WHOSE CHURCH IS IT?
The Church is the visible manifestation of God whom we cannot see. The Church, or gathering of believers, is the living Body of Christ on earth, but also those living in heaven, and also those awaiting purification. Many humans only view the Church as a building or something for old ladies to go to when they feel guilty about their lives. As time passes in this fourth paradigm from Pentecost to this very day, there seem to be four quadrants evolving out of the Christ Principle. In my view of reality, they are:
(How to know God with all your mind) The Scriptures give us an account of how to love others as Christ loves us. Essentially, it is, what St. John says in Chapter 30:30-31 of his Gospel,
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book.
31 But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/20
The Scriptures, ratified by the Faith of the Faithful and declared by the Apostles and early Ecumenical Councils, is the inspired word of God. It allows its readers to sit next to Jesus and learn how to love others.
Those who gather in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit recreate their Baptism promises to reject Satan and all his allurement and false promises. Whenever I look at Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, I am struck by the list of tools for good works, as St. Benedict terms them that have spiritual and corporal works of mercy in them. I would encourage you to access this URL and look at the following tools that are recommended for us to inch our way from self to God.
“Chapter 4: The Tools for Good Works
1 First of all, love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, 2 and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27).
3 Then the following: You are not to kill,
4 not to commit adultery;
5 you are not to steal
6 nor to covet (Rom 13:9);
7 you are not to bear false witness (Matt 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20).
8 You must honor everyone (1 Pet 2:17),
9 and never do to another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16; Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31).
10 Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ (Matt 16:24; Luke 9:23);
11 discipline your body (1 Cor 9:27);
12 do not pamper yourself,
13 but love fasting.
14 You must relieve the lot of the poor,
15 clothe the naked,
16 visit the sick (Matt 25:36),
17 and bury the dead.
18 Go to help the troubled
19 and console the sorrowing.
20 Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way;
21 the love of Christ must come before all else.
The Church Universal alone is the only means humans have to reach Heaven. “Ecclesia sola” What sound like a statement that is exclusive of all other Churches except Roman Catholic, actually turns out to be all inclusive, or “catholic”. First of all, there is only One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism, so, to separate the Body of Christ from the Head would not be possible. Next, from early after Christ’s death, the notion of “extra ecclesiam nula salus,” outside the Church there is no salvation, is addressed by St. Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr in their writings. One thing I think about is this, after any of us dies, there is only one Heaven. Do you think Baptists go to one Heaven while Methodists go to another? That is not logical in my mind, nor what God intended by redeeming all humans and giving them the opportunity to choose to live in Heaven or not. The Church is one, not a bunch of various human interpretations each at odds with each other. All of this will be burned away in the crucible of truth as each one of us approaches the last judgement and gives an accounting of our stewardship. Matthew 22. In the end, I hope and pray that I make it to Heaven with the help of Christ’s redemption and resurrective love, but I also wish that all those who wish can make it there also. It is the destiny of all humanity to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father. Not everyone will accept that invitation nor realize what it is that they have rejected. All of us will be judged by God by our deeds. Believers have an additional accountability because of their Baptism and loving others as Christ loved us. We have been blessed by God.
These four expressions of Church from the beginning of time are contained in God’s DNA. They are what we must do to sustain our Faith in times of conflict. We take up our cross daily to follow what The Master taught us. Each day is a lifetime with its own beginning and its own ending. We are not orphans on the road to Forever, we can actually sit down with God in the Sacraments and Contemplative prayer and just be. The Church from earliest times is seen as a Mother, much like Mary was for Jesus, who smothers us with the blanket of the collective Faith of all living beings who are in Heaven, on earth, and awaiting their second chance to love others as Christ loved them.
This paradigm is a continuation and fulfillment of the Old Covenant. With the Christ Principle, Church moves from salvation for a few to a universal statement of love for all humanity. When I went to Starbucks recently (of course observing all the social distancing protocols) I chance to talk with a young college male who noticed I had been reading the late Dom Andre Louf’s book, The Cistercian Way. The conversation eventually turned to my reasoning for being a follower of Christ and how that did not make sense. His argument was: that is just your opinion and I have my opposite opinion, and both are correct. I have the freedom to believe whatever I want and what I believe is correct. I told him that he was wrong that it was just my opinion. I said that it was indeed a free choice on my part, but it was based on my desire to love others as Christ loved us and I do that through a gathering of like-minded believers. I continued to explain that my individual belief in something doesn’t make it real, but I believe it because it is reality. My belief is based on the foundation of those who have struggled with the same principles of meaning going back to the Christ Principle from whom all truth flows. This is the apostolic tradition from the Holy Spirit who is to safeguard our Faith from the gates of Hell prevailing against it. I believe that is when he got up, gave me a disdainful glance, and walked away. One of the great paradoxes of our Faith is how the Church can be holy and yet be filled with sinners (with the exception of Christ and His Mother)?
Part of the uniqueness of this paradigm shift is that it is a transfer of authority from Christ to his undisciplined and sinful Apostles. From now on, followers will be responsible for establishing the Kingdom of Heaven in the hearts and minds of its followers. This is a period of great uncertainty, as the Apostles gathered in the upper room. There were only Eleven of them, Christ left them no book of instructions on “How to Build and Run a Church for Dummies”, and they were with a leader to tell them what to do.
*1 When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.a2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,*and it filled the entire house in which they were.b3Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,*which parted and came to rest on each one of them.c4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues,*as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
THE CHURCH IS A GRAND GATHERING OF ALL THOSE GATHERED THROUGHOUT TIME WITH ONE CHRIST AS THE HEAD
The Church is composed of all those who are alive now (Church Militant), those who have died in the peace of Christ and have been declared worthy by God to claim their inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of the Father, and finally, those who have died and need a second chance at how to love others as Christ loved us (Church Purgative). In this paradigm, Christ is head of the body and we are all members.
When you think of Church, always think of those who are living, gathered with One Faith, One Lord, One Baptism.
The Church is collective way for communities of those gathered together in Faith to practice love.
When you think of Church, it is a living extension of Christ. We are the real presence of Christ on earth to those in our particular world.
The concept of Church is that of a mother who nourishes her children with food to sustain them as they walk their unique paths of choices to try to discover what is meaningful and true.
This blog is excerpted from my new book, The Christ Principle: A Lay Cistercian reflects on six paradigm shifts that help to clarify how all reality fits together.