The Church is Apostolic. We have an unbroken chain to Christ Himself.
Pope Francis’ Wednesday audience continued his reflections on the Creed. After discussing last week that the Church is Catholic, it was time to discuss the last of the four marks of the Church. As with all audiences, the teaching is given in Italian and a summary is done in English and other languages. The summary outlines the Pope’s main points:
“In the Creed, we profess in faith that the Church is “apostolic”. We can understand this in three ways. First, the Church is apostolic because Jesus founded her upon the Apostles whom he chose and sent forth to continue his work; thus Saint Paul compares the Church to a temple which has the Apostles as its foundation and Christ as its cornerstone (Eph 2:19-20). The Church is also apostolic because she preserves and hands down the fullness of Christ’s teaching and the means of salvation which he instituted. Finally the Church is apostolic because she accomplishes in history the mission which Christ entrusted to the Apostles: making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them his commands (cf. Mt 28:19-20).”
It is not hard to find a translation of the longer, Italian teaching. It is usually in the longer teaching where we can see Pope Francis’ style better. He seems to like to ask his listeners questions, to lead them to ponder more deeply the truths of the faith, and the implications of that faith in practice.
“This is the beauty of the Church: the presence of Jesus Christ among us. Do we ever think of how important this gift is that Christ has given us, the gift of the Church, where we can encounter Him? Do we ever think how it is precisely the Church in her long journey throughout these centuries – despite the difficulties, the problems, the weaknesses, our sins – that transmits to us the authentic message of Christ? That she gives us the certainty that what we believe in is really what Christ has communicated to us?”
The Church is apostolic means that it is THE Church that Christ founded with his apostles. And the successors of the apostles, together with all the faithful, have fought through the centuries to preserve that faith, to understand it, to pass it on (“tradition” is this very passing-on of the faith), and to make sure that we, today, have all that Christ gave us. Christ is alive today, for this chain is a living vine.
So many people broke away from Christ, even in his own day. So many groups, often understandably scandalized by bad examples within the Church, committed the error of breaking away from the fullness of what Christ gave us. I have a friend who used to say that we Catholics are lucky because our Church has no other founder than Jesus Himself. That is true because of the unbroken line of apostolic succession.
But that is not a reason to rest on our laurels or high-five each other because we got what they don’t got. I ask myself what real suffering I have undergone for my faith. Beyond some minor ridicule because of my stance on certain issues, not much. I have always been able to get to Mass. I have always had access to Catholic school for myself and my family. I have never lost a job because of my faith. Those things may change in the future in an increasingly hostile environment, but I cannot hold a candle to those who have suffered to pass on the faith to me. The least I can do is light a candle and beg for their intercession.
But what I can do is to be apostolic. And Pope Francis insists on this every time he can. It will be the mark of his pontificate.
“This is what Jesus told us to do! I insist on this aspect of missionary activity, because Christ invites all to “go” and meet others, he sends us, he asks us to move to take the joy of the Gospel! Once again we ask ourselves: are we missionaries with our word and above all with our Christian life, with our witness? Or are we Christians that are closed in our hearts and in our churches, ‘sacristy christians’? Christians only by word but that live like pagans? We should ask ourselves these questions, which are not a rebuke. I too tell myself the same: how am I a Christian, with a true witness?”
We have been given a great gift through an unbroken chain of fidelity. It depends on us how strong this chain will be in the future. God will make sure the chain doesn’t break entirely, but we will be judged on how strong our own strand is, and how many other links were brought in by the joy of our Christian witness.
And the amazing thing is, this chain is also electric. It carries the charge of Christ himself. We have been charged with his mission.