“The Mystic Body shares the shame of the real Body. It is scoffed at and despised. But it also shares his glory.”
Image: Muncaksy, Christ in front of Pilate, Wiki Commons.
Many of those discussing the post-Vatican II crisis refer to “The Passion of the Church”. Behind this is the idea that the Church replicates in herself the life of Christ.
Disputes arise when we start to consider who it is scourging and crucifying her.
All of us engaged in the different sides of this dispute want to love Christ and his Church. But unfortunately, some speak as though it is the Church crucifying herself – or as though it is “the pope” or “the hierarchy” doing this.
Many think that the institution, currently headed by Francis, is the Catholic Church. Many Catholics are indeed tied up in this institution – but reason, doctrine and theology (such as that of the visible unity of the Church) compel us to deny that this institution, simply taken as a whole, is the Church.
On the contrary, the Church is the body of baptised men who profess the true faith externally, and are hierarchically ordered as a society. What we see, when we look at the institution currently headed by Francis, is an eclipse of the true Church, which is obscured by a large number of open heretics who have truly left her. These men continue to consider themselves as Catholics and continue to be considered as Catholics by many, including those who purport to hold office. This is why we say that this “organisation,” containing Catholics and non-Catholics, is not the Catholic Church “simply” or “taken as a whole.”
The reasons and authorities establishing this point are conclusive – but perhaps this extract, republished with permission from the Bellarmine Forums, may go some way to establishing this point in the heart as well.
As we read it, let us consider whether we can apply its content to the institution headed by Francis.
For example: can those living in good standing with this institution, whilst constantly resisting it, correcting it, avoiding parts of it, trying to persuade its ministers to act like Catholic pastors and so on – can such men, I ask, apply the following beautiful passage, and the others in the extract, to their situation?
“The Life of the Mystic Body is also a life of calm confidence, of peace, of security, like the risen life of Jerusalem and Galilee. The Church has always the sense of security and contentment; holy joy radiates from the life of the Mystic Body all over the world.
“The members of the Mystic Body, especially those who are living a full spiritual life, know from their own experience the reality of the peace and tranquillity of soul that comes from the mere fact that they are members of the Mystic Body; and they become more conscious of this life of peace and serenity of soul according as they become more perfect in their imitation of Christ in his life of patient bearing of pain, because his heavenly Father so willed it.”
It is impossible to live this life of peace within that institution once one has understood the crisis, even to a small degree.
The good news is that this life of peace, away from emotional rollercoasters and ecclesiastical activism, will return when Catholics understand the false paradigm, and when they realise that the Roman Catholic Church still exists as she was traditionally understood, with all of her essential attributes and properties intact – and when they understand the true relationship between the Church and the institution headed by Francis.
You are the Body of Christ
Rev. John Kearney, CSSp.
Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, Dublin and London
Reprinted with permission from the Bellarmine Forums.
When the great Spanish saint, Teresa of Avila, lay on her deathbed she manifested the gratitude of her heart, for a supreme favour God had given her, in one expression repeated again and again the whole afternoon:
“Lord,” she said, “I am a child of the Church.”
To be a child of the Church was, for that great Saint, the fundamental favour, the greatest object of gratitude, the beginning of her assurance of possessing God in heaven.
We have the same privilege as St. Teresa. We are children of the Church. Like her, we should see in that fact the fundamental privilege God has given us; like her, we should see in that favour and all it includes the foundation of our hope of heaven. The words of St. Teresa bring before us the profound reverence, the intense love, that the Saints had for the Church, and the heartfelt gratitude they had for the favour of being among her children.
To enkindle a like esteem, a like devotion, a like affection, and a like gratitude, we cannot do better than consider what the Holy Ghost has said in the Scriptures about the Church. The words of the Holy Ghost express the absolute truth about her, they reveal to us the way God himself looks on the Church.
To explain this idea of the Church given us by the Holy Spirit is the object of the following pages.
Chapter IV: The life of Christ in his Mystic Body is a continuation of his life in his physical Body
Introduction. From the doctrine that the Church is the Body of Christ we should expect:
- That the acts of the Church, and her character as seen in her acts, would be remarkably like the acts and character of Christ as recorded in the Gospel.
- That the history of the Church in relation to this world would be like the history of Christ.
§1 — The Character of the Church is like the Character of Christ
Taking a general view of the Church, of her way of acting, of her character as revealed in her acts – while keeping the Gospel before us – we cannot but notice how the idea we have of the Church fits in with the idea of Christ given us by the Gospels. The Church today stands out clearly different from the world around her, even as Christ stood out different from men. She is unique even as Christ was unique. She is the reflection, the continuation, the very image of Christ:
“She is authoritative. Yes, because her Master was. She despises mere conventions, contradicts human laws, divides families. Yes, because her Master did. She turns the accusation of supplanting Christ into a claim to possess him in her heart, mind, and mouth. She welcomes the distrust of the world; because he said that she would be so distrusted.
“She is not afraid to gather up sinners and keep them, even though they pervert her policy and misrepresent her spirit; because it is her function to sweep humanity – dregs and all – into her net. She is not ashamed to count miracles among her jewels, because he said that his Bride should wear them.
“She rejoices in her self-control, the rigidity of her attitude, the subordination of every member of her being to her supreme will, because it is at his wish that it is so, that the world whom he loves, and for whom he gave Himself, may recognise her as Queen, and Himself as King.”Robert Hugh Benson, The Religion of the Plain Man
How true is it, therefore, that Christ is still living among us! In his Mystic Body, he is today the same as he was when, in his real natural body, he walked this earth.
§2 — The History of the Church is like the History of Christ
Turning now to the history of the Church in its relation to the world, and comparing this history of the Mystic Body with the history of Christ while on earth, we cannot but be struck by the remarkable similarity. The history of the Church is the continuation, the reproduction, of the life of Christ on earth.
Consider the following points:
1. We are familiar with the humble beginnings of the life of Jesus; Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth speak of poverty, of toil, of concern about material things.
And was not the beginning of the Church humble? The twelve fishermen were poor, they had to toil in the ministry, they had many anxieties and much to suffer. And do we not find today the same obscure and humble beginnings of the Church in mission countries? Poverty is a universal character of these beginnings, difficulty and toil – severe toil is the lot of the missionary. It is the beginning of the life of Christ in his Mystic Body in each particular place.
2. Our Lord preached the truth with courage: he said to Pilate: “For this was I born, and for this I came into the world, that I might give testimony to the truth.” He showed the way to heaven, he rebuked sin, he went about doing good, he was compassionate to the sick.
The life of the Church can be described in the same words. She preaches the truth. She never deflects from the truth, no matter what difficulties she has to face; she shows the way to heaven and helps souls to heaven by the Sacraments; she rebukes sin. Her good works are so prominent that they are an evident proof that she is divine.
3. The life and teaching of Christ drew many to him. He had friends, real friends and lovers – in spite of their human weakness. We recall Peter and John, the Apostles, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, Magdalen, Martha and the Holy Women. But many resisted his teaching and turned against him. He had many and bitter enemies. They spoke against him, they said he was a dreamer, a seducer. They accused him of being a glutton and a drinker of wine. Finally they sought his death, they laid hands on him, they scourged him, they mocked him and spat upon him, they crucified him, and in his hour of trial many of his best friends failed him – Jesus had predicted all this.
His enemies thought all was over on Good Friday, that Christ was finally destroyed; but it was not so, Christ could not be finally destroyed; after three days he was again in full life and full strength.
The life of Christ in his Mystic Body, from this point of view also, is the continuation of his life in his real Body. The Church has many devoted friends and lovers – the saints, the great Christians and the ordinary good faithful. But the Church has many and very bitter enemies. Many there are whose life-work is to thwart her action: in her teaching, in her Catholic schools, in her ruling of the faithful, and in her work of sanctifying souls. Many there are who would destroy the Church, or at least reduce her influence to nothing. Often in her long history her enemies planned her destruction; many a time they thought they were sure of success, that nothing could save her.
But it was not so.
After the most terrible trials, even after her friends had proved false – as the Apostles failed Christ – she was there as always, living, strong, confident. Her enemies have passed away, their power and their threats have become a mere memory, but the unchanged Church is still there; like Christ himself, she could not be destroyed. She is ever the same, ever living the life of Christ. She follows the murderer to his prison-cell, the abandoned to the dim haunts of sin, as Christ the Good Shepherd sought the lost sheep and brought peace to the sinner. Words of absolution are whispered as Christ whispered the saving words that opened Heaven to the penitent thief. Many of her enemies are saved in the end. Jesus looked with compassion on his enemies; so does the Church. The loving arms of Jesus are felt to be present in the gentle mercy and care of his Bride – the Mystic Body.
The striking similarity of the life of Christ in his Mystic Body and his life two thousand years ago in his natural body, was predicted by Christ himself. A careful reading of the Gospel brings out this truth. It is of course especially true of his sufferings. To quote but one text: “You shall be hated by all men for my sake; but a hair of your head shall not perish. In your patience you shall possess your soul.”
4. Consider now the glory of the Body of Christ. The Mystic Body is destined for Glory. The Church Militant will become the Church Triumphant.
The life of Jesus in his natural body was not merely a life characterised by toil and suffering. The days of the Passion were succeeded by the risen life of forty days, and by the life in heaven of endless days.
The risen life speaks of tranquil joy, of the quiet peace that followed the storm of the Passion, of the security of victory over Satan and the world and the flesh, which the risen Christ offers to the souls who believe he is truly risen.
The character of the risen life appears in each of the Gospel episodes that followed the Resurrection. There is a character of calm serenity of peace – the tranquillity of order – in all these scenes. The first words of the risen Jesus to the Apostles were “Peace be to you” – words which he repeated. The character of the life of the Apostles from that day forward was to be its peace, its security, its tranquil contentment, even amid the pain of persecution and the anxiety of the work of building-up the Mystic Body of Christ.
The Life of the Mystic Body is also a life of calm confidence, of peace, of security, like the risen life of Jerusalem and Galilee. The Church has always the sense of security and contentment; holy joy radiates from the life of the Mystic Body all over the world.
The members of the Mystic Body, especially those who are living a full spiritual life, know from their own experience the reality of the peace and tranquillity of soul that comes from the mere fact that they are members of the Mystic Body; and they become more conscious of this life of peace and serenity of soul according as they become more perfect in their imitation of Christ in his life of patient bearing of pain, because his heavenly Father so willed it.
The Life of the Mystic Body in this world unites together and renews both the suffering and the risen life of Jesus.
But the suffering life and the risen life of Jesus were succeeded by the glorious life in Heaven, and the same is true of his life in his Mystic Body.
The Crucifix speaks to us of the shame the contempt, the humiliation that like a mantle shrouded the natural body of Christ. For our sake “He was saturated with reproaches.” But this shame and contempt passed away, and that real Body of Christ, once so ill-treated, is now in the glory of heaven at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
The Feast of the Ascension, which follows forty days after the week of the Passion, brings before us the eternal glory of the body of Our Saviour. As the shame was in the presence of the Apostles, so also was the glorious Ascension. Before them he lay on the ground in the weakness of his agony and before them he ascended to the glory of heaven. The glory of the real Body was shown to Peter and James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. Their delight at the vision of the divine splendour was expressed by Peter when he said: “It is good for us to be here; let us stay here for ever.” These three Apostles had seen his miraculous power and his glorious Transfiguration. And now, in heaven, they see the glory that streams from his wounded body after his Ascension to the right hand of God.
In like manner, the Mystic Body of Christ shares the shame of the real Body. It is scoffed at and despised. But it also shares his glory. The Feast of All Saints is the feast of the glory of the Mystic Body. This feast brings before us the Church Triumphant, the multitude of the members of the Mystic Body who are now before the throne of God in the Kingdom of Heaven. St. John, the beloved disciple, was shown the kingdom in vision.
“I saw a great multitude” he tells us, “which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white garments and with palms in their hands.”The Apocalypse
The palms of victory; for they had conquered the difficulties, the sufferings, the shame. And this multitude – the Mystic Body triumphant – shares now in the glory of Christ in the eternal kingdom of his Father: “Come ye, blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you.”
Many Catholics have only an incomplete idea of the Mystic Body of Christ, because they do not recall often enough and keep before their minds the Church Triumphant, the Mystic Body of Christ in the glory and endless peace of the celestial kingdom.
§3 — To Love the Church is to Love Christ
A great, a far-reaching conclusion comes now clearly before us. Since Christ lives and toils and suffers now in his Mystic Body, we see that to love the Church is to love Christ.
“In quantum quisque amat Ecclesiam, in tantum habet spiritum Christi.” (“In so far as anyone loves the Church, in so far he has the spirit of Christ.”) These clear words of one of the Fathers give us an easy test of our love for God.
[Consider also Fr Faber:]
“A man’s love of the Church is the surest test of his love of God. A Catholic knows that the whole Church is informed with the Holy Ghost. The divine life of the Paraclete, his counsels, his inspirations, his workings, his sympathies, his attractions, are in it everywhere. There is nothing in the Church or about it, however seemingly trivial, transient, temporal, or indirect, which is not more likely than not to contain some of the fire of the Holy Ghost; and this likelihood is to the good Catholic the cause of a perpetual and universal reverence for the Church.
“The gift of infallibility is but a concentration, the culminating point, the solemn official outspeaking of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the Church. While it calls, like revelation, for absolute submission of heart and soul; all the minor arrangements and ways and dispositions of the Church call for general submission, docility and reverence, because of the whole Church being a shrine filled with the life of the Holy Ghost.”Fr Frederick Faber, The Precious Blood
Hence, in a word, to obey the Church is to obey Christ – to obey her laws regarding fasting, regarding Catholic schools, regarding secret societies – to submit to her ruling is to submit to Christ. To venerate her ministers is to venerate Christ. To be guided by her bishops and her priests – who are our spiritual fathers and on whose ministration our salvation depends so much – to be guided by them, is to be guided by Christ.
To love the Church is to love Christ.
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Elsewhere in the same book, Fr Kearney discusses some of the consequences that flow from Christ’s care of the Church, and the example of some of the saints who have loved Christ’s Mystical Body in the way described.
Love of the Saints for the Church
The loving care of Christ for his Body which is the Church has this special consequence — the love for, and the devotion to the Church of Christ which we find in all the saints. In this they are imitators of their Lord and Saviour. Consider the following examples:
1° St. Thomas a Becket is often presented by historians as an ambitious Churchman. Centuries after his martyrdom he was hated by the Reformers. We can still see how his Mass was scraped out of the missal preserved in Trinity College, Dublin. His real mind is seen from his letters. Take for instance the following, written to the Bishop of London, who tried to persuade him to yield to the King in his usurpation of the rights of the Church:
“In this matter I will neither spare you nor anyone else, no, not even an angel from heaven; but the moment I hear any such advice I will give this answer: Get thee behind me, Satan, thou dost not relish the things of God. Far from me be this folly, may God keep me from the madness of ever being persuaded by any argument to negotiate the bartering of the body of Christ. For thus I would be like to Judas who sold Christ, and my Lord the King would be like the Jews who bought himself.”St Thomas Becket, Ep. 130
2° Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas to Our Lady:
“I entreat thee, thou who art my only mother, thou Gate of Heaven, and advocate of sinners, that at the end of life, thou wouldst not suffer me, thy unworthy servant, to turn aside from the holy Catholic Faith.”St Thomas Aquinas
3° St. Catherine of Siena’s love of the Church, which she calls the Sweet Spouse of Christ. St. Catherine wrote to her confessor, Blessed Raymond of Capua:
“I had desired with a desire which grew beyond all measure (without indeed having merited it) the honour of God, the salvation of souls, the reform and advancement of the Holy Church. But my desire to give my life for the Truth and for the sweet Spouse of Christ was not satisfied. The multitude of my sins have prevented my blood from giving life, from bringing light to blinded souls, from cementing one stone in the Mystic Body of the Church. Ah, how happy I should have been, if I had given my blood for the sweet Spouse and the salvation of souls.”St Catherine of Siena
Again, she wrote to Blessed Raymond:
“This is not the time for sleeping, but for shaking off the slumber of negligence, for dissipating the blindness of ignorance, for announcing the Truth, without ever soiling it by fear, for spreading it bountifully, for being ready to give your life if need be, intoxicated, as you shall be, with the Blood of the spotless Lamb, drawn from the bosom of the holy Spouse, the Church.”St Catherine of Siena
The Blessed Raymond had escaped, miraculously as he himself thought, the snares of Queen Joan of Naples, who wished to prevent the embassy of the true Pope from telling the King of France the real state of affairs as regarded the Schism. Catherine, urged by her continual desire of martyrdom, answered the letter of Blessed Raymond:
“God has, in this affair, wished to show you your own imperfection, and he has allowed you to see that you are as yet only a child, not a man. You have rejoiced in a grace which he granted your weakness. Ah, my poor little Father, what a happiness it would have been for your soul and mine, if with your blood, for love of the blood of Christ, you had cemented one stone of the Holy Church! Truly, we have reason to weep that your slight virtue has deprived us of so great a blessing.”St Catherine of Siena
The last thirteen years of her life were a ceaseless self-immolation: to reform existing evils in the Church by rousing the Holy Father to attend to them, then to end the wars against the Holy See, to settle the wretched Schism against Urban VI, and finally to promote the Crusade.
To Catherine the Holy Father is always, “the sweet Christ on earth.” She gave years of her life to bring him back to Rome from Avignon. Last of all, she offered her life for the triumph of the true Pope:
“O Eternal God,” she prayed, “accept the sacrifice of my life for the Mystic Body of the Church. I can give thee only what thou thyself hast given. Take my heart and bruise it over the countenance of the Spouse.”St Catherine of Siena
God took her at her word. According to the contemporary account, her body was literally bruised: it was possible to count her very bones, while her soul was at the same time crushed with a mystical burden of sin.
As the end drew near, the Saint prayed most especially for the Church, for which, she said, she gave her life. She interceded, likewise, for Urban VI, whom she recognised as the lawful Pope, and pledged her spiritual sons to sacrifice their lives, if need be, for this truth.
St. Catherine’s love of the Church is especially to be seen in her prayers. The magnanimity of her prayer is one of the most remarkable features of her soul: she was wholly occupied with the salvation of the entire world.
The consuming thought of her life was the fearful wave of sin that invaded “the Garden of the Church.” God had assured her that he was ready to pardon the world by means of his faithful servants; therefore she ceased not to urge her disciples to arise as mediators in the Mystic Body of Christ. Other Saints in their prayers ask for the pardon of their own sins, for the increase of the Kingdom of God in their own souls. But he who would pray with Catherine must enlarge his heart: his prayer must become universal, truly catholic, vast as the Church, as the world.
“O Trinity, Eternal, Infinite, to thee I hasten despite my littleness, and beseech thee in union with the Mystic Body of the holy Church, to purify by thy grace all stain in my soul.
“O Divine and Eternal Charity, I implore thee to have mercy on thy people. I will not leave thy presence until I see thee show them mercy. Ah, what would it profit me to have life, if thy people be in death, if darkness overhang thy Spouse? […]
“O Trinity, O Fire that burneth always without extinction, enlarge my heart for the salvation of the world: not that I can produce any fruit of myself but by virtue of thy Charity, the principle of every good.
“Punish on me, O God, the sin of my sister, whatever it may be; it is I who am the cause of her misfortune, it is I who ought to be punished, not she. O Lord, I will not leave this place alive, whilst thou wilt not have granted to my sister the pardon which I ask.”St Catherine of Siena
The hatred of the world for the Church, the Body of Christ.
As the saints imitate Our Lord in love for the Church, so the world imitates the demon in hatred for the Mystic Body. Christ himself prophesied this: “You shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake.” There is no need to establish this truth, it was always evident through the centuries and it is evident today. In our time, the martyrs are more numerous than at any time in the Church’s history; the hatred of the church’s enemies is more diabolical and facility of communication has made it more universal and more subtle.
But Christ is ever with her.
From the facts of this persecution there follows, for the members of the Mystic Body, the serious obligation of doing all they can against this spirit of hostility to the Church, to her Bishops and her priests. And the fact of the persecution should compel the lovers of the Church to do something in the way of reparation for the damage done to the Mystic Body – the damage is done to Christ himself. This work of reparation we can do by resisting the attraction of pleasure and by radiating the Christian spirit in our lives.
Grant to thy Church, we beseech thee, O merciful God, that having been formed by the Holy Spirit, it may not be troubled by any hostile attacks. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
pp 41-47. Reprinted with permission from the Bellarmine Forums.
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