Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A New Missionary Age: The Year that was and the Year that will be are a Prelude

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We need a new Christian foundation for the West. The Catholic Church is in the first stage of a new missionary age.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) – It is the weekend when much of the media offers pundits and pontificators the opportunity to review the year we just concluded and make projections concerning the year we have just begun. Like most people, I enjoy listening to these efforts. I even participate to some degree, as evidenced by my short offering to Dr. Deal Hudson’s efforts in the Inside Catholic article reprinted below. I wanted to offer a somewhat different proposal than what is the standard fare in a short article. To understand what I write requires that I sketch out a few important claims which flow from my convictions concerning the Church.

We live in an age when many, including some Catholics, have a view of the Church that falls short of what the Gospels and the ancient faith claim. They view the Church as an organization which we came up with - to study the bible, or to pray or to do good works. Though all three efforts are commendable, they do not define the nature of the Church. The Church is the Risen Body of Christ, a sacramental reality. The Church is not some – thing, but some – One. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church and we are members of His Body. The ancient Christians would have never considered a Christianity which spoke in terms such as “I do not need the Church, I have Jesus”. Christianity is not “me and Jesus”, it is “me (and you) in Jesus”, now made, in the words of the Apostle Peter, “partakers of the Divine Nature”. We become members of His Body through Baptism. In Him we are joined in an eternal communion with all who have also been baptized into Him. We are all called to live in the Church.

This is more than an allegory, this is a reality. The Church makes the Risen Christ present on the earth by carrying forward in time His redemptive mission until he comes. Through her proclamation and demonstration of his Word - and by providing through her Sacraments the grace that we need - she enables us to grow more fully into His Image and Likeness for the sake of the world. The Church is God’s plan for the whole human race. All men and women are called to find their home in the One Church of Christ. The early Father’s were fond of referring to the Church with phrases such as the world reconciled or the world in the course of transfiguration. She is a communion wherein we participate, even now, in the Trinitarian communion. She is the seed of the Kingdom to come and makes that Kingdom present in the here and now. She is the soul of the world and animates that world by her very presence.

Similarly, the teaching office (magisterium) of the Church is the fulfillment of the promise of the Lord to guide us in all truth by His Holy Spirit. It is not - as some seem to think, including sadly some poorly catechized Catholic politicians - old men in Rome with pointy hats somehow imposing rules. Rather, the promise of Christ is proven true; He has not left us orphans, he continues to guide us into all truth. The Bishops are the successors of the Apostles. The Pope really is the successor of Peter and the principle of unity. The Holy Spirit works through the Church because Jesus Christ is alive and continues His Incarnational and saving mission through His Body.

Because of this understanding of the Church I believe that what is most important in 2009 is what happened in the Church. The collapse of the West will not be remedied by any political party or philosophy. In the United States, gripped by the lies of a culture of death and use, we do not need a “conservative revolution” as some pundits maintain. We need a Christian revolution. It was the Christian Church which gave us the understanding of the dignity of every human person because we are created in the Image of God. From that came the understanding that we all possess fundamental human rights. Yes, the American founders carried such a notion into a bold experiment in ordered liberty but they did not come up with it on their own. They derived it from Western civilization and the influence of Christendom. That is the the influence of the Church. That is also why the seemingly inevitable collapse of the West can be averted, but only through the resurgence of the Church in the Third Millennium. It is the Church which is the vehicle for true progress. Christianity is the antidote to the descent into a new barbarism arising out of the neo-paganism currently masquerading as liberation.

The Lord who founded His Church did not intend for it to be divided. We are responsible for that. We have been created in His Image. That includes our capacity to exercise our human freedom. Unfortunately, we are still affected by the first wrong choice, it is called sin, and we repeat it over and over. That is also why we continually need the Lord - and why the Church is so important because she is His Body. The Church must manifest her four marks, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, in our own day. The world must be awakened from her sleep. I make a bold claim, one which I will build upon in future articles; the Church will do so in a profound way in this Third Millennium. The Lord has not given up on His plan. The prayer of Jesus, “May They Be One”, is being answered. That is why Pope Benedict, in his very first homily, referred to Christian unity as his impelling duty. Playing off of the title of Dr. Thomas Woods’s book, “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization”, I make another claim. The Catholic Church will rebuild Western Civilization as she comes back together again in the fullness of Christian communion.

The Pope’s travels are not only good will trips; they are the modern missionary journeys of the Vicar of Christ. They are chosen strategically, led by the Holy Spirit and have a prophetic purpose as part of a plan for that full communion. Review his trips with that possibility in mind. Similarly, his “Encyclical” (circulating) letters are not merely academic exercises; they are written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They contain wisdom from heaven which can help to heal and rebuild the Church - and through her the world. Reread, or read for the first time Charity in Truth with that in mind. His work to restore the Catholic unity of the Church - including the bold overture toward Anglican Christians, pastoral overture toward the SSPX, humble rapprochement to our Orthodox brethren, and his continual encouragement to the ecclesial movements - are a part of a blueprint, written by the Holy Spirit, to resuscitate the Church as one New Man, breathing with both lungs, East and West, ushering in this new Christian missionary age.

Similarly, his speech in Regensburg is the first step in engaging an ascendant Islam with the Truth claims of Christianity. He will do so with respect, but he will do so and we must do so as well, as part of the Church. The hungry secularism which has fueled what he so aptly called the “dictatorship of relativism” opened up the void into which Islam has rushed. However, that void resulted from the decline of a truly Christian vision for the human person, marriage and the family and civil society built upon it and a true understanding of authentic human freedom and solidarity. The future will not be secular. Secularism does not have any content to sustain a future. The challenge of Islam is an invitation to the Church to offer the true humanism which is Christianity as the path to the future.

Pope Benedict’s summons to Europe to return to her Christian roots in order to rebuild herself - and his commendation of some of the philosophical underpinnings of the American experiment ( as evident in his visit and his locutions while on our shores) - are oriented toward the same end. He is encouraging the building of a truly just civil and social order by proposing the Christian vision of the person, the family and the common good as the foundation. In short, we need a new Christian foundation for the West. The Catholic Church is in the first stage of a new missionary age. The Dictionary tells us that a prelude is “an introductory performance, action, or event preceding and preparing for the principal or a more important matter.” The Year that was and the Year that will be are a just that, a prelude, there is much more to come.

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