Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: The call to be the New Israel is a call to holiness and mission.

Monday of 30th Week in Course

Lumen Gentium

The Fathers of the Council looked at the Church from every direction, and gave us teaching on all the names of the Church. It seems to me that their favorite name for the Church is “People of God.” It, more than any other, shows the Church’s identity as the continuation of the original people of God, what Paul calls the “Israel of the flesh.” The Church is the New Israel, the Israel of the Spirit, because the Church fulfills the prophecy of Ezekiel. She is the people into whom God has placed His own Spirit, the Spirit of unity, holiness, mission, continuity. It is that Spirit that makes us one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

God made a covenant with his people in Abraham, and He fulfilled that covenant after generations of step-by-step instruction, forgiveness and healing. He fulfilled that covenant by the Second Person of the Trinity becoming human, taking on our weakness, living and teaching and healing, and then suffering, dying and rising again so the New Israel could have His Spirit. We have this Spirit through baptism into that people of God.For those who believe in Christ, who are reborn not from a perishable but from an imperishable seed through the word of the living God,(88) not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit,(89) are finally established as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people . . . who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God".(90)

The Church’s mission is to gather all the people of the earth into one community, diverse in the non-essential ways like language, but one in the essential things–doctrine, morals, orthodoxy. The Church is called the “visible sacrament” of the saving unity in Christ. Now a sacrament is a visible sign of God’s grace that makes that grace real in the lives of human beings. So, for instance, those of us who have spent years laboring for respect for human life, from conception to natural death, get frustrated when politicians claim to be Catholic, and then vote for policies that deny the dignity of every human being. In righteous anger, we wonder why the bishops don’t hurl a universal excommunication at them. The hierarchy comes off as being unwilling to use the little force they have for the good of life. But the reality is that the Church applies such power only reluctantly, because of its mission of bringing people together. This implies working for good by doing good. When the Church condemns, she condemns sinful actions, loving still the sinner. And, in a world that acts so often through brute force, that seems to us ineffective. Just remember, however, that the Master could have called down legions of angels to impose His rule on the world two thousand years ago. Instead, he died on the cross, and that, in time, was much more effective in changing hearts and bringing people together.

Paul, in this letter to the church of Ephesus, does a good job of condemning sinful actions. Look again at what he calls incompatible with living the Gospel, being a pleasant fragrance and offering to God: fornication, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, silly talk, making light of serious matters. People who live like this without repentance will not inherit the kingdom. See, even Paul takes the positive road rather than says, “will go to hell.” Instead, he recommends thanksgiving, gratitude to God.

The Council Fathers also remind us that we are the fulfillment of the OT prophecy that Israel would be a priestly people. We are all priests by virtue of our baptism into Christ: Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.(2*) The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist.(3*) They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity

So all of us are called to be saints. And as we approach the great feast of All Saints this Thursday, let’s reclaim our mission to holiness, through prayer and self-denial and active charity. No election can change that call, so whatever the outcome in November, we have to live holy lives in service to all humankind, especially the lost. Our witness is even more critical today than at any time in history.

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