“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5
In recent media coverage of the Catholic Church the terms liberal, conservative and progressive have been used to describe the Church’s members, clergy and religious. How can such terms, that come to exist through doubt, ever be used in referring to the Church that was founded on absolute truth? An absolute truth that embodies the divine person of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh? There are two reasons by which these terms enter into any discussion concerning the Catholic Church. One is, that there is some fundamental misunderstanding of the Church’s nature. And two, that worldly relativism has infected the Church through Her laity, clergy and religious. It is difficult for those who are in the midst of an epidemic not to, somewhat, exhibit symptoms of the disease. Christ built His Church to be everlasting. However, He never said that Satan would not try to worm his way in. This second reason by which we hear spoken the above secular terms is a direct result of the first.
The Church’s nature, I believe, is misunderstood because it is perceived to be an organization, not unlike a tennis club. When a member goes to play tennis, that member must adhere to the rules of the club while in attendance; whether by participating in proper attire, acceptable playing etiquette and respectful use of the facilities. But, when one is no longer at the club those rules no longer apply. The true nature of the Church is understood when it is seen as it was intended by its founder. Not as an organization, but rather as an organism. Christ said He was the true vine and we are the branches. Meaning that all Her members are as living cells of that Mystical Body with Christ as the Head. Therefore when a Catholic leaves Church attendance, he/she takes with them the obligation to continue their daily lives with the same dispositions revealed in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and governed by the Church’s doctrine, which is determined by every aspect of the life of Christ and encompassed in every sacrament. A member of an organization can leave that organization behind. Yet, a cell of a living organism leaves not the organism behind. The tennis club member lives by a separate set of rules when he re-enters the world after leaving the club. The Church member must, in all earnest and at what costs there may be, live the will of God always. Which now brings me to reason two.
When the media takes such an interest in the Catholic Church, other than to disparage and condemn Her, due to the human indiscretions (sins) of some of her members or hierarchy, or Her steadfast position on moral and social issues, one must take pause. People must participate in the world to some extent. And, in doing so, are exposed to its influences. One of those influences is relativism. The truth that one experiences in the Christian Faith is not the truth of the relativist. It is a contrast of the objective to the subjective, which results in either an orderly society or a disorderly one. One who argues: “Why must there be an objective truth?”; is really arguing: “Why must there be a God?” For the subjective to be, there must be a counter objective with which to compare, or how else can its meaning be defined. Does not the dark night need the light of day; a yes, an opposing no. For chaos to exist, order must be. Every exception has its rule. When they who see truth as they would have it be, carry that perspective that is within their hearts into the Church, then the Church becomes infected. Rather than all the organism’s members being on the same page, there is produced an imbalance that radiates the wrong impression that the Church is conforming to a changing world. But how can God, the life of the Mystical Body, Who is all perfect, be subject to change? And if the Church were not to remain true to Herself, then those who come to Her seeking refuge from the world they wish to escape would then enter Her under false pretense. Only through a misinterpreted perception can that be so.
The Church is living as Her resurrected founder and Head is living. Although She be persecuted or fraught with scandals – which there are bound to be when left to human custodial care – there is yet kept one certain promise; “the gates of hell will not prevail against Her.” A tennis club may one day be disbanded as surely as the Roman Empire fell. Yet, despite Her trials, heresies, schisms and all forms of tribulations, the Church since its foundation still remains. It is the cement of Her doctrine that stands the test of time. And though church buildings be closed and people fall away to sample the false unenduring good life of the world, the true church, the living vine, is endless for its governing head is endless. And only by His unfathomable love, a love so great that it took to the cross for the salvation of friend and foe, does such an eternal untouchable organism as the Catholic Church come to be.
We who choose to be baptized into the Church will be reborn in the Holy Spirit. A consequence which renders us vibrant branches attached to the divine living vine. As such, we will have become brothers and sisters of Christ. And therefore, have further become adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. By our inclusion into the Mystical Body of Christ – the Church – we have become heirs of One Who is endless. And are now given the rights to an inheritance. An inheritance contingent upon a convergence in death with our brother and Lord. A death to a lower form of life in order to be raised to the highest form of life. An inheritance in which we are bequeathed the bliss of God’s eternal loving embrace.
When the length of the line to the confession box nears that of the line to the, sadly defunct, Communion rail, then the perception of the Catholic Church will have become crystal clear. To make this true perception one day again a reality, Catholics must be well versed in and live the Catechism of their Church. It is the duty of their priests and bishops to promote and reinforce that practice from the pulpit. For the primary mission of the clergy is to save souls.