How Christian is Christian? The core of all Christian life, and the life of all Christians, is the presence of the risen Christ drawing us into his own life. Being Catholic does not add to being Christian, but it takes very seriously all the ways God chooses to be present to us.
As a hedge against idolatry, some Christians have been cautious about associating God too closely with created things. But whenever Christians have disdained any aspect of creation or of human nature, the Catholic Church has reaffirmed the goodness of everything God has made.
The Catholic sacramental vision “sees” God in all things - other people, communities, movements, events, places, objects, the environment, the world at large, the historical ... Indeed, for Catholicism it is only in and through these material realities that we can encounter the invisible God.
(Richard McBrien, Catholicism)
Being Catholic does not add to being Christian, but it takes very seriously all the ways God chooses to be present.
Moreover, God’s presence is always “for us and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed); it graces our existence. As a hedge against any semblance of magic, some Christians prefer to think of God’s saving action as directly touching our inner “spiritual” selves. But in the Catholic tradition, God’s actions grace whatever they touch. The human body, sexuality, art, music, dance, and celebration, as well as sickness and suffering, can be symbols through which God touches our lives.
Christianity is not a spirituality apart from the human body or above the human condition or independent of the Christian community. “The Word was made flesh…”: thus, the God whose presence is never owed to us has nevertheless chosen to be very close to us. The incarnation is about God reaching into the depths of our human situation.
The community Christ still gathers around him includes sinners and saints; it is not a spiritual elite. This is the body of Christ in which Christ is present. Perhaps it’s not surprising, therefore, that Christ appoints people to act in his name who are ordinary and weak:
... for it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake ... We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:5, 7)
Notwithstanding their weaknesses, Jesus appointed his apostles to speak in his name: welcoming them would be welcoming him (see Luke 10:16). The faith entrusted to the apostles is made present in the life of the faith community. Even those who teach the faith must first learn it from the community.
The Catholic tradition understands that the apostles’ role as pastors and teachers is now made present in the role of the bishops when they teach the same faith, using the words of different times and cultures, and apply that teaching to new circumstances. The role of “confirming the brethren” given to Peter (Luke 22:32) is now made present in the role of the bishop of Rome. (Peter himself was already dead by the time his role was recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.)
In the Catholic tradition, ordination is not mere delegation by the community to act in its name; the Holy Spirit confers the role of making visible what Christ is doing in and for the community. Like Christ, those whose ministry is to make his role visible are to be the servants and the least of all (Mark 10:42-45). At the last supper when commissioning his disciples to “do this in memory of me,” he symbolised his and their servant role by washing their feet. Lording it over others, which had been the hallmark of sin from the beginning, (“he shall rule over you,” Genesis 3:16) was being replaced by “he shall serve you.”
To honor the fact that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient for our salvation (and does not need to be added to or repeated in any way), some Christians have been wary about calling the celebration of Eucharist a “sacrifice.” But for Catholics, it is Christ’s offering of himself on the cross made present. The sacramental signs of this presence are the ritual meal we celebrate in remembrance of him.
Because he remains forever, (Jesus) has a priesthood that does not pass away. He is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:24-25)
When Catholics gather, it is not just for prayer or preaching or fellowship. It is because the liturgy connects our lives with the events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection through his presence.
The real presence of Christ is highlighted in the Catholic practice of reserving the holy Eucharist outside of Mass for people’s devotion, and making this available to people through perpetual adoration. In this way, the real presence of Christ is very focused. Knowing that he is really here, knowing that he is the same Jesus who was present to his first disciples, and knowing that he is the Son of God has a powerful impact on the prayer, leading to deeper prayer and adoration.
- If there is one near you, spend some time before Christ in a chapel of perpetual adoration. Know that he is really there for you, that this is the same Jesus we know through Scripture, and that he is the Son of God.
- Read the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament. Reflect on its meaning in your life today.
Come, let us joyfully sing to the Lord;
cry out to the rock of our salvation.
Let us greet him with a song of praise,
joyfully sing out our psalms.
Come, then, let us bow down and worship,
bending the knee before the Lord, our maker.
For this is our God, and we are his people,
the flock that God shepherds.
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7