THE FOUR MARKS OF THE CHURCH
THE CHURCH IS HOLY
Summary of Reasons Why the Church is Holy
As I said earlier, our series is a study of the Church and in particular, the four notes of the Church, the four notes being that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. We have already considered the oneness, the unity or sometimes it's called the unicity of the Church. We would now want to consider the sanctity of the Church, the Church's holiness. It's a holiness that pertains to the Church because of Jesus, whose body we are, because of the Holy Spirit, who is the soul of the Church, because of the holiness of the teachings of Jesus, because of the holiness of the sacraments, because of the holiness, the heroic and extraordinary holiness of the saints, because of the ordinary and everyday holiness of her members, because of the sanctifying influence of the Church in the world upon individuals. We have so much to consider; we can't squeeze it all into two hours, let alone one. But you know me enough to know that I'll probably try.
The Unity of the Church, the One Family of God
I'd like to just sum up this morning's talk and build upon that foundation. In one phrase it's, "We belong to God's family and that the family of God is the master idea of the Catholic faith." God's concern for Church unity is not some doctrinaire, defensive dogmatism: He wants to make sure everybody thinks the same way He does just because He's God and we're not. It isn't anything like that. God's concern for the Church, its unity, its purity, is not some defensiveness; it's not some autocratic, tyrannical ideology. It's a father's passion to protect his children.
Jesus in His high priestly prayer prayed to the Father that He would sanctify the members of His Church. The term for sanctify, "agiaso" comes from the Greek word "agias" for "holy, to make holy." He said, "Sanctify them in truth". So the unity of the Church and its doctrine and its morality and its truth is the means by which we are made holy. And God's concern for the unity of the Church and its teaching is a fatherly passion to protect His children. That's the fundamental reason why He commands and requires us to be in the one and only true Church, the one He built upon the Rock of Peter because the Father, like any wise leader, like any loving provider, knows best the needs of His children.
Jesus reminds us of this in Matthew 7:24 when he contrasts the wise man with the foolish man. Both of them build homes, and judging from the descriptions, both of them build very beautiful homes. But the wise man built his house upon a rock, whereas the foolish man built his house on sand. We're told that the rains came, the floods came and the winds came and then, finally, the house built on sand fell. But notice how much it took to knock down that house...flood waters, winds and storms had to beat against that house before it fell, but fall it did.
We're not told, but I suspect it's possible that the foolish man's house may have been externally more beautiful, more glitzy, more enchanting. Many times people find Bible churches more exciting. "I go there because I'm fed". I don't believe that. I think they are sincere, but they are misguided in saying, "there they are fed". In the Catholic Church you're fed with the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. There they are motivated, they are enthused. In the Bible churches they are excited and they are surrounded by other enthusiastic believers, and the Catholic Church needs to be filled with people like that. There's no denying it! In fact, it's time we start emulating them. But the fact is that the house built upon the rock by the wise Father is the only one that stands.
So Jesus says, "I will build my Church upon this rock", which is Peter, and like a loving and wise father, He knows the needs of His children and those needs pertain to the unity of the family, especially in regard to truth, the truth which sanctifies. Denominations and independent congregations in Bible churches are built on sand, without the stability to survive or endure the storms, the winds and the seas, even though some of these churches might last for centuries. We're not talking about the "big, bad wolf" huffing and puffing and blowing the house of straw down. We're talking about denominations and independent congregations that are strong, but not as strong as the Father in heaven wants His family to be.
We belong to God's family. God has revealed Himself to be a family in the Trinity. That's the whole meaning of who God is in Himself from eternity.
That's the whole purpose of Christ's work as our Redeemer, as our "goel". He is our kinsman, He is the firstborn among many brethren. He buys us out of slavery, He delivers us from bondage, He gives us, He invests us with His own life as divine children. That's the meaning of the Christian life for all of us. We become what He has made us, children of God who are called to grow up as sons and daughters of God the Father. That's the fundamental reality, therefore, of the Church, the family of God, the communion, the sacramental, the supernatural communion of the New Covenant, the new family that Christ has established through the sacraments. And that, to sum it up, is the essential work of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of sonship which cries out from within the depths of our hearts, "Abba, Papa, Father". It's a family affair from beginning to end and the Father is glorified by raising up saints and investing them with the holiness that is His own.
The holiness of the Church is what we wish to consider, but I'd like to add a few comments just to piggy-back on our previous talk. I gave a talk on "how the family of God is the master idea of the Catholic faith", soon after I converted because it's something I'd been working on for a few years. Afterwards a missionary nun came up and said that she had been teaching theology in many parts of the world for over forty years, but she said, "In forty minutes, you did more to sum up and to clarify for me the meaning of my religion, of my faith, than forty years of study and forty years of teaching".
So often it takes an outsider to appreciate what's on the inside! It takes an immigrant who comes in and is naturalized as a citizen to really appreciate, say, America, the Beautiful. How much more when the nation is the people of God! Now, pray for the converts because they're the ones who might know a lot, but sometimes people who know less live more. So pray that we live more what the Lord has taught us, because the Lord is raising up a great and mighty army of converts to clarify and to highlight the glory of the Catholic Church as the family of God.
This teaching is not just some incidental approach. It's not just some secondary way of describing the Catholic faith. As I mentioned, some people have suggested to me, and friends of mine, that this family approach is a novelty, rather convenient and helpful for Bible Christians but not really true to the character of the Catholic faith as the Catholic Church teaches it. I mentioned that I had a whole slew of quotes. I pulled out some more and I decided to share just three or four with you. I just can't resist.
One of my favorite quotes, it's a very well-known quote from St. Cyprian, "He cannot have God for his father who does not have the Church for his mother". Is that family language? I think so. "Do you think that a man," Cyprian says, "can hold his own or survive when he leaves the Church and sets up a new place and a separate home for himself?" No, of course not. Cyprian goes on to say, "The devil doesn't trouble himself with those whom he has already made sure of, nor does he labor to conquer those already in his power. Whomever he has already alienated from the Church, God's family, he overlooks and passes by without considering them worth his notice."
The Bible churches are thriving. They are not being attacked or assaulted like the Catholic Church is. In the 20th century, in a unique way, unprecedented in history, the Church has been attacked, not only from without - that's old hat- but from within, in a diabolical way but in a way that will only serve to prove the interior holiness, the supernatural life, the heavenly charter and the divine identity of the Church of Christ.
St. Augustine says, "This is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the Catholic Church fighting against all heresies. Fight it can; be fought down, it cannot. Let us love Our Lord God, let us love His Church, Him as a father, Her as a mother; Him as Lord, Her as His handmaid. No man offends the one and wins the favor of the other. He will not have God for his father who refuses the Church for his mother. "What does it profit," St. Augustine goes on to say, "What does it profit you not to have offended your father, since he will punish your offenses against your mother? What does it profit you to praise the Lord, to honor Him, to preach Him, to believe in His Son, to confess that He sits at the right hand of God the Father, while at the same time you denigrate His Church? Outside the Church you can find everything except salvation. You can have dignities. You can have sacraments. You can sing 'Alleluia', answer 'Amen', have the gospels and have faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Spirit and preach it too. But you will find salvation and all the means of grace alone in the Catholic Church." These are strong statements that identify the Church as the family of God. This is not something novel. This is not something that is ancient and in need of recovery. This is something perennial. This is something that all of the Holy Fathers, the sovereign Popes, Vicars of Christ have been saying for many years.
Most recently, John Paul II has said, "The Church, especially in Vatican II, has recognized herself as family". For instance, in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, # 28: "Let priests sincerely look upon the Bishops as their father and reverently obey him, and let the Bishop regard his priests as sons." In Lumen Gentium, #28, it goes on to say, "Because the human race today is joining more and more into civic, economic and social unity, it is that much more necessary that priests, united in concern and effort under the leadership of the Bishops and the Supreme Pontiff wipe out every kind of division so that the whole human race may be brought into the unity of the family of God". That is the message and that is the mission of the Church in history.
Pope John Paul II has also said, "In this entire world there is not a more perfect, a more complete image of God than the human family. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to the Divine Mystery." He says, "One cannot truly protect the family without getting to its roots, its profound reality, its intimate nature. Its intimate nature is the communion of persons in the image and likeness of the divine Communion. Family on mission, Trinity on mission, the Church on mission. Such a witness, the family's mission, is ultimately inscribed in the sign of the most Holy Trinity".
I could go on and on and on. I love this stuff; but to sum it all up: We are the family of God and we have a purpose: to live the life of holiness, to make the Holy Trinity believable, to make the Holy Trinity known and to make the Holy Trinity loved. That's why the Holy Spirit invests the Church with this mark, with this property of holiness, divine holiness, the Spirit's own holiness.
Now, we've already said that this is hard for Americans, Westerners, 20th-century people to understand. First of all because the whole notion of the Trinity is so neglected. It's me and Jesus in Bible churches. Seldom do you have much exposition of the Trinity. Even less often do you find much real theological or spiritual reflection and contemplation of the practical results of loving and believing in the Trinity. We also have an inadequate understanding of the covenant which makes our own relationship to the Trinity as Church very difficult to grasp and appreciate. If it's a contract, then it's just sort of a social and a legal convention, but if it's a covenant in the ancient Hebrew sense, then it's a sacred family blood-bond that Christ Himself has established.
Because of the rampant individualism and the materialism and the secularism which regards the now, the present as ultimate, all of this vision is very difficult to comprehend for people. Today, the family is at the nuclear unit, it's the economic unit, the parents are producers and the children are consumers and so, who wants to have a big family? It's a crisis. It's a crisis that I'm sure Steve will address later this evening with profundity and wisdom to give us insight into how we can help our own society and Catholics within our society to appreciate our legacy, our heritage much better.
I remember talking to a devout Christian sociology professor. I told her about my doctrinal research into the covenant as God's family and how I was studying this notion of family as a reflection of the Trinity, as a design for the Church and as the nature of the people of God. She looked at me and she said, "Well, I prefer to study, as a sociologist, non-coercive relationships." What? The family by implication, is that network of coercive relationships. What a sad statement, which reflects, I think, a lot more than she was intending to express. But that's the reality.
So, what do we do? Well, we have a tall order; we have a lot of work as a Church in this age, but we've got Jesus Christ praying for us and sending to us the Holy Spirit. Listen to His prayer in John 17: "I do not pray, Father, that you take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world". Did you catch that? We as members of the Church are not really "of the world" just as Jesus is not "of the world". The earth is, for us, a place of pilgrimage, a place of exile, a place where we are aliens, colonists, indentured servants, waiting and longing and traveling to our homeland. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth". "Thy word is truth" - we need to know God's word.
The Church is Constituted to be a Holy Kingdom, a Kingdom of Priests
Now there are three steps that we can take briefly this afternoon, I think, to correct what is a common misunderstanding when it comes to the Church's holiness, because if there is one of the four marks that is the most misunderstood, or if there is one mark that stands out from among the four as being the most neglected, it's the Church's holiness.
Why are we called "holy" when we look around and we see so much unholiness, so much wickedness? What is holiness? Where in our society do we find anything or anyone that all of us would commonly regard as "holy"? What does holy even mean? Does the word have any concrete, substantive meaning for Americans today? I mean, you can see Robin smacking his hand, saying to Batman, "Holy cow, Batman!" We use the word holy for lots of things, but do we have even a modicum of understanding when it comes to its real substance?
What is holiness? We have to understand holiness, and so I'd like to look at three things. First, I'd like to look at how the Church is constituted to be a holy kingdom, a kingdom of priests, a consecrated kingdom. Second, I'd like to look at the holiness of God and then third, I'd like to look at the holiness of God's Spirit, the soul of the Mystical Body, the Church.
When Jesus Speaks of the Kingdom of God in the Gospels, He Means the Church
Now, I already said this morning that the Church is, in the gospels, the kingdom of God. Now, that is a thesis that is often disputed. I remember in seminary coming across a few Protestant scholars who in their writings were conceding something that I thought was dreadfully Catholic, that is, in the gospels when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, what He means is the Church. It bugged me because I knew that that was the position that the Catholic Church had always taken and the Protestant reformers had vehemently denied. I considered the evidence and I found an overwhelming number of 20th-century Protestant scholars reluctantly, but quite candidly and honestly, admitting or conceding that fact.
Now there is a large group, a very vocal group of Bible Christians and Bible preachers out there who would deny this to their tomb. Sometimes it goes by the name of "dispensationalism". It's associated with Dallas Seminary, Jerry Falwell, (you've heard of him, I suspect), Pat Robertson and so many other famous radio and television evangelists believe in this dispensational view that holds that the Church is not the kingdom of God. It is a kind of parenthesis in God's historical work; that God was working with His people through the kingdom of David in the Old Testament. Then they rejected Christ as king and so Christ set up a Church for a temporary period of time, which has now lasted 2000 years, after which He will return and set up a kingdom in Jerusalem with the Jews.
That is very common among Bible Christians, very common. You'll find this in John McArthur. You'll find this in many, if not most, of the radio and television evangelists. This is the standard Protestant approach in history, the last four or five hundred years; but in the last century Protestant scholars like I. Howard Marshall, one of the greatest evangelical Bible scholars, says, "The Church as the people of God is the object of His rule and is, therefore, His kingdom". We should not be afraid of recognizing that fact.
Another German Protestant scholar, Hans Holtzman, said, "The kingdom of God was promised by Jesus, what came was the Church". He said that with a kind of complaining whine. In fact he said that the tendency to identify the Church with the kingdom of heaven is so prevalent in the gospel of Matthew that he labels it in German what we translate as "a Catholicizing deformation". Holtzman says that Matthew "deformed" the kingdom by identifying it with the Church. Well, at least he's honest. You've got to give him that much.
Popes and Councils Have Declared the Church to be the Kingdom of God
The Church as the kingdom of God is something that the Popes and the Church Councils have declared the Church to be for quite some time. We have to understand that. Let's just consider a few thoughts. In Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Article 5, the Council Fathers say, "In Christ's word and His works and His presence, this kingdom reveals itself to men. The Church receives the mission to proclaim and to establish among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God. Consequently", it goes on to say that, "Christ has equipped the Church with the tools that are needed for building the kingdom. She, the Church, becomes on earth the initial budding-forth of that kingdom. While she slowly grows, the Church strains towards the consummation of the kingdom and with all her strength and all of the power that Christ gives, it works to be united to the king in glory." But ultimately, Vatican II makes it clear that we are to see ourselves as God's kingdom.
Scriptural Basis for Identifying the Church With the Kingdom of God
Now I mentioned Holtzman a minute ago. He points that there are several passages in the Gospel of Matthew that makes this very clear. In Matthew 3, verse 2, we find that at the beginning of Christ's ministry, the message that was proclaimed was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand". That means it's imminent; it's about to break in. "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Again in Matthew 4, verse 17, Jesus went about preaching, quote, "the gospel of the kingdom". He preached to all of the people in the Sermon on the Mount, "Seek first the kingdom and its righteousness", and he promised that those who would seek with faith, "to such belongs the kingdom of heaven". In Matthew 12, we read something very interesting: Jesus says, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If it is by the spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God is come upon you".
The power of Jesus released to overcome evil is the manifestation of the kingdom and that power has been given to the Church, to bind and to loose. It's the power against which the gates of hell will not prevail. Therefore, we have Jesus' own guarantee that the Church is the colonial outpost of God's kingdom on earth; and we've got royal power from God on high, if only we would use it. In Matthew 13, Jesus bombards His disciples with a series of parables. They are called "the parables of the kingdom" and He speaks to the disciples about how they have been given the secrets of the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is a field full of wheat and tares. How is that? A wheat field full of tares. Now, if you want to identify the kingdom with the final state of glory, then this wouldn't be possible. Jesus couldn't say that the kingdom is like a wheat field full of tares. No, the Church as God's kingdom is a wheat field that is full of tares and weeds and the disciples are told not to pluck them up because the angels will come to harvest the wheat and the angels will have what it takes to differentiate between the wheat and the tares.
There you have special clarity in seeing that the Church is the kingdom. I suspect most of you are sitting here thinking, "He's flogging a dead horse. Okay, okay, enough is enough; the Church is the kingdom of God"! But it's something that you need, not just for yourself but for other people who call upon the name of Christ and who believe that He is their king, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. It's one thing to say that Christ is your king, but it's another thing to remain intentionally outside of His kingdom.
What is your confession of His kingship if you will not submit to the kingdom and the royal government that He has established in the Church? So we need, for love of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, we need to understand how to show them from the gospels how this is clear over and over again.
The kingdom in Matthew 13, verse 47 is compared to a dragnet that draws good and bad vessels up. Again, that isn't the final, glorious state in heaven forever. That's the Church in history on earth. We also see in Matthew 16, perhaps, the clearest statement of the Church as God's kingdom because there Jesus declares Simon to be the rock upon which He will build the Church and immediately, he gives to Simon Peter, the Rock, the keys of the kingdom. He says on the one hand, I am going to build my Church on you, petros, on you, rock; and I give to you, rock, the keys of the kingdom. So how will he be the instrument through and by which Christ builds His Church? By possessing and administering the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
You can see this elsewhere, in Matthew 18, where Jesus instructs the Apostles on how to reconcile fallen brethren: by confronting them privately with their sins and asking them to repent. He goes on talking about how, if they refuse to listen "even to the Church" then they should be outsiders. Then in the very next passage, he goes on to talk about a king who forgave one of his servants. The whole principle of forgiveness in Matthew 18 is wrapped up with forgiveness in God's kingdom as well as forgiveness in the Church. Lastly, in Matthew 21, verse 43, Jesus tells the scribes and the Pharisees and the chief priests in Jerusalem that the kingdom will be taken away from you and given to nations that produce fruit worthy of it. That's the Church, the nations are the Gentiles and the Catholic Church is the kingdom that was taken away from the people who wanted simply a military, political kingdom under David and refused to accept the Son of David who came to establish the kingdom of heaven with spiritual authority.
I should also add, in Matthew 19:28, Jesus tells the Apostles that they will sit on twelve thrones, ruling the twelve tribes of Israel. Once again, royal imagery. Enough is enough! I mean we could go through many other passages of Scripture, but I think this suffices. I'm a college professor. I have classes after lunch. You should see, it's just terrible. Even my best students start slumbering! You know how it is.
The Church is not Fully Identical With the Kingdom of God
The Church is the kingdom of God on earth but the Church is not fully identical with the kingdom of God. That is why Jesus is at pains to describe the kingdom as also the kingdom of heaven. Only in heaven is the fullness of the kingdom because only in heaven do we have the king in all of his manifest glory. Therein we find divine and royal authority and truth. Only at the end of time is the glory of the kingdom going to be fully manifested, when all history is consummated. And only in the saints who are glorified and residing now in heaven is the reality of the kingdom fully present and really alive.
That's what we really mean when we say that the Church is holy. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints. We are members of the Church. We are saints. We are sanctified. We are set apart to be holy and yet our membership is, in some ways, provisional, probationary. It is real, but it is something which needs completion and perfection. Not so the saints in heaven. So, when we confess our faith in the Holy Spirit, the soul of the holy, Catholic Church, we confess, likewise, the communion of saints, because the saints in heaven are the full- fledged citizens of the kingdom; for up there, in heaven, is the reality of the kingdom in its fullness. In heaven is our King and I might also add, our Queen Mother, and all who have died in Him and for Him, sitting enthroned and crowned with glory as the Book of Revelation describes.
So, what are we? I like to describe the Church on earth as the royal colonial militia. The Pope, the bishops, the priests and the laity constitute the Church Militant in battle against sin, enmeshed in a titanic struggle with the world, the flesh and the devil. Under the earth are the POWs, waiting, expecting, desiring release, yet imprisoned, in a sense. Our militant action on their behalf has a liberating power. We can ransom them through the power of Christ alive in us.
The Vatican? Well, naturally, it's the embassy of our homeland, our royal kingdom. The earth is our colonial mission ground. It's wilderness. It's a place of exile, but it's a place, which in a sense, serves as our boot camp, our training ground, our place for preparation, where we learn to love and live the things we will do for ever and ever with the saints who are now glorified in heaven. God grant us a renewed understanding and belief in all that stuff.
People think, "Well, if you think that way, you're going to become so heavenly-minded, you'll be no earthly good"! I would say, "On the contrary, it's only those who are truly heavenly-minded who are really of any earthly good, because they understand the goods of earth as they really are in themselves". The goods of earth are good - marriage, sexuality, wealth, power, freedom - all those things are goods! They are lower goods, of a lower order. They're temporary; they're transient; they're fading for all of us. You can't take it with you!
So, the saints are those who see that the goods of the earth are like hors d'oeuvres that are only meant to whet your appetite for the real main course, which will be served in heaven. It's the person who has nothing to fear on earth because everything he possesses he knows is only temporary; it's that person who can really be courageous and bold and fearless in the face of tyrant kings, in the face of Communist parties, in the face of all kinds of materialistic and sensual temptations in our land. That's the person whose eyes and heart are fixed upon the treasure in heaven.
If we become heavenly-minded, as the saints are, if we become what we are as saints, we will be invincible on earth, as the saints have been, absolutely invincible! We are the kingdom of God, but we are a kingdom unlike any other kingdom in all of history. Our king does not have a wife. Our king is not raising up a son to be His successor. Our king does not have armies to protect all of His political holdings. Our king is the most unlikely figure of all, a man who has renounced money, sex and power for Himself. That, after all, is the essence of the threefold vow of the religious life. Poverty, chastity and obedience constitute the threefold vow that monks and those in religious life accept and take.
Why? Is it because money is bad? No, it's a lower good. Is it because sex is evil? No, in the Catholic Church marriage is sacramental and it's the act of marriage which consummates marital communion. No denomination in all the world has such a high view of sexuality as the Catholic Church. That's why no denomination on earth views sexual sin as seriously as the Catholic Church. The corruption of the best is the worst. It was precisely because Satan was the greatest angel that he became the greatest devil.
Money, sex, power - is power bad? No, but power down here is nothing compared to power and authority on the thrones in heaven. So these are the people who really understand that you can't take it with you; that the money, that the sex, the power and all the sensual gratification that we can enjoy here and now - all of that is fleeting! How long will it take for Americans to wake up and learn that lesson again? How jaded are we going to have to be with pornography and with drugs and with alcohol before we reinvent the wheel of human life?
The Church is Called to be a Kingdom of Priests
The saints are the ones who show us this power and this call to be a kingdom of priests is proclaimed by God from the Old Testament all the way through the New Testament, to give to us a clear sense of who we are. We're not a political or a military kingdom. We are "a kingdom of priests", we're "a royal priesthood", First Peter tells us, "a holy nation". A royal priesthood, the kingdom that we are is priestly. Therefore, we don't go around forcing conversions through the sword or through weapons. We don't go around using the means of this world. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world". If it was, my disciples would fight. That does not mean that "my kingdom" is not in this world. It means that Christ's kingdom does not derive its royal authority from swords or armies or majority votes or political parties. He derives his royal authority from the Father and from the truth that Christ is in Himself.
Pilate could only answer cynically, "What is truth?" But his kingdom is long gone. Christ's kingdom is ever-expanding in the Church as a royal kingdom/priesthood. Now, I'm going to raise an issue here that I really can't deal with satisfactorily, but I almost always do that. That is the priesthood and especially the celibate priesthood.
Why does the Catholic Church require celibacy for priests? First of all, the Church does not condemn marriage. It espouses it as a sacrament. The Church does not forbid marriage. It just says that if you are called to the priesthood, there are certain sacrifices to be made. Everybody acknowledges that, they just squabble over which ones.
St. Paul makes it clear in 1st Corinthians 7 that his heart's desire as an apostle of Christ is that all God's ministers could be like him because then you could serve the Lord in a single-minded way, with greater devotion. But in Matthew 19, the disciples reply to Jesus, "Not all men - who can bear this saying?" When Jesus talks about how permanent marriage is, (and) Jesus acknowledges the fact that only some men can be in a sense what he calls "eunuchs for the kingdom", those who renounce sex and marriage for the kingdom.
Eunuchs were those individuals in antiquity who usually were forced to renounce sex through castration, so that they would be put in charge of the royal harem. So that all the wives of the king were under the charge of men who couldn't "mess around". Jesus uses that rather corrupt and perverse image to describe His ministers, those who have made themselves "eunuchs for the kingdom". They haven't been castrated; they have renounced a lower good, sexual satisfaction, bonis conjugalis, they have renounced the marital act and the marital covenant so that they can protect the royal bride. You see, Jesus doesn't have many wives. He's got one wife, the Church, His bride.
Those who renounce marriage to be eunuchs for the kingdom give themselves in single-minded devotion to protecting and preserving Christ's bride, the Church. There is a certain credibility in this holy sacrifice. One of the greatest converts of the 19th Century in North America was a man by the name of Orestes Brownson, perhaps the greatest intellectual in the U.S. a hundred years ago. He has an article entitled, "The Church's Influence on Ancient and Barbarian Society", where he deals with the issue of celibacy from a practical standpoint and he describes how the Church, in the Middle Ages and even before the Middle Ages, had a great pagan world to subdue and convert.
"Looking in Northern Europe, wild and lawless heathen and heretic united, the barbarians covered the face of Europe, a motley and chaotic assemblage of tribes, languages, customs and governments. But the Church began her work again and dauntless missionaries went forth on every side to Goth and Visigoth, Saxon and Hun and Vandal before whose fierce valor, the male legions of the empire had been defeated. They yielded to the peaceful teaching of those men of God and bowed their neck to the sweet yoke of Christ."
How could the most barbaric tribes submit to the gospel of peace? It's because devout religious men and women went forth, having renounced money, sex and power in the threefold vow of poverty, chastity/celibacy and obedience. They had credibility. I mean, if men show up in your tribal village, what are you going to suspect these foreigners are going to be looking for? Either your money or your women or controlling you, taking away your freedom.
But then all of a sudden, after a few hours, after a few days you discover that these men who are fully men have renounced, by a vow to their God, sex. They're not going to take away your daughters or your wives. They renounce money, so they are not here to plunder your wealth and they have renounced freedom in a vow of obedience to their superiors so they cannot become tyrants over you.
You've got to ask yourself one question - what did you come here for? If you're not here for my money or for my women or for power over me, what are you here for? You must really believe this message that you wish to proclaim. Let's hear it! Even barbarians have to sit up and listen and respect that sort of saintly sacrifice. And I daresay the world is not so entirely different today. And not until we pray for an increase in holy and worthy vocations to the priesthood and the religious life will we see this neo-pagan, barbarian culture of ours subdued once again to the gospel of peace.
We will, sooner or later, relearn the glory of celibacy and of the saintly sacrifice entailed in that. He goes on. He quotes the distinguished Protestant philosopher, Guizot who declares in his "General History of Civilization" "that it was their celibacy alone which prevented the clergy in the Catholic Church from forming a caste system like those in India. Had the clergy", he says, "Had the clergy been married, it would have been morally impossible for the church dignities not to have become hereditary, like the rank of feudal lords, for the clergy would naturally have allied themselves by intermarriage and common interests the feudal nobility and would have united with them in retaining in their own hands all the intelligence of the age, all the wealth and power of the nations, while the lower classes would have been irretrievably sunk in ignorance, poverty and servitude, like the wretched lower castes of India. This," Guizot says, "would have been the inevitable consequence of the marriage of the clergy; whereas the effect of the celibacy was that while all else around her fell under the regime of privilege and birth, the Church alone maintained the principle of equality and admitted all men, without regard to their origin, to all her charges and all her dignities. As a matter of fact, the Church by this institution, not only threw open to the poorest classes all the means of education, all the treasures of learning, all the dignities and wealth which she possessed; but, moreover, through the immense temporal power which the clergy then enjoyed opened to the poorest at the same time all the highest offices in the society."
The power of celibacy is power to convert cultures and societies and civilizations. This is the example of the holiness of the saints, but it's something that we're not quite ready to understand. We're going to look at the saints a little bit more in just a minute. Before I step into that, I'd like to stop and step back and consider God's holiness.
If there's one thing I believe that constitutes the crisis of our age as Msgr. Josemaria Escriva has said, "The crisis of our age is a crisis of saints." We lack courageous saints in the world. Now, saints are not weirdoes. That's what our world tells us, though: the saints are the people who really don't fit. They couldn't do anything else and so they became priests or whatever. Not so. The saints are those who are fully and truly human. They are fully rational. They are in true and proper possession of their senses because they understand reality better than most of us.
Scriptural Accounts of People Who Have Seen Good
What do I mean? Think about God. Imagine what it would be like to see God. Pretty hard, isn't it? Imagine what it would be like now to come into the presence of God. What would it do to us? Well, I think we have tamed God so much we think that it would be something less than the trauma it would actually be. We know what it's like because we have accounts of such encounters in sacred scripture. In Isaiah 6, for instance, the holy and righteous prophet Isaiah is in the Temple and he has a vision in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah says, "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up and His train filled the temple and above Him stood the seraphim , the highest of the angels". The name "seraphim" literally means in Hebrew, "the burning ones". "Each had six wings. With two wings he covered his face, with two wings he covered his feet and with two he flew, and one called to another and said, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts'. The whole earth is full of His glory and the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him who called. And the house was filled with smoke." And Isaiah says, "Woe is me for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of Hosts".
The Apostle John has the same vision of Jesus in His holy glory and when he beholds Jesus in His holiness and glory, he falls at His feet as though dead. He doesn't say, "Hey, long time no see, Jesus. It's been thirty or forty years, hasn't it? Oh what a friend we have in Jesus!" We do, but what a holy Lord we have! We have forgotten the holiness of God. We have lost the sense of God's utter sanctity. The term in Hebrew for holiness, "kodesh" is a word that has in a sense two meanings. On the one hand it means to "set apart", but it's to be set apart for devotion. It's interesting that the same Hebrew word for holiness, "kodesh" or "kodeshine" is the word that the Hebrews use for marriage.
God is "Holy" -- "Set Apart for Devotion"
Schillebeckx from his book on marriage describes how it's kind of an odd occurrence - that the word "kodeshine" means holiness, as God's holiness, but it also means marriage, because that which is holy is set apart, utterly set apart for a very sacred purpose.
Did you ever notice a pattern in profanity? Have you ever noticed that when people are profane what kind of images and words they use? The bathroom and the bedroom! Why? Because those places are set apart. One place, the bedroom, for noble, holy, private, intimate, indescribable acts that bring new life, and the bathroom because of its ignoble, its perhaps more shameful activities. The word profane in Latin comes from "profanum", which means "out of the temple". To take something that is holy and to drag it out of the temple is to profane it. To take something which is proper and holy in the marital bed, in the bedroom, and just kind of drag it out. The words that describe the acts of marriage are words which are used in profanity. Words that describe things that we do in private are kind of dragged out of the closet for shock value. We don't understand why we do this, but we do. And then when we use God's name in the same way, we take something that is holy and we use it like it's trash, to show that we are lord over all of this realm.
We can use God's name as we please. We can describe holy functions in ways that befit our own intentions and purposes. That's profanity. Our culture is profane. We don't understand Isaiah's experience, St. John's experience. This is not the God of the Old Testament. In the Book of Revelation we see the same thing. The angels and the saints before God's throne, crying, "Holy, holy, holy". Do you know that nowhere in the Bible do you find any statement where God is "love, love, love" or "mercy, mercy, mercy" or "forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness"? But in the Old Testament and in the New Testament we have God described as "Holy, holy, holy".
You see, in the Hebrew language, you don't have superlative suffixes like "good, better, best", "black, blacker, blackest". If you want to raise to a higher lever of intensity and emphasis a certain idea, you say it twice and if you want to say, not just good, not just better, but if you want to say best, you say it three times. God isn't just holy. He's not just holier. He is absolutely the holiest being who exceeds and transcends all other beings. When we come before Him, even if we were righteous and holy Isaiah, we would fall at His feet and say, "Woe is me. I am undone".
When we approach the Church, when we come before the altar, when we prepare to receive the Blessed Sacrament in the Holy Eucharist; when we repeat the cry of the angels in the Mass and we say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts", do we really believe what we're saying? Do we really understand that our God is utterly different and separate from everything in the universe? Do we take off our shoes? Do we bow our knees? Do we prostrate our hearts before God and say, "Whoa!"?
This experience of God, Rudolph Otto described as the "mysterium tremendum". It's sort of like, "I've got to get away, but where else can I go, because nothing is so glorious? I want to get near, but I dare not." When we experience the holiness of God, we experience the purpose for our being. We experience the goal of our life. We experience the end of our existence. We experience that for which we have been made, and yet it terrifies us; because we know that in and of ourselves we're so unholy.
So, what are we to do? Of ourselves, we can do nothing. But we are not left to ourselves. Christ is with us in the Holy Eucharist. The sacraments are the divine instruments, the powerful agents to change us into saints, to sanctify us, to raise us up as children of God. The term holiness, as I've mentioned, means to set apart. I set apart the garbage cans every Thursday night for the Friday morning pickup but they're not holy, are they? We're talking about things that are set apart for an exclusive purpose of interpersonal love, family! Your sons and your daughters, your mother and your father, your wife or your husband, they're set apart. We are saints because we have been set apart. We are no mere creatures. We're not just servants. "I call you friends", Jesus says to His Apostles. We are children of God. We are the bride of Christ. We are His family so we are set apart as a holy temple, a royal household. And we have got to ask God to rekindle within our hearts a belief in His absolute and total holiness.
That alone will absolutely transform the Catholic Church wherever it happens. I pray that we will study and pray about God's holiness. If there is one thing, I believe, that makes a saint "canonizable", it's living with the understanding that, yes indeed, God is holy. Does that mean that we go about somber, serious, deadpan, refusing, repudiating, renouncing all of the goods of this earth? No, it doesn't, although there comes a time when we should renounce the goods of this earth. Incidentally, I just came across a book last week, (I love books, I've got about 14,000 of them in my own library. I'm a "bookaholic".) There's one book that's an absolute blockbuster by Father Christian Cuccini entitled, "The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy", just came out from Ignatius, four or five hundred pages long, showing that from the earliest days, the Church has long recognized how proper and necessary priestly celibacy is. There's another book, Manfred Hawkey's book, "Women and the Priesthood", also published by Ignatius in 1988 that really answers a pressing question concerning another issue related to that.
But back to the business at hand here. We are talking about God's holiness and how to live in accord with that holiness, not in some somber, deadpan pessimism, but rather with a buoyant, joyous optimism that is absolutely optimistic in the face of all adversity and trouble because, down here, there's nothing to fear. As one man has said, "He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose". What can we keep down here? Not a thing.
Saints Show Us How to Live in Accord with God's Holiness
Saints are the ones who renounce joyfully, gratefully, the good, the lower goods of this earth to live out a heroic lifestyle of holiness. Think of the saints. St. Paul, one of my all-time favorites. St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Basil, St. Gregory, St. Athanasius; another favorite of mine is St. Augustine. We have St. Bernard Clairvaux, we've got St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi. I teach at a Franciscan University in Steubenville. It is one of the most exciting places to be in the world today because there, St. Francis of Assisi is known. He is loved. He is addressed and he is emulated by men and women. It's exciting. St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure. These saints constitute the Church's Hall of Fame. They give to the Church a radiant splendor that we cannot find words to describe. St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus, St. Francis Xavier, who killed himself loving Oriental people to the Lord, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, the Doctors of Prayer and the Mystical Life, St. Vincent de Paul, who loved the poor more than they loved themselves, St. John Vianney, who loved his parishioners enough to tell them what sins they were really committing and the confessional lines took hours and hours to go through. He would hear confessions 12, 13, 14 hours a day because he told it like it was.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we pray: O Father in heaven, my words are such an inadequate representation of truths that transcend our boldest dreams and our greatest imagination, give to us that faith, increase our faith, that we might see the Church as you see it, the Bride of Christ, the Household of Faith, the Family of God, that we might see it structured physically and visibly and continued in history, displaying the ongoing work of Christ and manifest in the power and love of the Spirit. These requests are a tall order, but Lord, that's what Christ died to give us and so we pray that Christ would give us a renewed vision of His Bride, of the family that He has purchased with His own flesh and blood and together, Lord, hear us as we pray the family prayer He taught: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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