Jesus Founds His Church
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An important part of salvation history was the forming of a people, God's chosen people, to whom divine revelation was given and from whom the Messiah would come. They were very proud of this gift from God. But Saint Paul tells us that the Israelites lost this precious gift when they refused to accept Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Most of them rejected the Messiah when he came; he just did not meet their idea of what the Anointed One should be. But those Jews who accepted Jesus as Lord and who put their faith in him became the new chosen people of God. By their acceptance of Our Lord they remained faithful to their calling as God's chosen ones.
Jesus Calls the Twelve Apostles
When Jesus was about thirty years old he began preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. He gathered around him a small band of followers to whom he carefully taught his message of salvation. These men became known as the Twelve Apostles and they were the foundation members of the new People of God, the Church. Saint Mark tells us about this important event: He (Jesus) named twelve as his companions whom he would send to preach the good news; they were likewise to have authority to expel demons. He appointed the Twelve as follows: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter; James, son of Zebedee; and John, the brother of James . . .; Andrew; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James, son of Alphaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon of the Zealot party; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him Mk. 3:13-19).
The choice of twelve leading members of this new community was very meaningful to the Jews. In the Old Testament you will remember that the Israelites were made up of twelve tribes coming from the twelve sons of Jacob. Jesus chose Twelve Apostles to show that his Church was the continuation of the chosen people.
Jesus Makes Simon Peter The Head of His Church
Our Lord knew that he was soon to leave our world and return to his Father. To make sure that his Church would have a supreme leader, one who would be his own representative on earth, Jesus chose Simon. Just as God had given Abraham and Jacob new names to go with their new missions, so Jesus gave Simon the new name of Peter (which means "rock") to show that he had a new mission in the Church: Blessed are you, Simon. . . I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven (Mt. 16:16, 18-19).
The other apostles and the early Christians all recognized Peter as the head of all the apostles and of the Church: what we now call the Pope. They knew that Jesus had appointed him to this position of unique leadership. They listened to Peter and obeyed his decisions, just as they had done to Jesus. They considered Peter's voice to be the voice of Christ to them.
Jesus Gives the Apostles His Authority
Along with Peter, Jesus prepared the other apostles for their roles of leadership in his Church. He shared his authority with all of them, giving them special spiritual gifts that would help them carry out the mission of teaching, ruling, and sanctifying (making holy) the new People of God.
They were to be Christ's voice in the world, teaching the good news to all nations: "He who hears you, hears me. He who rejects you, rejects me" (Lk.10-16). They were to make rules that would protect the goodness of the Christian way of life: "I assure you, whatever you declare bound on earth shall be held bound in Heaven, and whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be held loosed in Heaven" (Mt. 18:18).
They were to help the Christians to become holy by forgiving their sins: "If you forgive men's sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound" (Jn. 20-23).
They were to be his special witnesses whom the Holy Spirit would send out to all the world: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). By giving these responsibilities to the apostles, Jesus made them the shepherds of his Christian flock. He made them the first bishops of the Church.
The Church of Jesus Christ
There are many ways of looking at the Church in order to understand its importance in our lives. There are some images of the Church that Jesus himself used. He called it a sheepfold or flock of which he is the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:1-18). He also said that it was like a grapevine; he is the main vine and we are the branches (Jn. 15:1-8). Our Lord often compared the Church with a kingdom, calling it the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. This tells us that in the Church, God is the highest authority and we are to be his loyal subjects, ever ready to do the King's will.
If we see it as a visible organization led by the Pope and bishops it is called a hierarchy, which means an order of leadership. This view reminds us that Jesus gave his authority to the Church so that it could be his true voice in the world. It also reminds us that we must obey these chosen leaders as we would Jesus himself. The order of membership in the structure is Pope, bishops, priests, and lay people.
Another way of looking at the new community of God is to see it as the pilgrim Church. This reminds us that we are traveling toward Heaven. Life on earth is a spiritual journey that will be finished when we reach Heaven. Some of us arrive at our destination sooner than others, but at the end of the world the entire community of the faithful will there for ever!
Seeing the Church as a continuation of Israel, we call it the new chosen People of God. This tells us that everyone, from the Pope to the littlest child, is a member of this community. Saint Peter wrote about this image in his first letter to all the Christians of the world: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).
Saint Paul reminds us that the Church is the Body of Christ. He compared it to a human body that had a head and many other parts, or members. This image helps us to remember that we all must work together in order to bring Jesus and his good news to the world. A foot cannot work without a leg, and a head cannot function without the other body parts. If one member sins all the others are hurt by it. Sometimes you hear a person say that he can do whatever he wants as long as no one gets hurt. Well, this just is not true for Christians. As Saint Paul says: "If one members suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share it joy. You, then, are the Body of Christ. Everyone of you is a member of it (1 Cor. 12:26-27).
Another way of looking at the Church comes from the Apostles' Creed: the Communion of Saints. This name reminds us that the Church's membership can be found in three places: Heaven, Purgatory, and earth. In Heaven it is called the Church Triumphant because the members have reached man's spiritual goal and are crowned with victory. In Purgatory it is called the Church Suffering because the members are being purified of imperfections before they can enter Heaven. On earth it is called the Pilgrim Church because we are on a journey through the world toward our heavenly goal.
The Marks of Christ's Church
There are hundreds of Christian denominations today, and many of them claim to be true Church founded by the Lord. How can we know which one is really and fully his? There are four marks, or signs, that show us which Church was founded by Christ. They can be found in the ancient Nicene Creed that we recite at Mass: "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."
The Church is ONE. Catholics share one faith, one Baptism, one Head on earth (the Pope), and one Sacrifice of the Mass. There is but one body and one Spirit, just as there is but one hope given all of you by your call. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph. 4:4-5).
The Church is HOLY. It was founded by Jesus who is all-holy. He died so that all the members could become holy by believing his holy doctrines and receiving his holy sacraments. He (Christ) gave himself up for her (the Church) to make her holy. . . and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort (Eph. 5:25-27).
The Church is CATHOLIC. This is from a Greek word meaning "universal" and it shows us that only the Catholic Church teaches all men of every age the whole gospel of Christ. It is this mark that gave the Church of Jesus its name. Jesus came forward and addressed them in these words: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . . and know that I am with you always" (Mt. 28:18-20).
The Church is APOSTOLIC. Its beginnings go back through time to the days of the apostles of the Lord. Only the Catholic Church can truthfully make this claim. The Eastern Orthodox church, which separated from the Catholic Church in the eleventh century retained apostolic succession, but without recognizing the primacy of the Pope. Protestantism first began in the sixteenth century. You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles (Eph. 2:19-20).
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
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