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Detail from the Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, VA

Detail from the Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, VA

One of the most significant changes in the lives of those who have become Catholics, particularly through the gift of the ordinariates, is the beautiful realization of what it means to be fully a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ. These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, ‘indicate essential features of the Church and her mission’, and so are necessary for us to correctly identify, in order to find the authentic Christian life in all its fullness, and thus the path to our salvation. United to our Redeemer through baptism, Christians are incorporated into his mystical body, the Church, in order that we might share in his passion, death, and resurrection. Our communion with God is made a reality by this very union with him in Christ, and thus his mystical body, first through the waters of the sacred font, and then by our continuing reliance on grace in the sacramental life of the Church. Our union with the Church is a sign and instrument of our communion with God, which is why—as an example—we confess our sins to a Priest; because our reconciliation to communion with God is by and through his holy Church.

That Church, established by Christ, ‘is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities’. It is what Saint Bernard of Clairvaux called, ‘Both tabernacle of cedar and sanctuary of God; earthly dwelling and celestial palace; house of clay and royal hall; body of death and temple of light’. Thus our communion with the Church must be a manifest reality; not simply an interior disposition. It must be something tangible as well as something that exists in the depths of the heart. And that Church to which we refer, as we will do shortly in the words of the Creed, subsists in the Catholic Church alone, governed by the successor of Saint Peter, the Pope, and the bishops in communion with him. 

It is the foundation of the Church of Christ on Saint Peter that is recounted to us in today’s Gospel. Through the apostle’s faith and confession—‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’— the Lord established his Church by making Saint Peter, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, ‘the leader of the choir, the mouth of all the apostles’. By giving Saint Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the Lord made him and his successors the ‘visible source and foundation’ of unity for the whole Church; ‘not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law’, but ‘a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word’. In this, the role of the Pope in the life of the Church is to be ‘like a peg in a sure place’, guarding and cherishing the faith as the well-spring of truth and the water of eternal life. 

Those of you who have visited Rome will recall the cathedra located in the basilica of Saint John Lateran. This seatthe chair of Peter, after which this very ordinariate is named—is the sign of the teaching authority given to the successor of Saint Peter as the Bishop of Rome. As every diocesan bishop has his own cathedral church, housing his cathedra, so the Bishop of Rome’s is given as a sign of the authority given him by Christ. Our communion with the Church through our own bishop (or, ordinary), and in obedience to his teaching, is guaranteed in turn by his communion with the Bishop of Rome, whose very person echoes the words of the Lord in the prophecy of Isaiah, becoming ‘a throne of honour to his father’s house’. 

The external expression of our union with Christ, then, is not simply identifying as a Catholic: whether that means going to the right school, having the right bumper stickers, or even attending the right church. Rather, it is living fully and unreservedly the life of Christ in the communion of his mystical body, the Church. This is not a life to be designed or regulated by our own desires or plans, but one laid down for us by Christ, guarded and transmitted in an authentic way by the successor of Saint Peter and the bishops in communion with him.

The second-century author Tertullian reminds us, ‘They have not the heritage of Saint Peter who have not the see of Peter’. If we desire to live in the life of Christ, and thus share in the fruits of his victory over sin, it is in that communion that we must reside, not simply as card-carrying Catholics, but as those whose entire life is transformed by and conformed to what Christ has communicated to us in the teachings of his Church. Those teachings, in their fullness, bind us inseparably to Christ, allowing us to proclaim with our words and our actions, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!’ 

Let us make that affirmation of faith once more, by acknowledging God as the Lord of our entire lives, and seeking to place him before all things in all that we undertake. Let us ask him for the grace to remain always in the love and the communion of his holy Church. And let us pray that, through our witness to the authentic life of Christ given us, others may come to the fullness of that truth, and joyfully give themselves to him in reckless abandon.