WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga says the catholic nature of the Church calls her to be missionary.
When I received the invitation to come, I was very happy, because I love the title of this series of lectures, Nothing More Beautiful, for many reasons. When we first learned the catechesis we remember three important verbs: We were created to know, love and serve God and our neighbour.
These verbs are related. You cannot love what you do not know; you cannot serve if you do not love. So we must know our Mother Church every day better in order to love her more and to serve her better. Nothing more beautiful to enhance our spiritual identity than knowing our creed better. And so that is why we are talking of the Church. The Church we believe in is catholic.
Christ founded the Church for the salvation of the human race. He established it so that it might preserve his revelation, and dispense his grace to all nations. Hence it was necessary that it should be found in every land, proclaiming his message to all men and women, and communicating to them the means of grace. To this end he laid on the Apostles the injunction to “go, and teach all nations.”
The Church is catholic because the same Jesus, its founder, endowed this seed of universality and sent it to proclaim his message of salvation to the world: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15.16).
In the Old Testament there are repeated references to the amplitude of the messianic kingdom, which is announced by the prophets and presented with a universal vocation. Together it is a veiled foretelling as it continues to explicitly refer to the chosen people of Israel.
But several ecumenical announcements are particularly striking. Such as the blessing of Abraham: “In your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing” (Genesis 22.18).
These references are maintained in all the patriarchs. They are expressed in prayers as in the Psalms. They are clearly described in the prophets, especially in Isaiah and also in Ezekiel, Daniel and Malachi.
Christ expressed his desire that his Church was universal and embraced all peoples. In some form he broke down the Judaism seclusion of the Temple. “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (John 4.21-23).
He knew that his message was intended for the entire universe. And he said it to his followers until the last moment. He wanted this with such clarity that he made the entire world the destination of his Apostles and messengers. The disciples were aware of this and became his universal witnesses.
The primitive community of Jerusalem began the task of irradiation and quickly spread throughout the territory near Jerusalem (Judea, Samaria and Galilee). But there came a time when there were so many in all of Palestine that they began to spread out across the numerous Jewish settlements throughout the Mediterranean region.
They also reached Antioch, the capital of the Eastern Roman province. It was there where they began to be called “Christians,” the followers of Nazarene.
We have the reference of the catholic routes of Paul, the converted. Nonetheless, the other Apostles’ travels remained in secret, for example: Those who arrived from Ephesus, where John went, to Egypt, where according to tradition went Matthew; from India, where Thomas travelled according to local beliefs, to the Finis Terrae, Spain, where James, the Boanerges (son of thunder) would go. Peter himself entered to the heart of the empire as a challenge of the catholicism and a sign of hope.
It is clear that the apostolic expansion was a crucial feature in shaping the Church and a clear and sacramental sign of God’s plans.
St. Paul, shown here preaching to the Athenians, took his missionary responsibility seriously.
The Apostle Paul praised this expansion with joy, as he was realizing what it meant: “Their voice (of the messengers of the Gospel) has gone forth to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world” (Romans 10.18).
And he announced that one day, when the number of Gentiles predestined by God had reached its limit, that there would also be a place in the Church for the heirs of Israel, who had once rejected the salvation offered by him, but that also they would convert to become examples of mercy.
As a good Israelite, Paul asked himself:
“Then, has God rejected his people? Of course not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham. . . . So also at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. . . . What Israel was seeking it did not attain, but the elect attained it. . . . But through their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Romans 11.1-11).
Then came Pentecost. The disciples of Christ began their mission on the day of Pentecost and continued this mission throughout their entire life.
Since the day of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and the Church was full of his life, it was learned that the Church would penetrate all countries since there were Jews of the diaspora from many countries, and they were witnesses of the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit.
While some made fun thinking that the disciples were drunk, others were amazed and astonished. Each one heard them speaking their own language and they said:
“’Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travellers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.’ They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” But others said, scoffing, ‘They have had too much new wine’” (Acts 2.4-13).
Do not pretend that simply with the occasion of the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able to speak different languages (Greek, Latin, Coptic, etc.). Rather it was a language in a state of grace, a talk from the inside filled with the Holy Spirit, which did not need the common linguistic forms.
The disciples speak a new language given by the Holy Spirit, not with words and sentences that belonged to an existing human language. This way of speaking causes opposing views from those who listen. To some it seems that those who speak are drunk and are talking nonsense; others understand their speech as praise of God’s salvation.
To the listeners willing to believe and to receive, the Holy Spirit gives them the ability to understand the meaning and content of what the disciples speak of, and so it seems the disciples speak in their native language.
The Fathers of the Church often see through the event of Pentecost, the miraculous power of the Apostles to preach the Gospel in every language. The tongues of fire announce the future gift of the tongues of the Apostles.
St. Cyril, successor of the Apostle James as bishop of Jerusalem, served from 348 to 386 and vigorously enforced the faith of the Council of Nicea (325) against the heretical sects. This led to several expulsions from his See and several returns as well. He lived to participate in the Council of Constantinople (381) which completed the Creed that we say.
In his Catecheses, St. Cyril explains to catechumens and newly baptized Christians the meaning of this greatest of the creeds. In the following excerpt from Lecture 18 he explains the implication of “catholic,” in the article “one, holy, catholic Church”:
22. Now then let me finish what still remains to be said for the article, “In one, holy, catholic Church,” on which, though one might say many things, we will speak but briefly.
23. It is called catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to man’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts (cfr. Colin B. Donovan).
So what does “catholic” mean?
The word “catholic” means “universal,” in the sense of “according to the totality” or “in keeping with the whole.” The Church is catholic in a double sense: First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church” (St. Ignatius of Antioch).
In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him “the fullness of the means of salvation” which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession.
The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost and will always be so until the day of the parousia.
Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race.
All men and women are called to belong to the new People of God. This people while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled. He made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one.
The character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the head in the unity of his Spirit, says Vatican II (Lumen Gentium [LG], 13.
But also each particular Church, each diocese, is “catholic.”
“The Church of Christ is really present in all legitimately organized local groups of the faithful, which, in so far as they are united to their pastors, are also quite appropriately called churches in the New Testament.
“In them the faithful are gathered together through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, and the mystery of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. In these communities, though they may often be small and poor, or existing in the diaspora, Christ is present, through whose power and influence the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is constituted” (LG 26).
The phrase “particular church,” which is the diocese (or eparchy), refers to a community of the Christian faithful in communion of faith and sacraments with the bishops ordained in apostolic succession. These particular churches “are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists” (LG 23).
I will leave for lack of time some of the points because I was told to be clearly only half an hour.
Of course, one that is characteristic of catholicity is the mission. It is a requirement of the Church’s catholicity.
The missionary mandate: “Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men” (Ad Gentes Divinitus [AG] 1).
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age” (Matthew 28.19-20).
The origin and purpose of mission. The Lord’s missionary mandate is ultimately grounded in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity: “The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit” (AG 2).
The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love.
Missionary motivation. It is from God’s love for all men that the Church in every age receives both the obligation and the vigour of her missionary dynamism, “for the love of Christ urges us on,” says St. Paul (2 Corinthians 5.14).
Indeed, God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2.4). That is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth.
Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God’s universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary.
Of course, there are missionary paths. On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the “discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted” (Gaudium et Spes [GS] 43).
Only by taking the “way of penance and renewal” can the People of God extend Christ’s reign. For “just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men,” says the Constitution of the Church (LG 8).
By her very mission, “the Church . . . travels the same journey as all humanity and shares the same earthly lot which is the world: she is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God” (GS 40).
I will conclude. I would like to quote the number 17 of Vatican II’s Constitution of the Church: “As the Son was sent by the Father, so he too sent the Apostles, saying: ‘Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.’” And of course this is the path, the way of the Church in all the ages and even in our own time.
But we are not only concluding with the theology of Catholicity but in a concrete form of practising it. The secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, Lesley-Anne Knight, will speak clearly about this. But let me just add a few concluding words.
“Charity is love received and given,” says Pope Benedict XVI in his third and social encyclical Caritas in Veritate. With these emblematic words, he refers to the cycle of love and its very origin – God our Father, who created the whole universe – and challenges today’s meritocratic ideology, created and sustained within a neo-liberal culture that demands that everyone must justify their right to respect and recognition, and sometimes to life itself.
Pope Benedict’s pontificate has put love – in the sense of the Latin word caritas or the Greek word agape – first. First we receive, then we are able to give, or can be asked to give “back” what we have received. “Since God has first loved us, love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us” (Deus Caritas Est 1)
As Caritas Internationalis, we are immensely privileged to be at the heart of the life-giving cycle of love. Throughout our 60 years of service, we have been well aware that our ministry has been much more than the sum total of our efforts – it has been a gift.
The challenges we are facing are real, and sometimes daunting. In the cultural crisis we are living through, the Holy Father accompanies us again and again.
In his interview book Light of the World, he concludes: “This makes it all the more important for Catholicism to present its faith in a new and vital way and to re-proclaim it as a force for unity, a force of solidarity and of eternity‘s openness to time” (p. 114). So Catholicity means, as well, solidarity.
These encouraging words inspire our commitment to fight poverty and contribute towards building one human family, according to the spirit and vision of Spe Salvi, the second encyclical letter: “The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society” (38).
Our Caritas has become for so many people a sign of true hope, a sign of God’s love for and in this world and a concrete form of Catholicity uniting 165 nations in love and service. So we are happy. Nothing is more beautiful than to be a catholic Church.