LAYING THE FOUNDATION
THE SPLENDOR OF THE CHURCH
You may have heard the news that just recently came over the wires the last few weeks. It was discovered that the Pope needed a heart transplant. It was supposed to be kept a Vatican state secret, but as these things do, this news leaked out. He discovered in the last few weeks that wherever he traveled throughout Italy, the word spread and the villagers would greet him upon entering their town, taking up this loud chant, "Take-a my heart, take-a my heart." After a few hours of this he was deeply moved. He didn't know what to do but wherever he went it continued. Last Sunday, stepping out on the balcony overlooking St. Peters square, the first step out, all of a sudden 50,000 people began roaring this chant, "Take-a my heart, take-a my heart." He was moved, came to the microphone, and he said, "I can't take all of your hearts but I'm moved by this expression of solidarity." (He's big on those sorts of things.) He said, "I've decided that I only need one, and I will take the heart of the man upon whom this feather falls, and he dropped the feather. All at once the chant began again, "Take-a my [blow] pssss psssss heart, take-a my [blow] psssss psssss heart."
It does serve to illustrate the point that all of us, I think, as Catholic Christians and even as Bible Christians who are still asking questions about the Catholic faith, recognize from Scripture that there is a certain splendor about the Church that calls for deep love and strong commitment. But what is the nature behind the splendor? What is the mystery that lies behind the Church? Not just behind the Church, but that which lies within the Church. For the next few minutes we'd like to explore that theme, "The Splendor of the Church," and allow the Holy Spirit to show us again what many of us have received from birth in a sense, what all of us have come to appreciate to some extent or you wouldn't be here. Let's take a look together at the splendor of the Church.
I'd like to divide up our discussion this evening into two parts. First, I'd like to consider what you could call the external splendor. Then I would like to take a look at the interior or the internal splendor and see how that really is the heart of it all.
The External Splendor: Art and Architecture
Sometimes we see the Church in less than holy conditions. We see ourselves, we see other people, we see priests and sometimes we see bishops whose lifestyles are not up to the Gospel standard. Yet as Chesterton said, "The Catholic faith even when watered down can still boil the world to rags." It's true that the Catholic faith right now is still alive no matter what struggles we face, no matter what internal defections we've experienced. The Catholic Church is strong with divine power. This is manifest in so many ways; you can see the splendor of the Church.
Let me just take you through a few of the steps that I took in discovering the splendor of the Catholic Church. The first thing that struck me as an outsider, really as an antagonist, was, "Wow, look at their art and look at their architecture." If you just judge from human standards apart from Scripture, apart from faith, you've got to admit as one author said, "The Catholic faith has the power to produce civilizations and not just denominations." You look around and even if you hate icons, even if you despise statues and regard them as idols, nevertheless, oh can those Catholics erect fine statues!
Earlier this year in January, I had the privilege of attending a three day colloquium made up of non-Catholic religious leaders in the Vatican spearheaded by my father in-law, Dr. Jerry Kirk, and the Catholic leader Cardinal Bernardin. We were there meeting in the Vatican for three days to discuss the problem of hard-core pornography, and how since the Iron Curtain has fallen, hard-core porn has been flooding into the Eastern bloc countries at alarming rates wherever you look, wreaking havoc in the Church and throughout society. So we were to discuss the problem and perhaps develop some strategies to help the Church combat this and also to help leaders in the civic communities to use legal standards to combat this as well. At the end of these three days, we were to present the results of our proceedings to the Holy Father. Pope John Paul II gave us a very, very close hearing and was very warm and receptive. He gave to us not only the prepared speech, but several off-the-cuff remarks, both of which were published in L'Osservatore Romano.
But what stands out in my memory during that whole three or four day experience was the time that I spent with a lot of my non- Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ touring St. Peter's or just walking around the Vatican or even taking a trip down the streets of Rome. It was interesting. There was one man in particular -- I won't mention his name -- he's very high up in a certain Southern Baptist convention. At the beginning of the week he was sharply antagonistic, especially when he found out that I was not only a Catholic but a convert from evangelical Bible Christianity. It didn't help that my father in-law was the head of the group. He went after me, and I'm German enough to go right back after him. So we had a ball for about 3 1/2 hours the very first night. He made it clear to me that this was tantamount to apostasy. I began to watch his whole attitude change in the next two or three days. He made no bones about it. The Pope was pretentious; the Pope was really wrong in claiming to be the infallible Vicar of Christ. But as we toured through St. Peter's together, you could hear his own hushed awe as he saw these gorgeous mosaics, the sculptures, the architecture. I kept chiding him with a certain gentle persistence. Where has Protestantism produced this sort of architecture, this sort of art? He admitted that there is nothing to compare.
A good friend of mine who was not able to go along, a fellow by the name of Richard White who is finishing a doctoral program in Catholic theology, a former student of mine - I'd talked to him about all of this just a few weeks after I got back from Rome, and he told me about his experience. After I converted he wanted to have nothing to do with me. Then one day he had to go up to a library in Chicago to pull a few books out of Mundelein Seminary Library. He just looked around Mundelein Seminary and he said, "There's nothing that I've ever seen in Protestantism to compare to the art and to the architecture, and that could not even compare to St. Peter's or anything in the Vatican. There is a real external splendor about the Church one witnesses in Rome. The Catholic faith has the power to produce civilizations, not just denominations; it's gorgeous."
I remember the last few hours of that day as we were preparing to meet Pope John Paul II. I wasn't sure exactly what would happen as all these non-Catholic leaders, these denominational heads, were preparing for this private audience. The meeting that took place an hour before our audience was most interesting. The first thing that happened was the Salvation Army representative stood up and said, "This man whom we are about to meet is a man of God, a man of the Gospel, a man of Christ, and I see Christ in his eyes. And as we go before him and present our burden, let's pray that the Lord will use this man whom He's anointed." I thought, "Wow, this guy is going to get in trouble if this gets out."
Then all of a sudden I saw this Southern Baptist leader stirring. I thought, "Point, counterpoint." Then he arose and he said, "I want to take it a step further. When you hear this man speak, you hear the Gospel proclaimed. Around the world, not since St. Paul has there been an evangelist who's been heard by so many people. He has the moral courage and the integrity. And in these halls throughout the Vatican, we can just see how this living faith can move and stir the hearts of many people. I want to pray that we can go and have him do for the problem of pornography what he's done to communism in Eastern Europe."
Then all of a sudden I saw this woman getting ready to stand up. She was the representative of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, also in Switzerland, which is a very liberal body of Protestant denominations. She has her doctorate from Harvard; she's taught theology at Harvard. She's no small figure. She has considerable clout and stature, and she's also a very strident feminist in a sort of way. So when she stood up, I thought, Well, now certainly we're going to hear the balance. She said, "I want to take it one step further." She said, "This man more than any thousand men you'll find is responsible for tearing down the Iron Curtain and bringing liberty to millions of Eastern Europeans. This man not only lives the Gospel, he understands the needs of humans around the world. As we present to him the problem of hard-core pornography, I expect him to take action and make a world of difference."
Cardinal Bernardin and I were looking at each other; we were winking. We're like, "If only Catholics could hear this." It was an unbelievable experience for 15 or 20 minutes listening to the testimony of people who had toured Rome, who had gone through the Vatican, who were now going to walk through St. Peter's en route to meeting His Holiness.
After the meeting we all came back. They were talking about Pope John Paul II; they were talking about the halls and the rooms. It was an unbelievable experience. I pray that everybody would have an opportunity at some point to make a pilgrimage to Rome to see Mother Church in this sort of external splendor. There's no question about it. It can impress the most antagonistic anti- Catholic, as it impressed me. But it's not enough just to show off your artistic and esthetic beauty; there has to be something more.
Liturgy and Worship
A second type of external splendor that I'd like to reflect upon with you is the liturgy and the worship of the Roman Catholic Church. Where I come from in Bible Christian circles, most worship services are very sermon-centered and most churches are very pastor-centered. In fact, it's very easy to see personality cults arise in certain churches where orators, great rhetoricians, are preaching 30, 40, 50 minutes each Sunday. People come and really measure their experience on the basis of how motivated, how informed and how excited they feel at the end of the sermon. It's a shame because I think all of them, like I was, are aware that something very man-centered is happening.
I don't want to downplay the importance of a homily. I would long to see the day where your average Catholic parishioner would say, "Oh please, more than 20 minutes. How about 30 minutes? How about 40 minutes? More Scripture, please; make it come alive." That would be glorious. But even if we achieve that in our lifetimes, something more needs to remain at the center, and that is the liturgy of the Eucharist, where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated with reverence and with a certain sacred awe that America is losing rapidly.
So even when I was antagonistic toward the Catholic Church, I would pick up books by Louis Bouyer, or Henri de Lubac, where they would describe the liturgy. I knew the Old Testament pretty well. I knew it well enough to recognize the fact that there were incredible ritual parallels between what the priests of the Old Testament did and the priests of the Catholic Church, what was involved in the Levitical sacrifices and the language used to describe the sacrifice of the Mass, the prayers of the Passover and the prayers of the Eucharist. I had not darkened the doorways of a Catholic sanctuary or parish once in my life. But I was still devouring these books and studying how these parallels and continuities were evident. I had the sense just from the books, just from the pictures. I had this one book by Archbishop Fulton Sheen where he described step by step all of the intricate stages of the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. I was enchanted by all of it. I still thought it was wrong. Deep down I harbored the sense that this was probably blasphemous sacrilege. But still there was an external beauty, an exterior glory about the liturgy and the worship of the Church.
Just about seven years ago when professor Tom Howard entered into the Church, Christianity Today, the leading evangelical news magazine, came out with a cover story about Tom Howard's pilgrimage into the Roman Catholic Church. They tried earnestly to make it seem as though it was kind of a warm fuzzy feeling that led him back to Rome because he was so enchanted with the liturgy and he spoke of the worship and this sort of thing. They spoke of it as just kind of an emotional attraction where he was attached to these external rituals. When you talk to Dr. Howard you discover, on the contrary that if that was really his motivating force, he would've remained an Anglican. In his own Anglican parish there was far more ritual, but there was something missing. There was something missing of the antiquity and the ripe incarnational humanness of Catholic worship. The more he studied, the more he recognized that the historic, apostolic liturgy is what really belongs by birthright to the Catholic Church.
This is something I'm discovering. I've only been a Catholic five or six years now, but I've discovered this in many ways. I've been on Opus Dei retreats now three times where they have celebrated the New Order, the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin - not a lot of smells and bells, just a certain holy simplicity. But I've walked away from these celebrations thinking, That is powerful; that is holy. There is so little in American life where you can go and say, "That's holiness; that's the sacred." I came away from those Latin Masses with that sense. Then I discovered afterwards in the documents of Vatican II, the express declaration that pride of place belongs to the Latin language in our liturgies. I'm not somebody who goes around crusading for Latin. Deep down, I was raised in the public schools. If I was raised in the 80's, I probably would have watched MTV. But I know in my heart of hearts that there is something of the transcendent, there's something of the sacred and of the holy, in the way the Mass is often celebrated with Latin. It isn't necessary; it isn't guaranteed. You can do a trashy job with Latin just like you can with English or any vernacular language. Likewise you can do a very adequate job of expressing the transcendent, and the sacred in English as well.
At the University of Steubenville where I teach, you can often sense throughout the student body attending Mass the glory and the splendor of the Church's liturgy. Just this year a new group was formed, Schola, and the two students who live with us in our home and are part of our extended family are members of this group. They're responsible for bringing Gregorian chant to the student body and to the student Masses. At first I thought, Lots of luck! You're going to be unearthing some relic, putting it in some museum or something. But on the contrary, last month's Latin Mass was standing room only. Hundreds and hundreds of our students were in hushed awe as the Mass was celebrated with deep reverence in Latin. And, as the Gregorian chant was sung, you had a sense of God's presence and of the awe and the sacred that belongs to the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Amazing experience.
Now we hope to bring Gregorian chant into the English liturgy as well. And once again I was reading the documents of Vatican II, expecting to hear it being gently outmoded, rendered obsolete or something. On the contrary, in the documents of Vatican II we are urged to learn Gregorian chant. The commission of the Church is to get more of the rank and file lay people participating in the chant. I was so astonished to see it. I requested Schola to allow me to speak to them before one of their practices. I went through several Church documents that spoke of Gregorian chant as being a very powerful medium or vehicle to communicate the sacred and the transcendent realities that we celebrate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The student response was overwhelming. They didn't know that what they were doing was so mainstream, so normal. But if we listen to Vatican II, that's what we hear.
So we have many opportunities to discover the external splendor of the Church in the liturgy, in the worship that is consistent through the ages. The Catholic tradition of worship, I read in another book, is like an ocean that youngsters can play around in and that the mature cannot begin to sound the depths. And so it is that we should be contemplating the mysteries of our liturgy and discovering the splendor of worship.
Intellectual and Cultural Achievements
The third manifestation of the splendor of the Church is the one that impressed me personally the most, by far and away. That is the intellectual and the cultural achievements of the Catholic Church in the last twenty centuries. For one thing, I've been studying just recently how Catholic universities were formed across Europe to revive the liberal arts tradition of the ancient Greeks and Romans -- not just to revive it but to thoroughly Christianize it. It's fascinating to read John of Salisbury or Hugh of St. Victor as they plot out a strategy for education that can still work in the 1990's. (For example, there's a school in Massachusetts, the Trivium; Thomas Aquinas College out here in California.) There are other places, too, that are discovering that by means of the seven liberal arts, the Trivium and Quadrivium, we can Christianize education in the most thoroughgoing way possible. It was the way in which the Gospel was inculturated through pagan tribes and cultures for centuries. It's a story that is yet to be told. But it's one I challenge you to roll up your sleeves and get into a little bit. It gives us, I think, real hope that in the coming generations as we live out our faith, we will be planting seeds in our children and, Lord willing, in our grandchildren throughout this country to revive this land through the cultural and educational heritage of the Catholic Faith.
The Catholic cultural achievement is also remarkable. I just read a book recently by Harold Burman, published by Harvard University Press. I wasn't sure what to expect. Burman, who's a Protestant scholar, has as his thesis the remarkable discovery that in the twelfth-century Gregorian reforms, we have reforms in the liturgy but especially reform in the canon law of the Church so that marriages can be regulated in a uniform way, so that Church property and offices in the Church and many other legal aspects of the Church can be done with uniformity and predictability. The reforms brought about in the Gregorian era, Burman argues, represent the cornerstone of Western law and of all Western civilization. He has no reason to praise the Catholic Church, much less the tradition of canon law which is the least romantic. It's the thing that would be the last on your list if you're thinking about things that are part of the splendor of the Church. But even in our canon law we have Gospel principles expressed in legal terms so that we can have monogamous society, so that we can have property rights that are safeguarded on the basis of divine principles.
I like to ask my students whenever I teach the course on the theology of marriage, "How many religions teach strict monogamy and mandate that in their practice?" Usually the response is, "Well, doesn't Judaism? How about Islam? Sure. What about Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic varieties?" Then I shock them by saying none of them except Catholic Christianity. Judaism has practiced or at least allowed for polygamy through the ages. It wasn't until 1948 that the Yemenite rabbis for strategic purposes forbade polygamy. But you look at Abraham, you look at Jacob: Abraham had two, Jacob had two wives and two concubines. Solomon not to be outdone had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. So you're hard-pressed to argue that Judaism is founded on strict monogamy. If you look at Islam, you'll discover in the Koran that Mohammed encouraged up to four wives and saw divine sanctions behind that. If you look at Protestantism, which was founded on the permission of divorce and remarriage, you see the practice of what amounts to serial polygamy. You can have many; you just have to have one at a time, that's all. And so it goes. There's one religion in the history of mankind that has mandated and enforced strict monogamy and that's the Catholic Church.
This has brought about a revolution in law, in legal stability and predictability so that cultures can flourish. If you don't know what the law is going to be tomorrow or the next day or next year, you're not going to know how to invest your money to protect your income. We know that the savings and loan scandal and other things, too, were based upon abrupt legal changes that brought about abrupt reinvestment decisions. Burman argues that the Catholic Church is responsible for bringing whatever degree of stability and predictability to our civilization in the area of law that we have.
You could go on to other examples as well. My brother who is still non-Catholic and at times rather anti-Catholic -- he's not deeply committed to studying anything in religion -- but he sometimes taunts me about all the treasures of the Vatican. "The splendor of the Church? Yeah, look at all the art that they've pirated. Look at all the architecture, look at the sculptures. All those things should be sold," he says, "and the money distributed to the poor." I always begin my reply by asking how much he tithes to the poor. (No, I don't. A couple times I have, but I ended up apologizing.) But the one thing that I discovered in trying to find an answer to his objections was that the Catholic Church does not regard these treasures as hidden wealth to be hoarded. Rather they see this sacred treasure of western art or whatever art they have as a sacred trust that they are to preserve in order that all peoples can enjoy the riches of human artistic achievement. That's why they're not charging an arm and a leg for people to come to the Vatican museum and behold the precious art that is there on display. They don't regard art as something that is simply a marketable commodity to be sold to the highest bidder so only the wealthiest can enjoy good art. Their whole purpose is to take away this capitalist conception that art is just simply an economic commodity. It is not. It's an expression of the soul rising up to praise God for all that He's done, and to harness all the human talent that the Lord has given. So in so many ways we discover that the Catholic cultural and intellectual achievements stand out in splendor.
I must say, though, that of all the manifestations in this category, the one that impressed me the most by far and away was Catholic theology and Catholic philosophy. In college I was a philosophy major in addition to studying economics and theology. I was known as sort of an odd duck because I was an evangelical Thomist. Whenever we had assigned readings and then we had additional readings that we had to do ourselves (in other words we might have fifty pages of assigned reading and then we would have two hundred-fifty pages of outside reading that we would have to report on), we could choose what philosopher we would read.
At some point I just happened to select the writings of St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor. What a formidable thinker! And the way he structured The Summa was so interesting. He'd always state the question, then he'd state his opponent's position. The more I studied, the more I discovered that Thomas was charitable even in his responses to his opponents because he would invariably state his opponent's position better than the opponent could and state his arguments more persuasively; but he'd even come up with a new argument or two for his opponent's position before he utterly demolished him. I was impressed. He really took his opponents seriously. He understood them on their terms before he showed them how inadequate those terms might be.
Then, when I was going off to seminary, I have to say, I read voraciously. I studied fiendishly. I really went off the deep end in some respects, but I was never assigned a single page of St. Thomas, never assigned a single page of St. Augustine, never assigned a single page of St. Bonaventure, or St. Anselm. Again, in my outside reading, I recognized profound geniuses when I read them. So I devoured The City of God and The Confessions and the commentaries by St. Augustine. When I read Cur Deus Homo? by St. Anselm, Why the God Man? I broke down and wept at two in the morning. The next day I was down there in the first floor of our house. I was visiting with our landlady who was somewhat of a secular New Englander, reading her portions of Anselm's Why the God Man? I had to find somebody to share it with and despite the fact that she was in her seventies and somewhat secularist, she could see in my enthusiasm, truth that made a difference. Then I went back to St. Thomas Aquinas and on to St. Bonaventure.
It was exciting to read such thinkers as these, but not nearly as exciting as discovering how these same principles, these same profound thoughts had been restated in the twentieth century by men such as, Henri de Lubac, Christopher Dawson, Karl Adam, Louis Bouyer, Cardinal Ratzinger, Garrigou-Lagrange, Hans Urs von Balthasar.
When I was beginning to wrestle with the Catholic Faith, I was leaving the pastorate. I left Virginia. I turned down a position that had been offered to me at a seminary. I moved back to a college town where my wife and I had met and fallen in love -- where we both had graduated. For two years there I studied voraciously. I remember coming across a book entitled Introduction to Christianity by a fellow named Joseph Ratzinger. Now, at the time, this was around 1983-84; I had no idea who Ratzinger was. I mean every Catholic does. I read in the US Catholic that there are zingers and then there are Ratzingers and many Catholics don't like Ratzinger. I just didn't know how politicized he would become back in 1984; but I found this book which, by the way, has been reissued by Ignatius Press. You owe it to yourself to find a copy of this book, Introduction to Christianity and snatch it up. I mean, pay for it but snatch it up. I was reading sections of Ratzinger's book, and it was published back then by Seabury, which is a Protestant publisher. I just assumed that he was Protestant. I assumed he was safe. I began reading portions of it and just found my own thoughts, my own discoveries, my own novel daring insights being restated much more clearly and persuasively.
One day I brought the book in and read it to my former professor who is now a colleague and a dear friend, Dr. Hoffecker and I would sit there in his office over lunch and I would read him pages and pages of this book by Ratzinger. He said, "I never heard of this guy. What do you think he is, Methodist?" "I don't know." There was no nihil obstat, no imprimatur. Seabury wasn't interested in such things. Then one day I came in to lunch with Dr. Hoffecker, and he held up a Time magazine article, and he said, "The Pope's henchman, Scott." I said, "What?" "That's right; the Pope's hit man." "What are you talking about?" "The grand inquisitor, that's who you've been reading to me." I said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "Joseph Ratzinger." I said, "No, it can't be." I felt a cold sweat coming to my forehead. He held up this picture of this silver-haired gentleman, and under it said, "The Pope's Grand Inquisitor." He began to read me several paragraphs all about how this man was going after Hans Kung and Leonard Boff and all of the other flakes that the Vatican was going after at the time. I said, "There must be some mistake; there must be two Joseph Ratzingers." Hardly; I was stuck. I went back to reread the book to see it through the eyes of a Catholic, and I thought, How in the world would the Pope hire this theologian who is so profound, so Biblical, to be the major spokesman for the Church's doctrinal positions? And it gave me pause because here at once was a brilliant scholar and yet also a saintly gentleman. Even his opponents recognized the saintly characteristics of the gentle man, Cardinal Ratzinger.
There are many other authors, too, especially Cardinal Newman from the last century. One of his students, Thomas W. Alley, (nobody's heard of him for some reason) has an eight volume work entitled The Formation of Christendom. I've been reading through this now for the last 2-1/2 years. I can't believe the gold in them there hills. But yet so few Catholics are reading.
We have the privilege of hearing Fr. Fessio tonight. More than any ten men, this man is responsible for bringing about a renaissance in Catholic literature in our country in the last 10 or 15 years. We've got to make his job harder. Catholic theology is a science for the Saints, and since all of us are called to holiness, all of us are called to know God. The knowledge of God in Greek is theologia. We are to know God as He has known us. We are to love Him as He has loved us. But you can't know Him if you don't study, if you don't read, if you don't contemplate the truths of the Faith.
I would also point out something that many Catholics aren't aware of. There are actually branches of the science of theology that Catholics alone have tapped; that Catholics have developed. I had a good friend of mine, Professor Lindsley, who pointed out that in Protestant theology there's no such thing as moral theology. And since that time he's discovered that there's no such thing as ascetical theology or mystical theology outside the Catholic Faith. You look in Bible Christian book stores; you won't find books under the heading of Moral Theology.
That's why every generation of Bible Christians has to reinvent the wheel. So many Fundamentalists who go around saying, "No creed but Christ, no books but the Bible" end up discovering that even their own pastors are becoming Arian in their view of Christ, denying His divinity. Or they're giving in on issues such as divorce and remarriage and many other points of contention as well. We have such a lasting legacy, and yet it's covered with inches of dust and silt because we've been neglecting it; preferring fads and novelties in the last quarter century. Humanitarian and Medical Services
Now, perhaps at a more mundane level, a fourth consideration that impressed me a lot was the splendor of the Church as seen in the humanitarian and medical services that have been performed throughout the centuries, especially by the religious. I read an article recently by Professor Orestes Brownson. Orestes Brownson was really the most notable convert in the U.S. last century, and Brownson was studying the effects of the religious and their influence throughout the barbaric regions of Europe during the time when the Church sent missionaries out, especially to the Germans and more in Eastern Europe: St. Boniface, St. Cyril, St. Methodius and so on.
What Brownson points out is that nobody but the religious could establish missions so effectively. Nobody but the religious could establish hospitals so effectively. They would walk into these villages, and the men, the elders, immediately suspected some foul play, some greedy ambition. They would say, "You're here for our wealth." But they would say, "No, we've expressed a vow; we've made a vow to our God, a vow of poverty." "Well, then you're here for our women." "No, we've also made a vow of celibacy." "Then you're here to enslave us." "No, we've made a vow of obedience; we can't enslave you. We have made a vow of obedience to our superiors." In that threefold profession, you've won the right to be heard. You've earned the hearing from men who look at you and recognize common ordinary humanity and yet a commitment that commands respect. "What are you here for, then?" "We're here to give you the good news of Christ." "Well, they must be sincere since there's nothing in it for them." And so it goes.
You'll discover, as Fr. Fessio pointed out, these religious were sent out, and they formed monasteries that became missionary bases to inculturate the gospel and to civilize barbarian tribes -- which they did so effectively. The story has to be retold to a new generation because it, too, is being lost. We have to discover how for centuries practically all the hospitals formed were formed not by people who were doctors seeking a fortune; but by religious who took this profession, the threefold vow, just to provide this sacrificial service at whatever cost to themselves.
Through Catholic charities we see outreach to AIDS victims. We see so many forms. I was just speaking to a Protestant missionary last year who told me that he longs to see the day when Protestant missions bring about the balance that he has seen for years among Catholic missionaries. The balance between truth and love. The balance between the spiritual works of mercy and the corporal works of mercy. The soul and the body are ministered to more effectively with greater balance by Catholics than any Protestant missionaries on the mission field. There is such splendor that we hardly know about.
Miraculous Element and the Heroic Virtue of the Saints
Another thing that I would draw to your attention would be the miraculous element and the heroic virtue of the Saints. I recently read a book by George Roates, the President of Hillsdale College, entitled, A World Without Heroes. He points out that if the media does one thing in our country today, it's to squash any potential heroes. It specializes, it takes special delight in dismantling the reputation of anybody rising above the common hordes because of virtue or because of some achievement. Who do you trust? I like to ask that question of college students and young people. Who do you trust these days, politicians? Hardly. Who do you trust? Maybe some athletes, but for what? A thrill in a game. But who do you trust for the truth? Invariably, who do you hear? Mother Teresa. You'd be surprised how many young people, even non-Catholics would say, "John Paul II."
People have sacrificed so much, like Mother Teresa who addressed a Harvard commencement audience several years back in the 70's for 45 or 50 minutes. She got up and addressed a crowd of non- religious people. For 45 or 50 minutes, from the second hand account that I've heard, she in her own simple but practical and powerful way called the people there to repentance. She referred to the sin of abortion, and she said, "There are people here today who have killed their children in their wombs. I'm here today to call you to repent and to return to God. There are people here who have cheated and lied for grades. I'm here to call you to return to God and to the mercy of Christ." For 45 minutes she went on, and what happened? She got a 10 minute standing ovation. Can you imagine what would happen if I got up and tried that? Or even if Fessio got up and tried that? You'd find Fessio's pieces all over Boston and Cambridge. She gets up and gets away with saying it and gets a standing ovation because you see the heroic sanctity and saintly virtue of this woman who sacrifices far more in her own life than she calls us to sacrifice in ours. She's won a hearing in a world without heroes.
You can also see in the Saints down through the ages, miracles, marvels. I discovered shortly after my conversion that St. Francis of Assisi was more than a pet lover. He was a Church lover. But most of all he was a Christ lover, and that's why he took special delight and gratitude in the precious gift of the stigmata. In receiving the very wounds of Christ in his own body, and he was very modest and humble about this precious gift, he didn't go around flaunting them. He considered them a gift from the Lord to himself.
We've had several other stigmatists down through the ages as well. How do you explain the splendor of the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, being given and freely received as a token of love and sanctity as well? In our own century we're not lacking for such Saints. St. Maximillian Kolbe is a favorite of mine. To see what he would do for a family man in Poland, he would step forward and say, "I'm a Catholic priest and I'd prefer to die instead of this man who is married with a wife and children." And so he did; but he did it with the order of sanctity and with a glorious expression on his face. Truly a Saint for our time, as John Paul has declared him.
The venerable (Blessed) Josemaria Escriva is somebody who stresses how the ordinary lay people can sanctify themselves through their ordinary work. They don't have to join some monastery. They don't have to abandon the world. They can sanctify the temporal order. They can transform their work into prayer. He lived in such a way as to show that the lesson is true. And there are many others as well.
I just recently came across a book by Joan Carroll Cruz entitled, Eucharistic Miracles and another one entitled, The Incorruptibles. The incorruptibles! I never heard of the incorruptibles. These incorrupt Saints like St. Catherine of Genoa or St. Francis Xavier whose bodies are not decomposing. God shows how supernatural grace can transcend the decomposition and the degradation of death in the natural order in the bodies of His Saints. St. Francis Xavier has actually parts of his beard in his cheek, in flesh, centuries and centuries after he should have been nothing but dust. He's without his right arm, though, because those Catholics took it off to carve it up for relics. What a religion we've got! What glory!
What about the Eucharistic miracle at Lanciano? I didn't know about this until a couple of years after becoming a Catholic. A priest in the first millennium, I'm not sure if it was the 700's or 800's or when it was, but in Lanciano, Italy, a priest was doubting the Real Presence of Christ during a time of crisis in his own faith. While pronouncing the words of consecration at the altar, he watched as the host was transformed into flesh with blood. It's been preserved miraculously through the centuries, tested by a team of medical experts and scientists, and they have discovered it's heart tissue. They've actually discerned the blood type, to show us just how real not only Christ's presence is, but the gift of Christ in his own Sacred Heart in the Holy Eucharist.
The Internal Splendor
Marvel after marvel, miracle after miracle, Saints upon Saints. What splendor we have in the Church! But I think all of us recognize, amidst all of these wonders, amidst the antiquity, the continuity, the historicity of the Church, there is one central reality that is the splendor of the Church. What is it? Is it the Blessed Virgin Mary? She's certainly a marvel and a splendor that we love. Is it the Holy Father, the Pope? Peter and all of his successors? All of the sacraments which the Church dispenses for our salvation? No, of course not. The splendor of the Church is Jesus Christ Himself. Anything that the Church has, anything that the Saints have done, anything that we claim for the Blessed Virgin Mary -- all of it is a manifestation of the splendor of the Church which is Christ Himself. We dare not lose sight of it for if we do, we become unfaithful Catholics.
Jesus is the Cause of all of Mary's Privileges and Prerogatives
The Blessed Virgin Mary -- all of her privileges and her prerogatives are because of Jesus Christ within her, because of her title Theotokos, Mother of God, God-bearer. It's the mystery of Christ within her that establishes her as the Queen of the Universe. It is the cause of her immaculate conception; it's the reason for her bodily assumption; it is the basis -- it's the ground -- for all of our devotion toward her. It is not a substitute for Jesus Christ; It is out of our love for Christ. It is out of our recognition that the mystery of Christ dwelt bodily in her so that the Logos, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, received flesh and blood from her. She nursed Him, she bore Him, she taught Him to walk, she fed Him, she burped Him, she put Him to bed. It's the mystery of Christ that lies behind the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Jesus Established and Guarantees the Papacy
When we look at our Holy Father or any and all of the Popes down to Peter himself, we see that Christ Himself is the guarantor and the one who established the Papacy. The Pope is not given to us because Christ was inadequate in founding the Church. The Pope represents the cornerstone established by Christ in founding His Church as Christ declares in Matthew 16, "I will build My Church." He didn't commission Peter as a subcontractor to do it for Him. "I will build My Church upon this rock." Christ is the cornerstone, but Peter is so united to Christ that by virtue of this union with Christ, by virtue of his expression of faith, even fallible, sinful Simon can be renamed Peter and transformed into a rock who will guide the Church in the first generation and who can write First and Second Peter infallibly.
Bible Christians might balk at this and say, "How can a man be sinless?" We say, "He wasn't sinless, but he was infallible. He was rendered that way by Christ Himself." "Well, how can that be?" Even the Bible Christians acknowledge readily the fact that writing First and Second Peter, Peter could communicate truth infallibly. How? By virtue of Christ and the Holy Spirit who inspired St. Peter. We believe that the work of Christ in St. Peter and his successors simply extends beyond writing the books of Sacred Scripture.
So it isn't the Blessed Virgin Mary. It isn't the Holy Father, the Pope, as a successor to Peter. It isn't even the sacramental system of the Church. It is Jesus Christ Himself. Christ is the splendor of the Church. We have got to form a close intimate bond with Christ if we are to receive the splendor of the Church in ourselves. It's so important for us to be Bible-based and Christ- centered in our practice of the Catholic Faith.
The Theme of the Mystery of Christ: Jesus in the Church
One of my favorite books in the Bible is the book of Ephesians. The book of Ephesians describes the theology of Paul in some of the grandest terms imaginable. But before I look at the book of Ephesians to see the mystery of Christ described there, I'd like to just step back a second and ask you, "Do you realize what a unique church Ephesus was in the first century?" Let us turn to the book of Ephesians and consider for about five minutes how St. Paul communicates the profound truth of the mystery of Christ. The mystery of Christ is considered by practically all scholars who study Ephesians to be its main theme. The mystery of Christ is the main theme of Ephesians. There's something unique about the mystery of Christ in Ephesians, though. The mystery of Christ which Paul talks about over and over again in Ephesians, which we will look at in a minute, is nothing less than the Church.
In Ephesians, Paul doesn't talk about justification by faith. Paul doesn't talk about other favorite themes. He focuses upon the mystery of Christ which is the Church and is within the Church. In fact, this unique emphasis of St. Paul in Ephesians is so striking that it lead Professor Burgess, a Lutheran Biblical scholar, to write an article in a book entitled, The Bible and the Churches, that Paul must not have been the author of Ephesians. It must have been deutero-Pauline; it must have been a disciple; it must have been later than Paul. Because if it were Paul, Paul wouldn't have said all the things that he says about the mystery of Christ which is the Church. Burgess argues that nowhere do we find such a high ecclesiology, such a high doctrine of the Church as we do in Ephesians. Paul must not have written it.
I would contend that Paul writes in Ephesians some of his most profound theology. In Galatians he's writing to a bunch of beginners, a bunch of diapered Christians. In Romans he's writing to believers he never met before. But what about Ephesians? Why is it that he develops the mystery of Christ which is the Church and Christ in the Church? Why is it that he develops that so emphatically in Ephesians? If you have a Bible, turn with me to the Book of Acts. We're going to take a look really briefly at Chapter 18-19. We're going to walk through a little background about the Church in Ephesus. I believe we can gain really practical wisdom from the Church in Ephesus.
Firstly, in Acts 18, we discover that the Church in Ephesus was started by a man named Apollos, a Jew, a very profound and articulate preacher who knew the Bible very well. "A man named Apollos, a native of Alexandria and a man of eloquence arrived by ship at Ephesus. He was both an authority of Scripture and instructed in the new way of the Lord. Apollos was a man full of spiritual fervor and he spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he only knew John's baptism." (Acts 18:24-25) He had received John the Baptist's baptism, but he had never received Christian baptism, apparently. So while Apollos is preaching and teaching in Ephesus for some time, we discover that when Priscilla and Aquila hear him, they take him home and explain God's new way in greater detail.
Then Apollos receives Christian baptism through Priscilla and Aquila. Who are they? In Romans 16 we discover that Priscilla and Aquila were two of Paul's favorite helpers. They were his traveling companions; they were his coworkers in the Gospel. They were a husband and wife team second to none in assisting him and the Apostles in furthering the Gospel. So Ephesus could boast Apollos, this eloquent Scripture scholar who was very fervent and effective in communicating the truth, and Priscilla and Aquila, a husband/wife team second to none in assisting the Gospel in being spread.
Then, in chapter 19, St. Paul himself arrives in Ephesus for mission work. But the work of Paul in Ephesus is unique as we'll discover reading through this. We discover that Paul gets there and enters the synagogue, and over the period of three months he is debating fearlessly with persuasive arguments all about the Kingdom of God. During his first three months in Ephesus, he's proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Then all of a sudden he discovers some real opposition. So, after all of these slanderers arise, Paul simply leaves the synagogue, takes his disciples with him, and after that, holds his discussions from day to day in the public lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continues for two years with the result that all of the inhabitants of the province of Asia, Jews and Greeks alike, hear the Word of the Lord.
Meanwhile God worked extraordinary miracles at the hands of Paul. When handkerchiefs or cloths which had touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases were cured and evil spirits departed from them. (Acts 19:12) This is one of the classic proof- texts for relics, for the fact that things that have touched the Saints and have pertained to them have invested to them a certain power that God can use to bring healing. It is based in Scripture. Handkerchiefs, cloths that have touched Paul, could bring exorcism and healing to the afflicted. Amazing how Biblical even Catholic relics are!
But look at this, in Ephesus Paul taught for two years and three months every day in a public lecture hall. Can you imagine that? I would love to study under Cardinal Ratzinger or Professor Joseph Pieper or some great giant of this day, but not nearly as much as I would love to study under St. Paul himself. The Ephesian believers had two years of straight theology from St. Paul himself, every day presumably for hours and hours. No other place could Paul stay so long. No other place could Paul teach so much. So no other place was so well prepared for Paul's loftiest theological thought as the Ephesians.
That's why I believe in the book of Ephesians we have Paul's book. Paul pulls out the stops; he's really able to communicate to them what really is in his heart and what's on his mind. He's past the ABC's; he doesn't have to go back to justification by faith like he does with the Galatians. He doesn't have to review the relation of Jews and Gentiles as he does with the Romans whom he never met. Here he can really just kind of soar straight to the stratosphere and teach the deepest truths of the Christian faith and the Catholic Church. And he does for two years.
Can you imagine showing up at Mass with a few friends and saying, "Over there's the beloved disciple, St. John. St. Paul's celebrating Mass today and, oh yeah, wait, who's that coming in with the beloved disciple? Oh, it's the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ." Tradition has her in Ephesus as well. What a line up, a hall of fame: Apollos, Priscilla, Aquila, Paul, John, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and just for good measure, Paul sends Timothy to stay there after his two year, three month ministry was finished. So the Church in Ephesus not only receives the book of Ephesians, but First and Second Timothy are also addressed to the Ephesian believers as well. Unbelievable what privileges they received! Unbelievable what lofty truths they heard! Listen to the book of Ephesians. The mystery of Christ as all scholars agree is really the main theme.
Ephesians 1:22 is where he describes the mystery of Christ: "He has put all things under His feet, (that is, Christ's feet) and has made Him the head over all things for the Church." You see, Christ didn't become a man because He was lacking something as God; Christ became a man not for His sake but for our sake and especially for the Church. God has made Christ over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Christ's humanity is lacking until the Church is perfected. Christ lacks nothing in His divinity; He has an infinite fullness. But His humanity (which is male) is united to the Church (which is bridal and in a spiritual sense, female) so that in the Church we have the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Paul deepens this mystery in the next chapter. In Ephesians 1 he speaks of the Church as this mystery, as this fullness of Christ who fills all in all. And in Ephesians 2 he clarifies that the Church is not only the fullness of Christ, but the Church is the fullness of God's plan for Jews and Gentiles. In Ephesians 2:11 Paul says, "Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh" -- that's us, non-Jews -- "called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision... remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For He is our peace who has made us both one in order that He might create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross... For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then we Gentiles are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the Saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets... so that we might grow into a holy temple in the Lord." (Eph 2:11-22)
In other words, Paul amasses all of these Old Testament images to show us who we are as Christ's body, the Church. We are now the commonwealth of Israel. We are now no longer strangers to the covenants of promise; we are now the heirs to the covenant promises. We are now members of the household of faith. We are now sons and daughters of God the Father. We are no longer strangers and sojourners; we are now, with the apostles and the prophets, living stones making up a holy temple so that practically everything in the Old Testament which manifests the splendor and glory of God is our birthright. That's who the Church is -- that's who you are -- as members of Christ's Mystical Body. We are the mystery of Christ because Christ dwells within us; His body and His blood dwell within us.
He goes on to say in Ephesians 3:4, "When you have read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ." That's a rather startling statement. How would you feel if I say, "When this talk is done, you will perceive my profound insight into the Catholic Faith."? Wait a second, Hahn; that's a little bombastic, isn't it, if you don't say so yourself? But Paul says so himself. "When you read what I'm saying to you, Ephesians, about the mystery of Christ, you can perceive into this mystery which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, and what is the mystery that I have so much insight into? How the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, partakers of the promise in Christ for the Gospel." "To me," Paul says, "though I am the very least of all the Saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things." (Eph 3:8-9) Wow, Paul, what is this plan hidden for the ages? "That through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God might now be made know to the Principalities and Powers in the heavenly places." (Eph 3:10) It's the Church which is communicating to the Angels and the Archangels, the Principalities, the Powers, the Cherubim, and the Seraphim as well as to the demons, the wisdom of God: how God who is so great can do wondrous things through the least of His creatures, through us, the members of His Mystical Body. That is the mystery of Christ that Paul has so much profound insight into, and all of this is according to the eternal purpose which He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For this reason Paul says, "I bow my knees before the Father from whom His entire family in heaven and on earth is named." (Eph 3:14-15) We are the Family of God. There is one Father, there is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one calling that we've received. That calling is to be members of the one worldwide, universal, Catholic family, which is the Mystery of Christ (the fullness of Him who fills all in all) and the one body of Christ (which fulfills everything that the Old Testament Saints waited and longed for).
So in Ephesians 4, listen to St. Paul. He beseeches, he commands, he challenges, he urges. He says, "I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Eph 4:1) - I beg you. I could command it, but I'm begging you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called - "with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all who is above all and through all and in all." (Eph 4:2-6) There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one hope, one calling because there is one Father, there is one family, and we're His family.
What do you call a man who fathers two or three different families? Where I come from you call him a jerk or a scoundrel. Hopefully you don't have to call him Dad because the reputation of a man is bound up with his fidelity to his wife and family.
God has fathered one family. Christ has one bride. It isn't an invisible plasmic mist. It is a visible body. If the Church was only an invisible entity, if the visible structure didn't really mean anything, then Paul would have called us the soul of Christ, not the body of Christ. But because the Church is both visible and invisible, we are the body of Christ. We are the members that make up the Mystical Body. One of the least known, but one of the greatest truths of the Catholic Church, is repeated in Vatican II, stated firmly and directly by Pope Leo XIII, and repeated by Pope John Paul II: Christ is the Head of the Mystical Body.
But a body needs a soul to be alive, and the Church's teaching is that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Mystical Body of which Christ is the Head. What do you call a body without a soul? We call it a corpse in Ohio. What do you call a soul without a body? A ghost. You see, a body needs a soul. The Body of Christ has as its soul, the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Therefore, we're not out to win arguments with our non- Catholic brothers and sisters. We're out to love our brothers and sisters back into the fullness of God's family -- the one family He has fathered, the one bride Christ has married, the one mystery that Paul proclaims, the mystery of Christ which is the Church, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
We see in Ephesians 1 the fullness of Christ in the Church. We see in Ephesians 2 the fulfillment of all the Old Testament in the Church. We see in Ephesians 3 how the one Father is the source of this one family and the Church will even instruct the Angels and Archangels. We see in Ephesians 4, because of this unity, there is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one Hope, and one calling. We are one in the Spirit of Christ in the Church of Christ.
Then in Ephesians 5, we have one of the most glorious mysteries of all. Listen to St. Paul, beginning in verse 23, "For the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its savior. As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing... that she might be holy and without blemish." (Eph 5:23-27)
I realize that these are words that are hard to hear in the 1990's. That's hard for me to really understand or fathom, just the extent, just how deep radical feminism has made its mark in the Church and not just in the world. I mean, you have to realize that this is not a one-sided thing. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. That might seem like the husbands have all the advantages until Paul describes how that headship is to be lived out: through a complete, total and continual self-sacrifice. That is the model of marriage here, and it is displayed for us in the relationship between Christ and His Bride which is the Church. This is not a metaphor. This is no mere simile, this is not simply an analogy. This is a central overarching reality. Christ and the Church are married more than Kimberly and I are married. They are the only true and perfect marriage.
So Paul goes on to say, "Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife, loves himself, for no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His Body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one..." (In the Vulgate the term for mystery is sacramentum. This 'sacramentum' is 'magnum'; it's profound.)... "And I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church." (Eph 5:28-32)
You see how he takes the Ephesians deeper and deeper and deeper into the mystery of Christ which is the Church. This is important for us because we discover that besides Ephesians, besides First Timothy, besides Second Timothy, there is another letter written to the Ephesians as well. What letter is that? Anybody know? The First of the seven letters dictated by our Lord to the beloved disciple.
Jesus Speaks to the Church in Ephesus
If you have a Bible, turn with me to Revelation chapter 2. "To the angel of the Church of Ephesus," Jesus commands John to write, "The one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven lampstands of gold has this to say." Now Jesus speaks directly to the Ephesian believers who've enjoyed Paul's preaching and teaching, St. John the beloved disciple, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Timothy, as well as Apollos, and Priscilla, and Aquila. "I know your deeds, your labors, and your patient endurance. I know you cannot tolerate wicked men. You have tested those self-styled apostles who are nothing of the sort and discovered that they are impostors. You are patient and endure hardship for My cause; moreover, you do not become discouraged. But this one thing I hold against you; you have turned aside from your first love. Keep firmly in mind the heights from which you have fallen. Repent and return to your former deeds. For if you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. Let him who has ears heed the Spirit's word to the Churches." (Rev 2:2-7)
Strong language, isn't it? This is the first of seven letters to the seven Churches in Asia Minor. By far and away the Ephesian Church gets off much better than the other six. Each letter regresses in effect. Each letter has a harsher message to bring until finally you get to the Church at Laodicea where Christ describes the believers there as poor, pitiable, blind and naked. Why does Jesus describe them as such? Turn to Revelation 3 and you'll see how He describes them. They're evidently wealthy. He says, "You say and keep saying I am so rich and secure that I want for nothing. Little do you realize how pitiable, how poor, how blind and naked." So he goes and warns the Laodiceans.
Which description fits the Church in America? Ephesus or Laodicea? I'll let you answer that. But listen to the Church at Ephesus and what they had to hear. They're patient; they endured hardship; they tested false apostles: they have reprimanded these false teachers. Yet Jesus says, "This one thing I have against you; you've lost your first love. Return to Me and recall the heights from which you have fallen." (Rev 2:4-5) I would suggest to you that the people here tonight are not typical of most American Catholic parishes or you wouldn't be here at quarter to ten on a Friday night listening to a long-winded convert. You know it's true, and yet how true it also is that all of us here to some extent have fallen from our first love. We have to recall the height from which we have fallen. We've got to beg the Lord for the grace we need to rise back to that. We've got to start asking St. Anthony to find for us something besides our keys. We ought to ask St. Anthony to help us find our first love and return to Christ. Do you know why? Because if you go to Ephesus today, there is no Church there. If you go to Ephesus today, it is illegal to celebrate Mass. There is no Church in Ephesus and there hasn't been a Church in Ephesus for hundreds and hundreds of years, even though it was founded by the likes of St. Paul and St. John with the Blessed Virgin Mary, along with Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos. With so much, what's happened? So little. Fr. de Lapaderi described how they had to implore the Turkish authorities to get permission for an exceptional occasion to celebrate Mass once out by the ruins of a Church in Ephesus.
An Almost Complete Breakdown in the Transmission of the Faith to the Young
What message is there for us? We dare not fall into the smug complacency of proof-texting Matthew 16 and saying, "Well, we know all this will pass and we'll come out unscathed." We know nothing of that sort. We do not know whether or not the Church will be in the U.S. 20, 30, 40 years from now. There has been an almost complete breakdown in the transmission of the faith to the younger generation, and I see it in my classroom everyday. Even at Steubenville, at the Franciscan University, we're finding the need to teach remedial Catholicism to freshman, sophomores and sometimes juniors, and they're the ones who chose Steubenville because they knew they wanted orthodox Catholic teaching and yet they stand in need of Basic Catechism 101. I dare say we'd find something different at Georgetown or Marquette or Notre Dame. You can't believe the extent to which experiments have been conducted in catechism. I hear about it all the time from young people who feel like guinea pigs. People in their 20's and 30's don't even know enough of the faith to reject it intelligently. All it takes is for a 10-year breakdown, maybe 20 years and that's enough. You might be setting world records running a relay race, but if the next guy to receive the baton isn't there on the last leg of the lap, the last lap of the race, you've lost. You don't even finish.
Faith means Submission to the Truth Taught by the Church
There are many people who are calling themselves Catholics, self-styled Catholics, cafeteria Catholics who think they can stay in the Church because they agree with so much of what the Church teaches. Do you realize what faith is and what faith is not? Faith does not mean I agree with the Church and its teaching. Faith is that which submits to the mysteries proclaimed by the Spirit through the Church. Faith believes whatever God reveals because God is the One revealing it and God can't deceive and God can't be deceived. We can trust God and we can trust Him to speak through the Church. So faith is an act of submission to whatever God proclaims despite the fact that we can never know these things through reason or through the senses; we believe them by faith. When somebody says, "I agree with practically everything the Church teaches except maybe for contraception." You've got to stop them and say, "Hey, you're completely off. Even if you agree with the Church on contraception, it's not enough for you to agree with the Church. What that amounts to is just a coincidence; I have found these truths to be true in my own experience and it just so happens that the Catholic Church teaches the same thing." That's not faith, that's just a nice convenient coincidence; your beliefs coincide with the Church's teaching. You agree, fine, but you might change your mind. Faith is an act of submission, a loving surrender of self to Christ who is present within the Church. And if we don't renew that self-surrender tonight, tomorrow and everyday of our lives, we are going to become more and more a part of the problem, not the solution.
What is the Future of the Church in the United States?
The Church in North America does not know its future. Christ does, but we don't. We simply know what Christ has commanded us. We have marching orders which we must obey, and maybe in 500 years from now the Church won't exist in the U.S. Maybe in 300 years it would be illegal to say Mass in this part of the country. Jesus made an unconditional promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, but he didn't say the Church in the U.S. or the Church in Ephesus. For love of your children, guard the faith. For love of your grandchildren, transmit the faith, whole and entire. For the love of Christ, study the faith, read it, learn it, live it, and fall in love with it. That's why we're here this weekend. Not just to be stimulated emotionally and intellectually, but to be motivated to the point where we make personal resolutions, where we decide what Christ wants us to do is what we will do.
St. Thomas was once asked, "What does it take to become a saint?" And he said simply, "Will it." We have to realize that willing it is not the same as simply wanting it. We have to go beyond wanting holiness, wanting the truth. We have to will it. We have to decide, we have to choose, and we have to commit ourselves through resolutions which we will keep by God's grace. Let's go to the Lord now and ask Him in prayer for that grace.
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