"Let us love the Lord our God; let us love His Church. Let us love Him as our Father and her as our mother" (St. Augustine) "No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother" (St. Cyprian) "For where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is also; and where the Spirit of God is, there the Church is, and all grace. And the Spirit is truth." (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)
Recently I attended the ordination of my friend, former Protestant minister and Pro-Life hero, Paul Schenck, to the Holy Priesthood in the Catholic Church. I wrote about Fr. Paul's extraordinary journey in an article entitled Pro-life Hero, Protestant Minister to Catholic Priest: Fr. Paul Schenck, Prophetic Sign of Coming Full Communion.
Today I heard good news from another friend on a similar journey. I have been a road sign as the Holy Spirit pulled him into the fullness of truth found within the Catholic Church. Years ago, I served as the deacon at the Mass of reception when he laid aside a significant ministry to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Just when some are counting the Catholic Church out she is growing in numbers, and, more importantly, growing in the kind of living faith a new missionary age requires. That is helped by many of these Christians from other communities who are, as they say, "coming home".
They understand that the Church really is our home. They are happy to live within the heart of that home. They welcome the teaching office, the magisterium, as a sure guide and gift. Just make a list of the finest popular apologists in the Catholic Church today. Many are converts, or "reverts".
I write regularly on the growing warmth in relationship between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. I long for their full communion. I believe this is the Millennium when they will enter into communion while maintaining a legitimate diversity within orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Oh, I know, many think I am dreaming. Let's see what happens.
I covered the historic development which led to the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution and erection of the Anglican Ordinariate long before many thought it was even possible. I believe that the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom to beatify John Henry Cardinal Newman is prophetic.
In a television commentary last Saturday Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi spoke of the purification of the Church which is currently underway. We need to remember that this is not the first time in 2,000 years that evil and sin found its way into the Church. Then, like now, it was revealed by the light of the Holy Spirit, the Church was purified and strengthened, and she continued her mission. Such times of purification often come right before times of genuine renewal. I believe that is the case in our own age.
We are at the beginning of a new missionary age of the Church. Along with the needed purification the seeds of a new springtime are beginning to sprout. For example, the "ecclesial movements" are flourishing; new and renewed religious communities are growing and new and renewed Colleges and Universities, desirous of being fully and faithfully Catholic, are sending out missionaries into every segment of the fields which are ripe for harvest. There is a growing dynamically orthodox Catholic faith and life being manifested among the lay faithful.
The movement of our Anglican friends into full communion, the growing number of other Christians' coming home, the movement toward the healing of the division between East and West are all signs of a resurgent Catholic Church at the dawn of a new missionary age. What is still desperately needed is what the last two Pope's call a "New Evangelization". The term refers to the evangelization of Catholics already in the pews who do not yet understand their faith and live it out in a unity of life.
How many Catholics understand the full implications of their own Baptism? How many understand what the Church teaches? How many experience the Church as a "mother", or live in the Church as a a "communion"? How many have come to perceive the Church as "Some - One" rather than some-thing? It is this kind of living faith which is needed. Is it supposed to only be the experience of the "mystics", the talk of the Saints and Fathers? Or, is it supposed to be the truly common experience of every Christian? It is supposed to be the common experience of all Christians.
In Catholic theology we teach what the early fathers, Saints and Councils throughout the ages have all affirmed; to belong to Jesus is to belong to His Body, the Church. Our membership in the Church is a participation in the life of God; what the Apostle Peter referred to as a "participation in the Divine nature". (2 Peter 1:4) The Church is not some "thing", outside of us, which we try to "fix" or have our "issues" with. Through our Baptism the Church becomes our home, the privileged place in which we live our lives in Christ. To perceive, receive and to live this requires continuing conversion.
In its treatment of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood. [St. Augustine, Serm. 96, 7, 9: PL 38, 588; St. Ambrose, De virg. 18, 118: PL 16, 297B; cf. already 1 Pet 3:20-21] [30, 953, 1219]"
Because the Church is human and divine, her members still sin. Sometimes evil takes root in weak spots and rots her from within. However, the promise of Christ is reliable;"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18) The Church is the means through which we participate in the very life of God. To her has been entrusted the Sacraments and the Word, the gift of a teaching office and the very means of salvation.
The Church is not an optional "extra" that we add to our lives, she is our life. We live in Christ for the sake of the world. From the Lord's wounded side she was birthed at the tree of Calvary, the altar of the new world. She is the seed of the kingdom to come and makes that kingdom present in a world waiting to be reborn.
Just when many are counting the Catholic Church out, the Lord who birthed her and died for her is purifying her and renewing her by His Spirit. This is the Millennium of the Catholic Church and the Dawn of a New Missionary Age.