In light of our recent strategic planning as a diocese, I have thought a lot about who we are as Church, and the nature of Church. The goal of our strategic plan is to strengthen this local Church of the diocese of Cheyenne. My reflection naturally begins with thoughts of the Incarnation, when God sent His only Son into the world. Jesus is the perfect “wedding” of our human nature with the divine.
Think of it: God, infinite, pure and perfect life, love, “being”, taking on our finite human nature, and joining “us” to Himself. Jesus gave up His rightful place in heaven to take on our human condition as a newly conceived life in the womb of the virgin. Here He humbly dwelt in silence until the “fullness of time” brought Him forth into the world. “The WORD became flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
In this world, in a human family, Jesus dwelt as Son of Man and Son of God, revealing the face of God to the world. Jesus’ life and ministry was always a “self-gift” according to the will of the Father. He lived His life in obedience to the Father, always in love with those around Him, evidencing His love for the world. His Word (Logos) is always a Word of Truth and Life. His presence always brought healing, mercy, and transformation, transcendence, emitting Light, Peace, and Joy. He is Truth as the perfect “communication” of God to all humanity.
Jesus’ passion and death was the ultimate “self-gift” according to the will of the Father, for the salvation of the world. From his pierced side we see his Sacred Heart, revealing the infinite love of God and a mercy capable of forgiving the sins of the world. This infinite love and mercy pours forth from the crucified Christ as his blood given to establish the new and eternal covenant between God and all people. In this scene, we are given an icon of Jesus founding His Church.
As the Incarnation joins humanity with divinity, so, now, all that is “in Christ” is taken up in the Church. His power and life are now present in and through His Church through the Sacraments. In a sense, the Church is “the Sacrament” making Christ present through the Church. The essence of the Church is not so much a “structure” as it is the continuing presence of Christ Himself, continually joining humanity to Himself. The Church is this divine presence and action of Christ in the world today, as His means of keeping His promise to remain with us always, until the end of time. (Mt 28:20)
It is Christ, through the Sacraments of the Church, Who takes us to Himself. In Baptism, we die to self, and rise again through and in the Risen Christ, thus the Incarnation continues in and through us. This true and very real presence of Christ within us is continually nourished and strengthened through the Sacraments of the Church, primarily through the Eucharist.
Thus we can say with all confidence that the true nature of the Church is “communion” with Christ, and in and through Christ, “communion” with one another. Our greatest nature is expressed when we gather as “church” for the celebration of the Eucharist. It is Christ through the Eucharist, continually taking us to Himself, to heal and forgive us, to make us one in truth and love.
In our worship, we proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ, in His resurrection, in His promise of a new and eternal life. In our worship and proclamation of His Word, (Logos) we continue to receive His truth. The Church does not create this Truth, but receives it through revelation. “Make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my savior.” (Psalm 25)
As Christ, through the Sacraments of the Church, takes us to Himself, we become more and more like Christ. This is the nature of Christ’s work, the work of the Church; conversion, transformation, transcendence, through the proclamation of the Good News and the reception of the Sacraments. As we become more and more like Christ, we become who we claim to be as Church; The Body of Christ, The People of God. Thus, it is only in and through Christ that we are Church.
Our most significant and intimate encounter with Christ, then, is through the Sacraments of the Church and the transforming power of God’s Word. To truly be a member of the Church, we must celebrate the Sacraments, for it is primarily through the Sacraments that we experience a true “communion” with Christ.
Emery de Gaal, in his book, The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, said: The nature of the Church is not constituted primarily by the condition of her individual members but first and foremost by the mystery of the body of Christ. The people of God are communio sanctorum (a communion of holy men and women) by virtue of their participation in the Eucharistic Lord. United with Christ, the Church becomes both the body of Christ and members of Christ’s body. (Then, quoting Pope Benedict) “The unification of man with Christ occurs not simply between the believer and Christ. The path to the spirit of Christ never occurs directly but always by entering the body of Christ in the Church. Hence, this is the actual nature of how man becomes one with Christ, by becoming one with the Church.” (p.183)
It is Christ who makes the Church. It is Christ, through his Church, Who makes us one with Himself. It is through Christ, that we discover and live our unity (communion) with one another. It is my earnest prayer that our strategic plan will aid us all in growing in our understanding, appreciation, and full participation in the Sacramental life of the Church.
Christ is our beginning. Christ is our ultimate end. The Church is our communion with Christ in this earthly journey on our way to the fullness of God’s Kingdom; the completion of His plan of Love and Salvation.0