Reflections on the Creed: “I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”

Young adults gather to welcome Pope Francis to World Youth Day in Rio where they will celebrate the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. (CNS photo/Ana Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters) (July 22, 2 013)

The Father so loved us that he sent his Son to redeem us.  Jesus so loved us that he died and rose again for our salvation.  To continue the work of redemption he selected Apostles upon whom he would build his Church, his new Body, which would have as its responsibility the task of carrying out and completing the work that he began.

The family that is the Church is a living body that is heavenly and earthly, and it is one because Christ’s body is one.  This mystical body is holy because it is filled with the Spirit who sanctifies us even though individual members may not live up to that gift.   Moreover, our Church is not one among many, but rather the one that includes the many.  From the moment the Church was born of the Spirit at Pentecost, it was catholic, which means “universal,” and it is meant to embrace everyone.  Also, the Church is apostolic both because it has a continuous and verifiable continuity with the Apostles and because of the mission of each member of the Church to spread the Gospel.

This universal mission is clear from Jesus’ words at the Ascension, “You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  After he ascends into heaven, the Apostles are standing there in amazement, and the angels tell them in so many words, “Don’t just stand there… do what you’ve been told to do.”  These words are addressed to you and to me.  We have inherited the task of those first disciples.

The Holy Spirit empowers us – individually and as the Church – to do what needs to be done.  The first Christians were a small band with no great resources, and yet they managed to conquer the world for Christ.  The pagans of the ancient Roman Empire were converted because they looked at Christians and said, “See how they love one another.”  Our love within the Church today is likewise our strongest witness to the kingdom of God among us.

The Church and kingdom of God are not precisely synonymous.  The Church is a realization on earth of God’s kingdom whose final fulfillment is in eternity.  The Gospels tell us that Jesus, “went around all Galilee…proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23).  He taught a reality that was a real part of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish people which centered on the glorious kingdom that the Messiah would establish.  Yet when Christ spoke of the kingdom of God, he was careful to free the idea of the “kingdom” from the nationalistic hopes of the people among whom he lived.  To accomplish this, he often emphasized the heavenly aspect of the kingdom and its interior religious character.

Aware of the intimate bond between the kingdom of God on earth and the Church, we need to look at what Jesus taught about his kingdom.  Like the reign of God, the kingdom is spiritual and will be perfected in the last days.  It is not a political kingdom: “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36).  Yet Christ’s kingdom is rooted in this world.  Christ shows it to us as something visible, a community called together by him, of which he is the Good Shepherd, the true and lasting head.

Each one of us can do something positive to manifest the kingdom of God – to make it visible and present in our world today. Jesus remains our example, encouraging us always to be compassionate and caring, to love one another as he loves us.  This can translate into what Saint Paul, in writing to the Galatians, speaks of as fruits of the Holy Spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, modesty, self-control and chastity.  The Spirit has transformed us, and with the help of that same Spirit we can change the world.

This is the fourth in a series based on passages from “Faith that Transforms Us: Reflections on the Creed.