Summary: The attractiveness of the Church, proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord, is its creed, cult, code and communion.
God Wills All to Be Saved
The Feast of Corpus Christi, 2014
The intention of the Lord, our Father, is very clear. Paul tells us in the first letter to Bishop Timothy that “God our Saviour. . .will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God does not will some to heaven and the rest to hell. If a person ends up out of union with God, that is, in eternal punishment, that is his free choice. Those out of eternal union with the Father are those who have loved their evil decisions more than God, more than their brethren. They have decided that following their passions in this life is more important than attaining their good end, which is to be like God, living eternally in love and service.
But God also wills that all should come to the knowledge of the truth, and that truth is also the way and the life–Jesus Christ. Jesus has shown us the way to live in love, both in this life and in the coming life. The history of the Church tells us why the Catholic way spread so quickly in the Roman world. The Roman deities were tired, and the Roman culture had become corrupt. The strength of the Roman senate and army and system of government was its base in the Roman family. When the Roman family began to decay through divorce and infanticide and widespread adultery, the whole of society was doomed to eventual destruction. In the midst of this decay, symbolized by emperors like Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, faith in Jesus Christ and gathering in the Catholic Church He founded grew as no one could imagine. Why? The Faith had four attractive elements, summed up in the four words “creed, cult, code and communion.”
The Faith had a clear message of belief: the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were a divine family. Every father was to imitate the love of the Blessed Father. Every disciple of Christ was to live a life of service, first to his family and then to the whole Catholic community. All were to be animated by the Holy Spirit, which kept them bonded together despite their diversity. The Church was made up of slaves and freemen, rich and poor, Gentile and Jew, all serving each other in charity. That was their creed.
Their worship, their cult, also bound them together in charity. They came together daily for prayer in the style of the synagogue and Temple. They sang the psalms. They sang hymns to Jesus as their Lord and God. They heard the Word of God from the OT, the letters of the apostles, and the stories about Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection and ministry. And, each eighth day, which was their word for Sunday, Dominica, Domingo, the Lord’s day, they gathered in house churches for the breaking of the bread, which was the Eucharist, their sacrifice of praise. The cult was beautiful and God-centered. They truly believed that what looked like bread and wine was the living presence of Christ. If anyone was sick, the deacons would take communion to that person. The priests would anoint the sick and expect their sins to be forgiven and healing to follow. And all gave for the support of the Church to the greatest extent possible.
The early Catholics had a code, a code which has been passed down to us just as the creed and worship has been given. It was counter-cultural. They did not divorce. They did not expose their unwanted children to predators, because every child was wanted, even the disabled. They held adultery to be an especially serious offense–able to be forgiven, but the penance imposed lasted for years. The early Catholics did not practice contraception, so they flourished even as the pagans contracepted themselves into oblivion. They paid just wages to their workers, and got excellent work as a result. They worked out their differences within the Church, rather than taking them to civil courts. Tertullian says that the pagans had a phrase for Catholics: see how they love one another.
All this together made the Catholic Church a true communion. It wasn’t perfect, but in contrast to pagan society, the Church was enormously attractive, especially to the poor. Every member expected to be treated as a child of God, with infinite dignity. Every member expected to serve others, and so nobody was neglected. Every member was eager to tell others about the saving grace of Jesus, and the joy of fellowship in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. And so great miracles were worked in the Church–miracles of prophecy and healing in particular.
The communion we take today is the same as was taken by the early Catholics. Because the priesthood is one with the priesthood of the apostles, with the priesthood of Christ, we can be certain that at the words “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” the bread and wine truly become the whole Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. At the consecration, the priest becomes one with Jesus Christ, and so the words of Fr. Bob or Fr. Jose or Fr. Nguyen are spoken by Jesus Christ Himself. The reality of the whole Christ being our food and drink is what brings us together. Each of us takes of the one bread and the one chalice, and so we are one Body in Christ. This is why Jesus said that if we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, we have eternal life. What we take, we become. We become the living, breathing, serving Christ for our world.