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The Wonder of the Church

The Catholic Church is the greatest wonder on earth. It is the only organization founded by God himself. It is more: a living organism, not merely natural but supernatural. Jesus Christ, who founded the Church and gave it its constitution is–for he still lives–not only man but God, the one true God who is infinite Being and limitless in every perfection. The Church is his body, an organic society with its own life secret.

Paul repeatedly called the Church the body of Christ, of which Jesus is the head and we the members. In any body the head is the center of all the important functions–seeing, hearing, speaking, thinking, and willing. All the operations of life flow through a man from the head; so does Christ’s headship regulate the life of those joined to him in that one spiritual personality, the Church. That is why Augustine called the Church “the whole Christ.”

Christ identified the Church with himself: “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16). Thus when the Church sacrifices, Christ sacrifices; when the Church forgives, Christ forgives; when the Church teaches, Christ teaches; when the Church is persecuted, Christ is persecuted. Saul was on the road to Damascus when “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, `I am Jesus, whom you persecute'” (Acts 9:4).

So the Church lives with life that is divine. At baptism, her members become living cells of the divine organism. They become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), receiving supernatural powers to know God by faith, to trust him with divine hope, to love him with divine charity. The Church acts as Christ told her to act. She administers seven sacraments because Christ gave her seven. Her worship is centered around the Mass, because Christ willed his own life to be centered around the first Mass, Calvary.

More wonders! The sacraments: Baptism gives us life. Confirmation strengthens that life through a further giving of the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of penance restores our supernatural life if we lose it by grave sin. The anointing of the sick is the same action of Christ himself toward those who were sick when he cured them and forgave their sins (Mark 2:5-9). To make these wonders possible Christ gave us the sacrament by which priests are ordained, holy orders, which enables those chosen to receive it to act in the person of Christ by offering the sacrifice of the Mass and by administering the other sacraments. Yet another of the Church’s wonders is the sacrament of marriage, which forges a lifelong union of man and woman, a union which reflects Christ’s union with the Church.

In the Church we find the hidden life of Christ in the monks and nuns who give up the world to devote themselves to the cultivation of the spiritual life. We find too the public life of Christ present in every detail of the long, stormy history of the Church. Like Christ, the Church is surrounded by intense love and intense hatred. Like Christ she attracts men of every rank and condition of society, the most brilliant and the illiterate, the soldier and the civilian, the rich and poor, the king and subject. Like Christ she has throughout her history been consumed with burning zeal for the salvation of men, seeking new members in the far mission fields and watching with jealous care the weak and ailing ones within.

Because the Church is the body of Christ, she is a holy body. Her doctrine is holy. Men are made holy in believing it. She offers the way to holiness and is distinguished by those who have lived up to her teaching: They are the saints. What other religious society can boast of such a variety of men and women who have attained heroic holiness through the means it has offered them?

The Church is the greatest wonder on earth–living with the life of Christ, animated by the Spirit of Christ, teaching the truth of Christ, ruling with the authority of Christ, sanctifying with the grace of Christ, sacrificing with the flesh and blood of Christ, forgiving with the mercy of Christ, guiding with the wisdom of Christ, persecuted for the sake of Christ, praying in union with Christ, obeying with the loyalty of Christ, infallible through the presence of Christ, indefectible in fidelity to Christ, honoring the Mother of Christ, one through the prayer of Christ, holy in imitating Christ, universal by command of Christ, apostolic by the institution of Christ–and all this because she is the fullness of the body of Christ.

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