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Heart of Christ — Love for the Church
This is the fifth and last of a series of columns to appear in the Arlington Catholic Herald regarding the state of our hearts. These columns are meant to serve as a source of practical reflection on ways to imitate the Heart of Christ in our own lives.
Since I was ordained a priest, it has been evident to the world that I am a member of the Catholic Church. Yet, even before that time when my clerical collar proclaimed my priesthood, I have belonged to the Church. Indeed, as baptized persons, each of us is incorporated into Christ Jesus and, therefore, is a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. We know that the Church is our Mother, yet how often do we think of the Church with love? Christ forms us as living members of the Church because of His great love for us and we, in turn, are invited into the heart of His Church.
Even before the Incarnation, God consistently showed love for His people, not just as individuals, but as a community of persons. From the covenant God made with Abraham through the Exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt all the way to the time of the last prophets preceding the birth of Christ, it is clear that the Jews were a chosen people, a people set apart. The Lord did not guide the Israelites out of mere obligation or as an uncaring master, but as One Who truly loves His people. In the Song of Songs, recognized as an allegory of love between God and His people, He says, “As a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among women” (Song of Songs 2:2).
Soon we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, which we acknowledge in many ways as the birthday of the Church. Before He ascended into Heaven, Christ promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would accompany and continue to guide His followers. On Pentecost, “there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2-4). Here is the moment when the Spirit enters the midst of Christ’s disciples and binds them together into the communion that is the Church. This unity of the Church lovingly wrought by God is so powerful and real that Scripture calls it the Body of Christ. The great Swiss theologian of the last century, Charles Cardinal Journet, referred to the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Church, its animating principle.
Thus we see that the Church is much more than a social institution or even the source of a set of ethics and beliefs that we strive to follow. It is a living reality brought into being by God and sustained by His Spirit that brings its members into a deep personal union with Him and each other. It is the practical concrete expression of God’s salvific desire for humanity.
As an instrument of salvation to the world, the Church invites all people to know Christ through the preaching of His Gospel. She does this not by mere human effort and capacities but through the power of the Holy Spirit that sustains her. All members of the Church are called to participate in this evangelical work of the Spirit. In a particular way, the Teaching Office of the Church (the Latin name is Magisterium) through the Holy Spirit’s power ensures that the truth of the Gospel is passed on from generation to generation and from culture to culture in its fullness without errors that would obscure the reality of God and His loving plan. This Teaching Office is exercised principally by the Pope and the bishops united with him (the College of Bishops).
The Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of Truth, but is even more so the Spirit of Love. In the Body of Christ, the Church, He unites us with Jesus Christ the Head. In Christ, we are united to the Father as His children and made brothers and sisters of one another. Truth and Unifying Love attain for us the inner peace we most desire. These gifts of truth, unity and peace reveal even more clearly the love within the Heart of Christ for His Body the Church, and, therefore, for us as members of His Body.
While we are always called to love the Church, it is certainly true that this relationship is not without trials. We live in a relativistic society, where many claim that adhering to the Church is an archaic, irrational practice. We may experience ridicule, prejudice and even persecution from society because of our beliefs. Yet, while nations have risen and fallen, ideologies have been proposed and then lapsed into disrepute, the Church and her teachings have stood firm. As Catholics, we know why she has remained present and vital throughout history: the presence and power of the Holy Spirit It is the reason why we continue to adhere to the Church and love her. We know it is the place of truth and unity with the Living God.
As Pentecost approaches, let us rejoice that we are members of Christ’s Body and let us thank the Lord for the truth, wisdom and guidance He has given us through her Teaching Office. Let us ask our Lord to send His Spirit into our hearts and increase our faith in and love for the Church. From families united by faith joined with strangers who are praying with us at Mass to the Church in Heaven interceding for us, we are truly blessed! My prayer is that each of us is guided by the Church, the Bride of Christ, as we grow in love for her each day.