Tag Archives: communion of saints

We Are Family

29 Nov

Today in our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), we turn to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). As the focus of Vatican II was on the nature, composition, and mission of the Church, it should come as no surprise that this document on the Church would be considered the central document of the Council. As we will see over the next couple posts in this series, Lumen Gentium has largely shaped our generation’s understanding of what it means to be “Church.”

Today I want to focus on what I consider to be one of the most significant passages from Lumen Gentium, taken from paragraph 9:

“At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to him (cf. Acts 10:35). He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness.”

God does not desire to save us as isolated individuals, as if salvation were ever simply a “me and Jesus” thing. Rather, He desires to save us as His holy, beloved people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). This beautiful insight has led to “People of God” becoming one of the most popular titles or descriptions of the Church in recent decades.

Yet to modern ears “people” can sound a little generic and impersonal. Therefore, “People of God” can sound so big that our personal commitment to Christ and the irreplaceable value and contribution of the individual believer can seemingly get lost in the shuffle. That’s why I think there has been more of an emphasis in recent years on the Church as the “family of God.” It’s the same idea as the “People of God,” but in my opinion the word “family” captures the reality better for our culture, which sadly tends to think of the Church more as a bureaucracy than as a family.

The best analogy I can think of to describe our relationship to the Church is marriage. When Maureen married me, it definitely was—and is—a personal commitment. Yet, it has never been simply a “me and Leon” thing for her. Before I married her, she knew some members of my family, but she wasn’t a part of it. She was on the outside looking in. But when she married me, she didn’t just get a husband. My nephews and nieces became her nephews and nieces. My siblings became her siblings. My mother became her mother. She entered into the reality of my family. And then together with me, we have welcomed children and even a grandchild into our expanding family, which incidentally Vatican II called a “domestic Church.”

Similarly, when we are baptized, we not only become God’s children by adoption (cf. Gal. 4:4-7), but through what we call the “communion of saints,” we become part of a much larger familial reality known as the Church. We are united to our brothers and sisters in the Lord with ties that are stronger than flesh and blood–ties that will last for eternity. We are connected with those who have gone before us, but also with all our fellow Christians, with whom we share profound bonds of fraternity and solidarity. Because of the overflowing love and goodness of our supernatural family, we desire that all men and women may share this family unity with us (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14). That surely was at the heart of Christ’s prayer:

“I pray . . . that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21).

So during this Year of Faith, as we seek to nourish and strengthen our faith, the Holy Father calls us to a greater awareness that our faith is necessarily ecclesial, which is Churchspeak for “familial.” The Church is not some faceless institution that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ, but rather is our home–our family–where we are always welcome, and where our faith is celebrated, lived, and shared.

Thanks be to God.

For more on the Church as “family of God,” check out the “Catholic for a Reason” series which I co-edited with Scott Hahn.

More Halloween Resources

31 Oct

In addition to my post earlier this week on ghosts, I would like to recommend the following resources on Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day:

What’s Happening Down There?

7 Aug

A recurring criticism of Catholic theology by other Christians is our belief in the communion of saints. More specifically, we believe that there is a spiritual bond uniting believers on earth, souls in purgatory, and the blessed in heaven. We believe that those who are “saved” and are now in the presence of God are aware of what’s happening on earth and in fact can be counted on to pray for us.

For that reason, I thought an article appearing last week at christianpost.com was pretty interesting. The article is about Protestant Evangelist Greg Laurie, who lost his son in an automobile accident four years ago. Since that time he has been reflecting on heaven as well as the virtue of hope. While he limited the scope of his inquiry to Scripture alone, he still came to the conclusion that people in heaven know what’s going on here on earth. Here’s an excerpt:

Pointing to scripture found in Revelation [and] Luke chapters 15 and 16, Laurie  explained that he believes that people in heaven have knowledge of what is  happening on earth.

“Let me take it a step further. I think people in heaven know a lot more  about earth than we may realize,” he said.

“People in eternity are aware of the fact that loved ones are not saved. This  is based on Luke 16 . . . In the afterlife we are the same person with real memories  of earth. You will know more in heaven than you will on earth, not less. We  don’t all get a collective lobotomy when we go to glory.”

A second point he made during the sermon is that when people come to believe  in Jesus it’s “public knowledge in heaven.”

“There is joy in heaven whenever one person repents,” he said. “Whenever  someone turns to God on earth they break out in applause in heaven.”

His third point about heaven is that people there know about the time and  place of events on earth as evidenced by passages in Revelation. . . .

Again, pointing to verses in the Bible, he added as a fourth point that there  will be a connection between those in heaven and those on earth. Those in heaven  will be aware of the spiritual status of their loved ones.

He doesn’t seem to be too far removed from a Catholic understanding of the communion of saints.

Laurie assures his listeners that heaven is not one long church service. He reminded of a quip I once heard from Dr. Peter Kreeft, who said in effect that hell is an eternal church service without God, while heaven is eternity with God without the church service.

The Gift of the Eucharist

20 Jul

God loves us not because we’re good, but because He’s good. In fact, God in His goodness loved us so much that, despite our sinfulness, He became man in the fullness of time. He redeemed us by His own blood and opened for us the gates of heaven. We have received no greater gift, and we have no greater cause for thanksgiving, than Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for us.

Even more, through the Eucharist, Christ’s sacrifice is continually made present and effective in our lives. “Eucharist” literally means thanksgiving, as the gift of Christ to His Church elicits our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

We do need to recognize the fullness of the gift of the Eucharist–that Our Lord is truly present under the appearance of bread and wine, and that He gives us the grace and the power to live the Gospel when we partake of this Sacrament. To fully appreciate the gift of the Mass, our eyes must remain fixed on Jesus and this tremendous gift.

That should go without saying, but in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, our focus can be diverted to ourselves if we’re not careful. Many of the liturgical controversies that we’ve endured in recent decades would dissipate if we really believed and truly appreciated what is happening on the altar. We can’t feed ourselves, we can’t save ourselves. Thank God that He sent His Son to feed us, indeed, to save us.

The gift of faith in Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, is inseparable from our faith in the Church. Scripture says that in marriage the two truly become one (cf. Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5). Scripture also calls Jesus Christ the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride (cf. Eph. 5:21-33). If that were the case, it would take an act of violence–a spiritual divorce, if you will–to separate Christ from His Church.

The Church, after all, is the Body of Christ extended through space and time. Even more profoundly, she is the family of God and our true home. The Bible is our family album. All those who are alive in Christ are truly our brothers and sisters in the communion of saints. Christ is the one source of eternal life for the whole world, and this life flows through His family, the Church. We are grateful for the gift of the Church and for the witness and intercession of the company of saints.