One of the hidden truths of our faith concerns how we are imbedded in the discussion concerning the nature of the Church. This is not an esoteric concern. Who we are as a community and who we are as individual Catholics is essential to our growth in the Faith. The principles of the teachings of the Catholic Church are fundamentally dependent on one another. They fit! The recognition in the creeds of the “Four Notes” or characteristics of the Church is “basic” to our proclamation.
The Church is “one”
Christ is the head of the Church. He brings to the Church the gift of unity. John’s Gospel, chapter 17, verses 22-26 outlines the gift in terms of the Church’s vocation (or call.) At the center of our life as Catholics is the perfect example of living in community, the Holy Trinity. Here we can observe the unity of the Holy Trinity in action. The foundation of this “Trinitarian life” is the new commandment to ‘love one another’ as Jesus has loved us. Love is the foundation of our life. Again, this “outline” of our beliefs calls us to action. We are to make a supreme effort in our Christian life to promote the unity of the Church in the world. All humanity is the target goal of our effort. The unity of humanity includes all that is necessary to call someone our “brother” or our “sister.” Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan. The question that the Pharisee asks is revealing: “And who is my neighbor?”
The Church is “holy”
We can understand this characteristic from many angles. The Church is intended by God to be universally holy. Of course our experience is that this is not the case. What percentage of the Church is holy makes no difference. A basketball team includes all imaginable levels of perfection. The better players act as guides to those who are young or just getting started. Every sport demonstrates this example - they have to be organized in order to work together and win. The way in which this is accomplished in the Church is a good deal more dramatic. Instead of star players, we have saints. They are truly “stars,” and they lived and continue to live, lives of exemplary service.
They receive the grace of God to accomplish this. It is not by their hidden strength that they do miraculous things, but the Father who loves us and desires for us to participate in his good work. We ask for the saints’ help from our vantage point on this earth. They in turn carry our request to the Father. Then, the Father allows them to carry his answer back to those who have sought his help. Some say that God does not need help answering prayers. I am quite sure that this is the case, and I am also certain that with joy, Jesus sent out disciples in pairs. Their efforts defeated Satan, whom Jesus said he saw fall like lightning. Thus we can also understand that the Church is charged with supernatural electricity. This is why we treat her and everything about her with the greatest respect. The Church is Holy.
The Church is Catholic
This is not a common concept, so special care needs to be taken. The philosophy of life that most people hold has to do with obedience. That is hard for an irreligious person to accept, but it is true. We are all obedient to something! It might be things that are not good for us, or even things that hurt us. “Catholic” here means two things: the Catholic Church contains those things that are indeed good for us and those that are not. Within the family of the Catholic Church there are many characteristics that fit the definition of catholic. If it is true, then it belongs in the Catholic Church. If it is false, it does not belong.
The Church is Apostolic
The final of the four notes has to do with the mission of the Church. The great plaza in front of the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica is formed by two symmetrical arms of colonnades. It looks as if the arms are inviting the whole world to come in. This is a proper description of the Apostolic nature of the Church. We need to pause this reflection and begin to find the way that we can as a parish or as individuals make our world catholic. Not catholic here - meaning that it is the “right Church”. How can we make it catholic in terms of actions, caring for those in need? Jesus told the disciples that soon they would have to take their place in the long line of those holy ones whose voices can still be heard.
I like the story about St. Francis, whose missionary method seems right for our time. I believe many want what the Catholic Church has to offer, and yet they do not know how to ask for it. So, we must ask for them. When St. Francis would enter a new village he would always greet the people with “Good morning good people.” He would sing and soon slip into a proclamation of the Gospel without the people even knowing that the subject had changed. His was a joyful heart. May ours be, as well.