Recently, I have been rereading some documents from the Second Vatican Council. These documents speak just as prophetically to our present situation today as they did over 50 years ago.
As part of our strategic planning and because of some of the challenges we face today, I wanted to take a fresh look at the document Lumen Gentium (LG) – The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Each generation benefits by growing in their own understanding of the nature of the church and the grace and calling that belongs to each of us as members of the Body of Christ that is the church. I encourage you to read and study this important document as well.
The church fathers during the Second Vatican Council taught that Christ is the light of humanity, and this light shines out visibly from the church (LG #1).
From the beginning, God the Father has desired to share his own divine life with all people. When human nature fell into sin, God did not abandon us, but rather chose to extend to us the gift of salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ. “He chose to call together in a holy church those who should believe in Christ.” (LG #2)
Thus, Christ came into the world to be our redeemer, and through his preaching, miracles, death and resurrection, inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth, which is the kingdom of Christ, the church. When Christ completed his work, he sent the Holy Spirit, “that he might continually sanctify the church, and that, consequently, those who believe might have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father.” (LG #4)
The Holy Spirit dwells within the church, and within the hearts of the faithful, guiding the church and unifying her in all her ministries, and “by the power of the Gospel permits the church to keep the freshness of youth.” (LG #4) “Henceforward the church, endowed with the gifts of her founder and faithfully observing his precepts of charity, humility and self-denial, receives the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is, on earth, the seed and the beginning of that kingdom.” (LG #5)
Christ sustains his church as a community of faith, hope and love, and through the church communicates to each of us his truth and grace. While it is tempting to think of the church as two separate realities, one flowing from heaven with the other existing on earth, “they form one complete reality which comes together from a human and a divine element.” (LG #8)
This is important for us to understand, the church is at one and the same time, human and divine! In these days when we are confronted with the sinful reality of the human members of the church, it is comforting to recall the holiness of the church, which is ever present in her divine nature.
Our creed embodies this belief well every time we proclaim the church to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” Similarly, because the church is the Body of Christ, we are called to embody his humility and poverty. As Christ denied himself for our sake, we too are called to such self-denial, fulfilling the will of the Father and placing our lives at the service of others. As Lumen Gentium so eloquently teaches: “The church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.” (LG #8)
Because Christ is our head, we share even now in the dignity and freedom of God’s children. Christ has given us the commandment to love as he first loved us. On this earth we are a pilgrim people, journeying in a foreign land, our destiny being the kingdom of God, already present, yet to come in all its fullness.
As members of the church, we are the holy people of God. By lives of faith and love, we give a living witness to Christ. “The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (John 2:20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when, ‘from bishops to the last of the faithful’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals … The people unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.” (LG # 12)
We grow in holiness by receiving the sacraments and exercising the unique gifts given each of us by the Holy Spirit. It is through this working of the Holy Spirit, in the church and each of her members, that we are made capable and ready for the renewal and building up of the church. (LG #12)
My dear friends, I share this teaching so we may rediscover the goodness of God in his constant love for us; the hope and work that are ours in Jesus Christ; and the grace and blessing we have received through the Holy Spirit. All of this is present within the church.
This time of the church is ours, and all time belongs to Christ. In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, let us work together, in the spirit of Saint Francis, in communion with Pope Francis, to renew and rebuild the church.
Remain in Christ. Remain in his love. Remain in his church.