As American Catholic Radio continues to explore the Nicene Creed in our Easter Season series, I offer my "pastor's take" on the meaning of Church, and sacrament as I lead the assembly in the Creed each weekend.
It used to bother me when Catholics critical of the Church would say, "Father, why does the Church tell us...?" I knew they were referring to the Church's leadership. But I wanted to say, "YOU are the Church!"
To understand what we are as Church, the Creed gives us four adjectives: one, holy, catholic, apostolic.
There is one way for us to really know Jesus and what he is all about,: in the Church, the sacraments, and the teachings of the Church. Though made up of many different people and expressions of Catholic life across the world, the Church remains a unity because God is one, and it professes Jesus as "one Lord," our way, our truth, and our life."
The teaching of the Church is reliable, because it is apostolic—connected to Jesus through his apostles and those who came after to continue the work of Jesus.
Being catholic means that Jesus is fully present in the Church and that it fulfills Jesus' command to carry his message to the ends of the earth. Although it is clothed in many different languages and retold in different cultures, this message of love and forgiveness remains constant.
In our time–as, sadly, in times past–it may be hard for some to call the Church "holy" because of the failings of some Christians. The holiness of the Church is more about what we are all together as Church, as the "Body of Christ." We belong to the Church in order to become holy, to share the life of Jesus through the sacraments.
When we think about these four ways to describe the Church, perhaps it's a bit easier to say "We are the Church."
As it celebrates the sacraments, the Church makes Christ visible to the world. Catholics understand deep down that they are as "Church" when they celebrate the sacraments.Our Profession of Faith in "one baptism" reminds me how much I love baptizing babies! It's such a visual sacrament, with the water, the fragrant oil, the white baptismal robe, the lighted candle, and the proud family members gathered around. A crying baby doesn't hurt the effect, either!
In such sacramental moments (including all the sacraments), we profess our connection to the life of the Risen Jesus. We don't always need the Creed's theological terms to explain how important it is to be joined to Jesus through Baptism and the other sacraments—although our weekly Profession of Faith in them is important!
As parents seek to give all of themselves to their children, as a parish community gathers to embrace its newest members (infant and adult), we understand how God's life flows through us. That life has power to sustain us. In joyful celebrations, we sing our gratitude. In sad times, we entrust ourselves to God's love. In moments of sinfulness, we seek forgiveness.
We don't need many more words to "confess one baptism" and thus to acknowledge everything that the life of Jesus, given to us in the sacraments of the Church, means to us. These powerful signs speak loudly!