Portrait of An Assembly

Mountain TempleI used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”.  It was set in a small town in Wisconsin.  It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time.  One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture.  One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.

When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering. This is a mistaken approach because what is missed is the true “cosm” that the “micro” is based on. It is based on a beautiful fellowship in God and we are invited to participate in that which is heavenly and holy.

The truest Holy Family is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in One. Three Who’s and one What. It is the highest experience of a community of persons we can presently point to.  In those three persons are initiating love, responding in love and a personhood of the love between. 

Church, as founded by Jesus, is meant to be an extension of this divine fellowship where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps.  A gathering of people ias Christians is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes whether it is set of two or three gathered in his name or something even more deliberate.

The normative of such a gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly.  One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event.  It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was translated as ekklesia.  That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.

Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: church was about being called out to something.  The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure.  the “ek” was the out of.  This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world.  The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way. This was needed because it was a sacrifice. 

There were many sacrifices to be made.  As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics,  one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for.   Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).

Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.

 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect,  and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).

Mount Zion—  When there is Zion, there is David who made that mountain a standard for covenant.  Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished.  His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but his line is fulfilled in Jesus.

..the living God— God is alive and not an idol.  He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image.  We know from Adam and Eve, however he did it, we are formed unto him.

..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest.  And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.

countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation.  The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not.  I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.

the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints.  Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8).  The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing.  God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline.  This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”.  God is judge and father.  It appears to be a paradox but not a contradiction.

and the spirits of the just made perfect—  This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory.  To speaks of salvation for the members of God’s people as only an imputed, or legal designation, righteousness falls short for all of the grace that God the Father has for his children.  The gospel has for the converted the opportunity to accept “the engrafted word of God which can save your soul (James 1:21).  For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and the prayers for the dead shown in 2 Maccabees 12:24.

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—  An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”.  I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note:  pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus that is ongoing in our temporal reality but planted in eternity. That salvation in Jesus is in the context of joining. To join with Jesus is to receive him on his terms.  Jesus said he was the bread that came down from heaven and that the one who eats his flesh and drinks his blood receive eternal life (John 6). 

The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus one can appreciate who he was by those who knew him in a manner of the senses and beyond. The traits are there.  This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear and all the while without fear. For this family God stared is supposed to walk in that “perfect love [that] casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:17). 

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Jenga, Church and a Reflection

Jenga 2I have come to the end of my first year at Kino Catechetical Institute.  It has been a great year as a student learning so much as a new Catholic and long-time before that Protestant Christian. This last class was ecclesiology which is the doctrine of the Church.  We operated out of the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and good lectures.

The first section of this paper is about what my favorite paragraph was of each week’s reading and why.  The second part is about which week reading was my favorite and explain its themes and how it communicates the nature of God.

I said a funny thing early on in this class.  The instructor asked bus to describe what the Catholic Church is.  I responded it is like Jenga the game where you put blocks integrated into each other and whoever has their tower collapse first loses.  I added that the blocks in use by Jesus are oneness, Catholic, apostolic and holy.  And Jesus cheats at Jenga by using concrete and that is why it has existed for 2,000 years.

Needless to say, that seems strange.  But as I put my thoughts down in this final paper, I hope I made more connections that draws a picture for those who are out there seeking God and how he shows himself on earth. This is for the people that are Catholic, Protestant, unsure or neither.  A bit of food for thought for the journey.

688 The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:

– in the Scriptures he inspired;

– in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;

– in the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists;

– in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ;

– in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;

– in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;

– in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;

– in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.

The reason this paragraph was my favorite was my growing curiosity on how the Holy Spirit operates in the Church.  In the actual working out of Jesus founding and building His Church, the Holy Spirit works as the binding and illuminating agent through all of the mentioned processes.  The last point is important because each individual is a member of the Body and the holiness referred to permeates to the micro and not only the macro level.

771 “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.”184 The Church is at the same time:

– a “society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ;

– the visible society and the spiritual community;

– the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches.”185

These dimensions together constitute “one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element”:186

The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.187

O humility! O sublimity! Both tabernacle of cedar and sanctuary of God; earthly dwelling and celestial palace; house of clay and royal hall; body of death and temple of light; and at last both object of scorn to the proud and bride of Christ! She is black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, for even if the labor and pain of her long exile may have discolored her, yet heaven’s beauty has adorned her.188

Paragraph 771 shows that the Church is in nature very much both/and.  More to this point, the Church is described in heavenly and earthly language in this paragraph because it transcends in its full existence in the realms of heaven, purgatory and earth.  I also like the reference to it being a “visible organization” because one can better quantify the continuity of delegated authority through the magisterium by Christ.

826 Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it “governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification.”

If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn’t lack the noblest of all; it must have a Heart, and a Heart BURNING WITH LOVE. And I realized that this love alone was the true motive force which enabled the other members of the Church to act; if it ceased to function, the Apostles would forget to preach the gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. LOVE, IN FACT, IS THE VOCATION WHICH INCLUDES ALL OTHERS; IT’S A UNIVERSE OF ITS OWN, COMPRISING ALL TIME AND SPACE – IT’S ETERNAL!

Paragraph 826 reminds me of “the love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 but in light of its ecclesiastical application through salvation history in the Church.  Also, the inference of “comprising all time and space” points to how God, who is love, holds the universe together by His good will towards creation.

901 “Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives.

Paragraph 901surprised me.  It contextualized through a eucharistic lens on how to offer up my suffering and mundane events to God at mass with a meaning that is humble, processed contemplatively and worshipful.  The last line where it referred to how “the laity consecrate the world itself to God” particularly struck me in what the priesthood of all believers concept is all about.

970 “Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it.” “No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.

This paragraph meant a lot to me as a former Protestant in how it explains that God’s goodness that is radiated does not have any limitations on it for intercession roles.  As for Mary, this paragraph shows how the holiness of Mary is extrinsic and dependent on the graces of Christ and not to be seen as a hinderance. Indeed, good Mariology is good Christology.

748-810  

This section is about the Church in God’s Plan/Characteristics of the Church. The central themes revealed in this section are about the reflection of Christ’s presence, its eucharistic nature, example of divine love, nuptial purpose, accessibility and prophetic mission.

On reflecting God’s presence, we are show how the Church is “like the moon, all its light reflected from the sun” (CCC 748).  The light of truth is shown in Christ by the Church.  This recurrent theme is shown in the references to the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition guarding the deposit of faith for the benefit of all humanity.

The eucharistic nature that is communicated is in its reference to the sacramental lived out in small communities in a liturgical context.  “She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly” (CCC para. 752).  This shows the Church in its mystical expression as the Eucharist is a meeting and communal with the divine that communicates how Christ’s ecclesiastical design transcends earth.

As to the showing of God’s love, this section points to the Church.  The Catechism states that though the world is “creation” that his display of love that is ongoing is in the Church  (CCC para. 760).  The Church accomplishes this in all of the expression in both evangelization and catechizing.

The Catechism in this section points to a nuptial context that is born from the Cross.  It states that the Church more specifically is, “born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross” (CCC. para. 766). The point of self-giving alone has often a marital context in Catholic parlance.  This is used especially in the teachings of regarding marriage and points to the laying down of Christ’s life for the Church which is His bride.  “the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross” (p. 766).  The Church is able to connect with that fact in the Eucharist.

In paragraph 771 there is much said about the accessibility of the Church on earth as an extension of God’s love and divinity.  This extension is visible, hierarchical,  spiritual and heavenly enriched.  In being complex between these above elements the Church is an expression that is “both/and” in its experience.

The last central theme that stands out is the prophetic nature of the Church.  This applies to members in both the lay and clerical state starting with understanding and standing in the faith.  The testimony of Jesus being the spirit of prophecy is carried out by the Church in a manner consistent with what is “delivered to the saints” by the sovereignty of God (para. 785).

God is to be understood very much in this section and covenantal through Christ and the sacraments and in that process a divine kinship for us as His children.  Paragraph 766 points to the Church being born from Christ’s side.  This points to a historical reference point where the work of the spiritual birth of each believer started (Galatians 2:20).

The themes that resonated with me personally were how the Church is shown to be transcendent, apostolic, and missional.  For the transcendence I would say there are many points about heaven and earth simultaneously involved in personal and corporate prayer.  How the sacraments are explained in the community setting reinforces the reality of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection in a manner that is experienced with the both/and experience.

In the apostolic nature I like it is twofold in being around for millennia and being visible.  The Church is shown to have an authoritative word and deed for the world that speaks to the nature of Christ.  The references to a hierarchy is in itself one of the many aspects that communicate a kind of order for maintaining and passing on the deposit of faith.  How it is explained in this section is very reassuring to me.

The Church is missional in this section by the references to being a light to the world.  It is shown to be a light repeatedly in this section through love.  The best example is in paragraph 826 in how God’s love is fully elaborated upon.  The power of God’s love to the world that is glued continually and increasingly to extend God’s love to the world means the world to me.  My impression from this passage is that a good case is made that the best environment for the love of God to be fostered and explained is in the Catholic Church unlike any of my prior Christian traditions.