡμεῖς δὲ ἄφθαρτον.
1 Corinthians 9:25 Omnis autem, qui in agone contendit, ab omnibus se abstinet; et illi quidem, ut corruptibilem coronam accipiant, nos autem incorruptam. (1Co 9:25 NOV)
(I copied these verses as a personal reminder for my marathon preparations, which begin in earnest this week (with an initial reduction in weekly mileage). The verse reads:
Everyone who competes, denies himself everything; and these do so in order to receive a perishable crown, while we receive an imperishable one.