Chat for Sun June 28-Chapter 3 of Cardinal Wuerl’s Letter


The Church is an Instrument for the Redemption of All

 

 

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On Sunday we will chat about the presence of the Church.

His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., released a pastoral letter on Pentecost Sunday (May 24, 2015) entitled “Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge.” Our reflection continues with the topic of the presence of the Church.

Chapter Three: Signs of the Presence of the Church

Years ago, in an effort to provide a fuller vision of life to a group of youngsters whose experience was confined to the inner city, we organized a day trip to the country. The day began with a breakfast that included genuine freshly-squeezed orange juice. Cautiously taking a sip, many of the children asked, “What is this stuff?” When told it was orange juice, they simply said, “No it isn’t.”
They had never known the real thing. The only experience they had of anything approximating orange juice was an artificial “orange-flavored drink” sometimes given as part of the free breakfast program. That occasion comes to mind when I reflect on the limited and even contrived version of our faith that some people hold.
“Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth,” the Second Vatican Council instructs, the Church “is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth” (Lumen gentium, 9).
In the Rite of baptism we hear the words, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king so may you live always as a member of his body sharing everlasting life.” Pope Benedict XVI explained that “the Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)” (Deus caritas est, 25). While some in our society would limit the exercise of our Catholic faith to our houses of worship, Pope Benedict XVI made clear that “these duties presuppose each other and are inseparable” (Id.).
We are called to manifest the kingdom of God not merely within our church buildings, but out in the world, building up the common good. When we correspond to God’s grace, we are extending the kingdom, we are able to be the image of Christ to all those we encounter – in his love, in his truth, in his mercy, and in his justice, making a gift of ourselves in service to communion with God and one another.
One of the great voices of African Christianity in the second century, Tertullian, noted that Christians wore charity like a brand upon their bodies. As slaves bore the brand marks of their owners, so Christians bore the mark of God’s love. He wrote: “it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘Look,’ they say, ‘how they love one another … and how they are ready to die for each other.’” (Tertullian, Apologeticum 39.7.) He does not speak in pious generalities, but lists the specific ways that Christians habitually helped others, even at the risk of their own lives. Christians “supply the wants of destitute orphans, and of old persons who are homebound; those who have suffered shipwreck, or have been condemned to the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in prisons” (Ibid, 39.6.).
This was the public work that, like the Creed and the sacraments, set Catholics apart and gave them their identity in second century North Africa. They were known by their charitable love. A writer in the city of Rome, Saint Justin Martyr, confirms Tertullian’s claim by an almost identical list of charitable deeds (Saint Justin Martyr, First Apology, 67.) Love, shown in action, was a universal mark of Christian faith in those earliest years of the Church’s life.
Pope Francis often calls on the faithful to “go forth” and be Spirit-filled missionary disciples, bringing Christ’s love and hope to the poor and forgotten, especially those on the margins of society, and also our family members, friends and coworkers, and all the people we meet. This is what we do; this is who we are.
Our understanding of the nature and significance of the Church explains why the missionary activity of the Church is essential to her identity. An encounter with Jesus, which we experience in God’s Word, the sacraments, and our works of charity, can transform our hearts, and inspire us to change our world. We experience the source and summit of our Catholic faith at Mass, when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Then at the end of the liturgy, we are called to “go forth” and bring the Lord’s truth and love to the world.
This basic Catholic instinct has led, down through history, to the development of institutions now considered indispensable to civilization. It was the Church that established what developed into the modern university and hospital systems. Modern-day music, art, architecture, economics, philosophy, and our legal system all have their roots in the Catholic Church. Concepts such as natural rights and social equality, not to mention the idea that government and religion are separate spheres, were developed in Catholic thought. It was Catholics supported by the Church — with its refreshing ideas that faith and reason are complementary and that the universe is orderly — who often led the way in the sciences, including astronomy, cosmology, physics, chemistry, genetics, optics, and seismology.
Where the impact of well-articulated faith based principles most evidently helped to form public policy in the United States are in the areas of labor relations, working conditions and a number of other social justice issues.
The reason Rerum novarum, the encyclical letter by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, which concentrated on the Church’s understanding of the dignity of workers and their rights, is highlighted so regularly is because it was the beginning of a long series of papal encyclicals and statements constantly developing the theme that work is an integral part of the human experience and workers have an innate human dignity and the rights that accompany it.
Saint John Paul II, on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum novarum, wrote an encyclical Centessimus annus, where he says we are “To show the fruitfulness of the principles enunciated by Leo XIII, which belong to the Church’s doctrinal patrimony, and as such involve the exercise of her teaching office” (3.5). What Saint John Paul II is proclaiming is that it is the duty of the magisterium to enunciate the Church’s social teaching, not as an option for the believer, but as a guide for his or her life.
We’ll be talking about the presence of the Church during our chat session on Sunday. Here are some questions that will guide our discussion:
  1. The example of the children tasting real orange juice for the first time can teach us many thing. How can we help people taste the “real” Christianity that God has called us to live? How can we avoid the imitation/false Christianity?
  2. The love God calls us to is expressed in worship, evangelization, and works of charity. How can we find a proper balance in our lives for expressing this love?
  3. As you read above, the Catholic Church has been a major influence in many spheres of human life. How can the Church continue to be such a leader in innovation and knowledge?
  4. In the Garden of Eden we learn that God created man to work. As we learned above, that means that all people have the right to fair work. Because it is something God requires of us, how can we learn to treat our work as a prayer?

 

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