[If I could preach on Pentecost, I would say this…]
I believe in the holy Catholic Church.
We say this in the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in the holy Catholic Church.” What do we mean, when we say this? [Spanish]
The Acts of the Apostles ends with an account of St. Paul’s legal battles in Israel. The Roman governors hardly knew what to do with the case. One of them tried to explain it like this: ‘I thought the Jews had an accusation against Paul of some real crime. But it turns out, the whole thing has to do with this Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews say He’s dead. Paul says He’s alive.’
Jesus appeared to His Apostles. Wounded in the flesh, but risen from the dead. His resurrection made the Eucharist the Eucharist.
We believe in the Church with the wounded, risen Body, and the living, divine Blood, of Jesus Christ. We believe in the Church where Jesus encounters us, on the altar. We believe in the Church where He offers Himself as our sacrifice, where He feeds us with Himself and unites us in Himself.
We belong to the Church that began in the Upper Room, with the Apostles as the first priests. God gave mankind something in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. God gave mankind His Christ, as a perpetual, mystical gift. We believe in the Church that has received, cherished, and disseminated this inexhaustible gift.
“Gift” is one of the titles of the Holy Spirit. God gives Himself. God gives eternity, everything, infinite goodness and beauty. The Father gives that divine Gift to His only-begotten Son. From eternity unto eternity, He gives Himself.
There is no true Church without the eternal Love that binds the Father and the Son. When the Son became human in the womb of the Virgin, the divine Love began to show itself as Jesus’ religion, Jesus’ humble adherence to the will of the Father.
We believe in the holy Church of Jesus’ religion. The religion of Jesus reveals the eternal divine Love, the eternal Gift of everything. Jesus receives the Gift, and, with piety, He returns Love for Love. He receives the eternal infinite Gift. And He gives the eternal, infinite Gift.
We believe in the Church only because we believe in the Holy Spirit of Christ, the Gift of the eternal Father. We believe in the holy Catholic Church only because we believe in the Incarnation of the eternal Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity.
But the thing is: We do believe in the Trinity, and in the Incarnation, since that’s what believing in Jesus means. And so we also believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
God founded our Church. Not us. We belong to our Church not like good citizens belong to a Rotary Club. Or even like lawyers belong to the bar association. We belong to the Church like children belong to their mother. We owe holy Mother Church our hope for heaven. She alone has given that hope to us. And She has given it to us with consummate humility, since She does not hesitate to admit that She Herself received it as a gift, from Jesus.
“I believe in the holy Catholic Church.” The situation involving the bishop and myself has a lot of us hanging on the edge of this particular article of the Creed. ‘Father, this is testing my Catholic faith. What if you don’t get justice?’ All I can say to this is: “I know the feeling.”
We have to wait and hold on. God rewards the patient.
After all, the holy Catholic Church is one enormously big and mysterious thing. It is an enormously big and mysterious bureaucracy, yes. But even the strange, cappuccino-fueled bureaucracy of the Vatican in AD 2020—even that bureaucracy sits as only a little toenail on the mysterious giant that is the holy Catholic Church.
The virus has interfered considerably with our commemoration of the bicentennial of our diocese. Pope Pius VII erected the Catholic diocese of Richmond, Virginia, in 1820.
The Vatican bureaucracy had its flaws then. An American churchman happened to find himself in Rome the preceding August, 1819, on the day when the Vatican made the final decision about establishing our diocese.
The Cardinal in charge of missionary dioceses gleefully told the American: ‘Guess what? The pope will establish a diocese in Virginia! The diocese of Hartford.’
The American had to produce a map. To convince the Cardinal that Hartford is the capital of Connecticut. The capital of Virginia is Richmond. Oops. The map finally convinced the Cardinal to re-word his memo to the pope.
Anyway, Pope Pius had a more-competent Cardinal serving as the Vatican Secretary of State at the time. Ercole Consalvi. A few years earlier, Cardinal Consalvi had a famous conversation with Napoleon Bonaparte.
“I will destroy the Church!” the French emperor had stormed. Consalvi replied: “That is unlikely. In 1800 years, the clergy has not succeeded in destroying it.”
I think we’ll survive these confusing days. Our precious Catholic faith will survive. May the Holy Spirit come. To give us all patient, persevering faith.