Friday, May 3, 2013

The Church Is Sign And Sacrament Of Salvation


On a recent pilgrimage to Roma, I was finishing off a morning cap­puccino on the south side of the Bernini colonnade when I saw a Mis­sionary of Charity emerge through the door of the order’s convent in the Vatican walls. Blessed John Paul II invited the Missionaries of Char­ity some years ago to establish a convent within Vatican City, as some may recall. I hastily crossed the street, approached her, and, bowing, made the request that she pray that God would bless me. She, giggling, responded, “ Oh, Father, I can’t do that!”

I was surprised that Pope Francis’ precedent on the night of his elec­tion as Supreme Pontiff had not fully permeated the mindset of all the denizens of his own compact city- state. This vignette reminds us that not even the teachings and inspirations of the Popes themselves always succeed in getting wide dissemination.

Papa Francesco is refreshingly accessible, greeting as he did numer­ous people seated in the “
bacia mano” seats flanking the dais after a recent Wednesday audience, and celebrating Mass and preaching daily in the chapel of the Domus Sancta Marta where he resides. He also shows a playful readiness to accede to Roman custom, having exchanged his zucchetto on a few occasions with the faithful who offer him a new one, perhaps acquired at the Ditta Annibale Gammarelli, popularly believed to be the papal preference for sartorial details.

More important, Papa Francesco is setting a standard for simplicity in teaching in order to reach out to the less- educated among us, who are sometimes forgotten in the educated chatter of the many theologi­cal scholars, about whom our Church is rightly proud. Theology is ca­pable of lofty heights in reaching for God, but serves man best by reach­ing down to where he is so that he might be brought close to the heav­ens.

Pope Francis brings his pastoral gifts to the papacy as did his Prede­cessors so that a wide variety of the People of God may be nourished in faith, which must always include the simplest and humblest among us. The Holy Father’s Tweets are quite popular on Facebook as well as Twit­ter for their pithy realism and spiritual punch, mentioning as they do the reality of the Devil and taking aim at the misapplication of Vatican II teachings, which has resulted in “ clericalizing” the laity and a lack of ecclesial evangelical fervor.

Increasingly, in our experience of the life of the Church in the wake of Vatican II, it has become more and more apparent that we have for­gotten and neglected in many ways those who are weak in faith, those for whom our Lord expressed a particular love when He condemned those who scandalize the “little ones.” We have made faith more difficult through a snobbish and false intellectualism which pretends that everyone in the Church either has a Ph.D. or reads voraciously as if studying for one.

We have spurned the “little ones” through a presumptive iconoclasm that rejects the ages- old wisdom that teaches that signs and symbols handed down in the Church continue to be an effective means of trans­mission of the faith. These remarks should not be interpreted as a cri­tique of Benedict XVI, who demonstrated a marvelous capacity for speak­ing both to the scholarly among us as well as to the simple man on the street.

The Church is for everyone, for the salvation of the whole world, in the same way that Jesus Christ is the sole Savior who is truly encoun­tered in the Church, His true Body in the world. This being the case, it is incumbent upon us to respect all the signs of faith that can help any­one to come to faith and salvation in Jesus Christ. It is a matter of “ both/ and” in our selection of tools for teaching rather than “ either/ or.”

The Holy Father — whose ministry flows from his role as the Bishop of Rome together with Christ’s commission to Peter as holder of the keys of Heaven, and the one who is called to strengthen his brethren — is one such sign accessible to the many. His presence among us is a living sign and source of unity for the universal Church, which contin­ues Christ’s ministry as the sign of the heavenly Father. As Christ is the perfect sign of the Father so those most closely configured to Him in His sacramental priesthood share in His role of bringing the world to the Father through the economy of salvation.

Among priests it is the Pope who is
Pontifex Maximus, the chief bridge- builder, between man and God. The sacraments which come from the hands of our priests are the means of this “ economy” and must be mediated to our people through catechesis and praxis. It is true that Christ is always unfailingly present in the sacraments, above all in the Eucharist ex opere operato, but it is also equally true that we are called to understand and to accept with full submission of intellect and will to that divine Presence and gift of grace.

Worship is the attitude of full submission of body, mind, soul, and spirit to God on the part of intelligent creatures. The highest expres­sion of the dignity of the human person is present in the man or woman kneeling for prayer or to receive Jesus Christ truly present in the Eu­charist. Man is never lifted so high as when he kneels low before God.

( Subscribe to public updates by Fr. Cusick at Reverendo Padre- Kevin Michael Cusick or follow on Twitter at MCITL. Visit Meeting Christ in the Liturgy at mcitl. blogspot. com for teachings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church paired with the Scriptures of Holy Mass for every day of the week. Fr. Cusick blogs at APriestLife. blogspot. com and you can e- mail him at mcitl. blogspot. .)

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