“That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.“
St. John in the above Gospel tells us that our Blessed Lord desires and prays for the unity of his Bride, the Church. Christ, who is the Head, desires that the Church, His body, be fully united together in Him. This is the reason why He came to save us – so that we could be united with Him on earth and in Heaven. As Christians, we should also have this same desire for unity. I have been listening to Air1, which is a great Christian music radio station over the past few years. Recently they have introduced a special feature called “59 Seconds of Hope”. These are great little reminders to us as Christians to keep our eyes on Christ and keep moving in our Christian journey.
One of their segments has been on my mind and heart lately, as it is the biggest problem that the Church is facing today, namely that of unity. Levi Lusko, a protestant pastor and one of the “59 Seconds of Hope” speakers, reminds listeners that for Christians to really make an impact on the world, we all need to “come together in Jesus’ name”. Another protestant group called the Reset Movement has recently committed themselves to mobilize Christians in creating the “biggest Jesus Gathering” in the USA in 2016. While these people have the premise of a good idea, they are missing a very vital point. Truthfully speaking, changing the world on a global level will be impossible until we truly become united and reconciled as one Church. True unity does not simply constitute believing in the same God, the same “core tenants” and nothing more. Real Christian unity is rooted in complete allegiance to Jesus Christ and the Church which He established.
When Jesus said to St. Peter in Matthew 16:18 “And 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,” He definitively established His Church on the foundation of Peter. God knows that we as humans are weak in spirit, and that without a shepherd, we will scatter in all different directions. Jesus left us the Church, with St. Peter as it’s head, to keep us in the fold, still knowing that people can and will walk away.
Our Lord is a King and when a King leaves his Kingdom for whatever the reason, he leaves someone in charge. When the king dies or has to pass on the care of the Kingdom to someone else, that person becomes the heir of the kingdom. This is what our Blessed Lord left us with through Apostolic Succession. Apostolic Succession is the direct line of Popes from Pope Francis right back to St. Peter. Jesus proclaimed that Peter was the rock that He was to build His Church on. He also promised that Hell would not prevail against her. In doing so, He promised that He will keep the Church free from error. If we really believe that Jesus is who He says He is, then we need to trust that our Lord has and will keep his promise of divine protection for the Church. History has proven this fact time and again. This is called Papal Infallibility. Papal Infallibility means that the Pope will never officially teach us (Ex Cathedra) incorrectly when it comes to faith and morals. Although elected Successors of Peter may sin or fail, God keeps His promise and protects His Church from falling into error in her teaching.
I was baptized Catholic as an infant, and as I have grown up, I have questioned my beliefs. I have considered other positions for major beliefs of the Church, everything from Jesus being present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, to moral teachings on things such as abortion, contraception, the true nature of marriage, etc. Every time, faith and reason has led me back to the Catholic Church-the Church that Jesus Christ established. Jesus tells us that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If we ever hope to be truly united in Christ, we need to trust that He means what He says. We need to trust that He knows what He is doing, and trust that those He left in charge will not lead us astray, and that His Church for 2,000 year has been protected from error.
All throughout the Church’s history, Jesus the Bridegroom has sought his Bride, the Church. in order to purify her and to become fully united with her. He consummated this covenant at Calvary on the marriage bed of the Cross. As the only way, the only truth, and the only life, logic dictates that our Lord can only have one Bride. As Christians, we simply cannot continue to remain separated from one another if we are to ever hope to make a significant impact on the world. St. Paul asked the Church of Corinth, “For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apol’los,” are you not merely men? What then is Apol’los? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each….you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” Christians are meant to be united, but like St. Paul says, we belong to Christ.
The Catholic Church calls us to be united to Christ, through our pastors, and with the Successor of Peter at the head. We see that this is how the Apostles and the Early Church lived after Pentecost. They saw this as the model for unity, and it was in those times that the Gospel was being spread like wildfire and the world was awakened by the message of salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ. Thousands upon thousands converted not simply because the news was so good, but because the world could see that the “followers of the Way” were united together. Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, need a wholehearted return to Jesus, and need to assent to the Church which He established and not one created by someone else. Jesus is the Truth and the Truth does not change. The Church exists to defend and promote the Truth of Christ revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Unlike protestant denominations, the Catholic Church will never compromise those teachings because she realizes that these teachings are not hers to change. If the Church for 2,000 years has been sustained by the Holy Spirit from teaching error, and has remained united under one Lord, one faith, one baptism, why should we, as believers in Christ settle for anything less?
Below is a testimony from a previous protestant pastor and his wife, Scott and Kimberly Hahn.
The Patroness of Music!
Did you know she had an angel that would guard her, and after her husband was baptized, he saw the angel protecting her?
Saint Cecelia, pray for us!
When it comes to running a parish, every actively involved Catholic seems to have an opinion on how it should be run. Recently, in Denver, Colorado, the Amazing Parish Conference happened, where many Catholics came together to discuss the big question of how to revitalize parish life. I know a few people who recently went and they seemed to really enjoy what they received. I have read a bunch of their resources, and although many of the points they make are extremely valid, I believe that what is being presented by this conference furthers the currently widespread misunderstanding that the Mass in itself is an evangelization tool. Therefore, the below video sums up what they want their “Sunday Experience” to be:
Music, Message, and Ministers. These three factors are what they believe a good “Sunday Experience” requires. At face value, these three ideals are necessary (although they could lose the protestant-sounding jargon). Yet, if we recognize truly what the Mass is – the unbloody once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus to the Father on our behalf, made present on the altar through the hands of the priest – the liturgical focus becomes Christocentric (centred on Christ) and not homocentric (centered on the people).
For centuries, the Church has looked externally to evangelize and internally, has sought to bring God the highest possible worship, by enhancing the Liturgy for God’s glory alone. Liturgical music was created to bring this reality to life. The Classical greats like Beethoven and Bach all wrote music to serve the Liturgy. The supreme worship of God was the focus, not the evangelization of the people. It was when this general understanding was had that the great cathedrals and basilicas of the past were built. These beautiful temples were created and ordered to the liturgy. The parishioners of that time took pride in their parishes and ensured that they made the upkeep and enhancing of the churches their priority. Every pew was filled every Sunday. Now, what differentiated these “Amazing Parishes” of the past from the parishes of our day that are in dire need of renewal? It is a solemn recognition of what the parish’s primary objective is in the world.
Our parishes are in the midst of an identity crisis.
The biggest reason why parishes are currently struggling is because, on a whole, the entire church in the West has lost a sense of their identity and what they are intended to do. The reason our parishes are dying at an astonishing rate is because parishes have lost a sense of vision. The Amazing Parish model focuses on this fact, however, I would say, they do not do it with both eyes open. They have their one eye open and looking at the people, but they do not see God and the Liturgy as an act ordered to Him. This is why you will find when visiting their website, that they do not really articulate with any clear understanding what a complete and holy liturgy should look like. I think what this reveals is simply what happens when the emphasis becomes homocentric.
Growing up in a charismatic but orthodox Catholic background, I have seen what happens when the people become the focus of liturgies. Now, as a grown man, who attends the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Tridentine Rite) on a weekly basis whether at home or while travelling, I have also seen what happens when Catholics become too focused on the liturgy and lose sight even of the people who fill their pews every Sunday. A priest I knew once termed this as being “too heavenly holy to do no earthly good.” While I believe it is impossible to be truly holy without truly doing good, this priest spoke of a false holiness of a person that loses sight of the very people they are supposed to be loving. This is also not what we want. Orthodoxy (right teaching) and orthopraxy (right practice) is what we need in the local church today.
Polarization happens. Whether on the right or the left, it happens. As human beings, most of us love to camp out where it is safe. If you polarize, there will be people in either camp to stand with you on whatever thing you find yourself passionate about. Yet, it is impossible to be a well balanced Catholic while camping out. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy is what brings balance to the Catholic, and it is these things that land you right in the middle of the extremes. Everything requires balance. Personally, we need it. Family life also requires balance. If the family is at the core of the church, then parish life needs balance too. I believe wholeheartedly that it is possible to have an orthodox parish that is filled with vision and missionary zeal. I know it is possible for traditional Catholic parishes to get actively involved in the work of the new evangelization without losing their gorgeous liturgies. I think it is also possible for parishes that are more evangelistic to be equally reverent and to offer solemn and sacred liturgies.
The Amazing Parish model, while offering great ideas, misses the mark when it comes to liturgy. Liturgy, coming from the Greek word for “service”, has been misconstrued, especially in the last 50 years since the Second Vatican Council, as a “service to the people, for the people.” Yet, the Church has understood for centuries, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that Mass is Christ loving us so much as to re-present His entire Passion, Death, and Resurrection on the altar for our sanctification, and to bring honor to the Father. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not, and was never meant to be a tool for evangelization. It was instituted by Christ Himself as a means to pour out His love on the world through the hands of His disciples. Sacrifice has always been the pinnacle of worship. When the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity lays down his life as a propitiation for our sins, it is the HIGHEST form of worship to ever be given to God. Mass, which is the saving love of God made present for us, is Christ offering Himself to the Father on our behalf, and therefore Mass is the greatest act of service for us. It is Jesus who, in the Liturgy, is serving us. As Catholics, we simply need to assent to that fact and respond to that accordingly and obediently, instead of trying to manipulate the liturgy to better suit the tastes of others who may be unfamiliar with Mass. As Catholics, we need to simply work to align ourselves with all of heaven who is present at every Mass and put our liturgical energies into enhancing the worship already being done by Christ through the priest for our salvation. If you want to have an Amazing Parish, begin by exposing the faithful to the truth about what is so amazing about the Mass and acting in accordance with that reality. Without a proper understanding of the liturgy, any attempt at making an Amazing Parish will not succeed.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What do you think needs to happen to revitalize parish life?