Homily no. 13 – ‘Life in the Church’ (CCC 871–945)

Our Second Reading at Mass today gives us a wonderful lead-in to the focus of our reflections today, namely the different ministries in the make-up of the Church. St Paul reminds us that we need the different parts of the body to act as a whole and function well.  So too with the Body of Christ, the Church.  St Paul lists the various ministries of his own day, including apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, helpers, linguists … “You together are Christ’s body, but each of you is a different part of it …”  It makes for a healthy body that all the different parts are playing the correct role, contributing to the working of the whole … and that is also the case with the Church.

English: Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter ...

English: Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82) Fresco, 335 x 550 cm Cappella Sistina, Vatican. Ελληνικά: Λεπτομέρεια από την νωπογραφία του Πιέτρο Περουτζίνο, Ο Χριστός Παραδίδει τα Κλειδιά στον Πέτρο, 335 x 600 cm, Καπέλα Σιξτίνα, Πόλη του Βατικανού. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Catechism states that the basis of the Church is Baptism: through Baptism we become members of that Body of Christ, and are called to salvation, and to witness by a holy life.  All are equal by virtue of Baptism.  The Pope or bishops have no more right or expectation of salvation than any other member.  The Pope and bishops have to strive for holiness, avoid giving in to temptation and sin just as much as any of the rest of us.  As I said last week, the 2nd Vatican Council taught very urgently that there is a ‘universal call to holiness’ — all Catholics are urged and invited to deepen their love for Christ every day, to strive to be the saints that God wants us to be.  Pope John XXIII in his spiritual memoir, The Journal of a Soul, states categorically how the most important day of his spiritual life was not his election as Pope, not his ordination as a bishop, or even as a priest; the most important day of his life was his Baptism, when his parents opened up to him the graces of being united to Our Lord in His Church.

Within this Church of all the faithful, of course, it is right and fitting that the Church should have good leaders.  Our Lord Jesus made this His own intention when He chose from amongst the wider mixed group of disciples, men and women, a small number of men — 12, in fact, representing the 12 tribes of old Israel — who would be the foundation of the new Israel.  These named men, He called to Himself, and gave extra teaching and explanation to, beyond what He gave the others.  We know their names, they are listed for us in the Gospels, beginning with Simon and Andrew, James and John. This was not some loose association; these were ‘The Twelve’ and it was a deliberate choice by Jesus.  Likewise, it was a deliberate choice of Our Lord that of those 12 one would be the principal, the leader of them, Simon.  Jesus purposefully re-named Him ‘Peter’ — ‘Cephas’ in Aramaic, which means ‘rock’ — charging Him to be the ‘rock’ on which He would build His Church.  Again, this is not some leadership sought out by Simon as a way of wielding power or influence over others.  If anything, if you remember, Simon Peter would rather Our Lord had not chosen Him at all for the ministry: “Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man,” he said, at the very outset.  But Jesus knew what He was doing; He knew whom He was choosing: a man whose conversion after his denial of Jesus would lead Him to be a faithful and compassionate leader of the apostles.

The ministry of bishop, including the bishop of Rome, the Pope, therefore, extend into our own day that much-needed spiritual leadership given to the Church by Christ, and we should pray for them daily, as the prayers of the Mass always do, for their strength to do God’s Will and to build up the faith of the Church.

The lay vocation, however, is the more numerous in the Church.  And it is your role above all to translate the faith of the Church into your everyday situations: being faithful to Gospel teaching and morals in family life, in the workplace, in the areas of sexual and bio-ethics, … The Catechism has marvellous words on this:

899 The initiative of lay Christians is necessary especially when the matter involves discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. This initiative is a normal element of the life of the Church: Lay believers are in the front line of Church life …

What would a Church hierarchy be without the 1bn+ of lay faithful daily praying, teaching, living holy lives, striving to overcome sin and do good?  The Church’s bishops, priests and deacons are there to serve the worldwide mission of Christ, but the task to translate that into outreach, so that all may come to hear the Gospel and live by it, is the lay task … your task.  You must each take seriously the rights and duties that you have been given in the Church.  The Catechism goes on …

900 Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it.

This is your opportunity; especially as many of you bring up children, to give to them, and so to the world, this delight in God’s Church, the home of Jesus who is the whole Truth of life.

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About Fr Philip Miller

I'm the Catholic Parish Priest at St Augustine's, Hoddesdon, Herts, UK, in the diocese of Westminster. This cycle of homilies is one of my contributions to this parish's life in the 'Year of Faith' (Oct 2012 - Nov 2013) called for by Pope Benedict XVI to renew the Church's understanding of the faith.
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