Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fulton Sheen on the marks of the Church and the Mystical Body

Before I hand off the copy of "Servant of God" Fulton Sheen's Life of Christ to my nephew (who, by the way, is a fine young man, but I suspect is starting to buy into some of the Dan Brown-isms of the day), I thought I would share a few passages from the end:

Christ is living now! He is teaching now, governing now, sanctifying now--as He did in Judea and Galilee. His Mystical Body or the Church existed throughout the Roman Empire before a single one of the Gospels had been written. It was the New Testament that came out of the Church, not the Church which came out of the New Testament. This Body had the four distinctive marks of life; it had unity, because vivified by one Soul, one Spirit, the gift of Pentecost. As unity in doctrine and authority is the centripetal force which keeps the life of the Church one, catholicity is the centrifugal force which enables her to expand and absorb redeemed humanity without distinction of race or color. The third note of the Church is holiness, which means that it endures on condition that it keep itself healthy, pure, and free from the disease of heresy and schism. This holiness is not in each member but rather in the whole Church. And because the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, it can be the Divine instrument for the sanctification of souls. The sunlight is not polluted because its rays pass through a dirty window; neither do the sacraments lose their power to sanctify because the human instruments of those sacraments may be stained. Finally, there is the work of apostolicity. In biology, Omne vivum ex vivo or "All life comes from life." So too the Mystical Body of Christ is apostolic, because historically it took its roots in Christ and not from a man separated by centuries from Him. That is why the infant Church met to choose a successor of Judas who had to be a witness of the Resurrection and a companion of the Apostles.
Many think they would have believed in Him if they had lived in His day. But actually there would have been no great advantage. Those who do not see Him as Divine living in His Mystical Body today would not have seen Him as Divine living in His physical Body. If there are scandals in some cells of His Mystical Body, there were scandals too in His physical Body; both put forward a human appearance which in moments of weakness of Crucifixion require moral strength to see Divinity. In the Galilean days, it required faith supported by motives of credibility to believe in the Kingdom He came to establish or His Mystical Body through which He would sanctify men through His Spirit, after His Crucifixion. In these days, it requires faith supported by the same motives of credibility to believe in the Head, or the Invisible Christ, governing, teaching, and sanctifying through His visible head and His Body the Church. In each case a "lifting-up" was required. To redeem men, Our Lord told Nicodemus that He had to be "lifted up" on the Cross; to sanctify men in the Spirit, He had to be "lifted up" to heaven in the Ascension.