No Christ, No Church; Know Christ, Know the Church

On the Readings for May 18, 2014, the Fifth Sunday of Easter


• Acts 6:1-7
• Psa 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
• 1 Pet 2:4-9
• Jn 14:1-12

Perhaps you, like me, know people who express belief in Jesus, but have no interest in the Church.

I once conversed with a young non-Catholic man who summed up this approach by saying, matter-of-factly: “I’m into Jesus, not the Church.” There were several reasons for his attitude, including the faulty belief that since the Church is only an external institution (as he apparently perceived “the Church”), it can have little to do with inner, spiritual transformation.

However, since Jesus did found the Church—described by Saint Paul as the body of Christ (cf., 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 5:23; Col 1:24)—it behooves us to be both “into Jesus” and “into the Church.” Today’s readings help us appreciate this since they provide insights into the nature and purpose of the Church. Jesus himself established a basic foundation during his Last Supper discourse. Talking about the mystery of his relationship with the Father, a central theme in the Gospel of John, the Son explained that he came to reveal the Father, to do the Father’s works, and to give his disciples the ability to perform similar—even greater—works. “Whoever has seen me,” Jesus declared, “has seen the Father.”

The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, in writing about this perfect, loving relationship between the Father and Son, observed that the Son “steps forward (with divine authority) in order to make the Father visible, and simultaneously he steps back (as the Suffering Servant) in order to reveal the Father, not himself. … In other words, the Father reveals himself by revealing the Son; he gives himself by giving his Son…” (In The Fullness of Faith, Ignatius Press). What does this have to do the Church? The answer comes into sharper focus further on in John’s Gospel, when Jesus offers this stunning prayer to the Father, “The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (Jn 17:23-24).

So, the Father has sent the Son to redeem humanity by drawing us back to himself through love and mercy into the life-giving communion of the Trinity. “He calls together all men,” the Catechism explains, “scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church” (CCC, par 1). Mankind was originally a single family. When Adam and Eve sinned, man’s communion with God was suddenly ruptured. God, however, already had a plan of salvation that would create a new family bound together by divine life. This family is the Church, the “household of God” and “the pillar and support of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Or, as St. Peter puts it in today’s Epistle, we are being “built into a spiritual house”; we are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own…”

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles provides a snapshot of the Church’s concrete, external character. As the early Church grew rapidly, the Apostles recognized the need to grant authority to other men—the first deacons—to carry out certain duties. This was accomplished through prayer and the laying on of hands by the Apostles, part of the continuing work of Christ in his Church, accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Such apostolic action was all about spreading the word of God and drawing men to the Father. In that way the unity of the Twelve upheld and served the communion of the Church; the Apostles, in continuing the work of the Son, “would reflect and witness to the communion of the divine persons” (CCC, par 877). The Church, then, is a gift of the Trinity bringing man into saving communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If you’re “into” Jesus, you must be “into” the Church.

 (This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the April 20, 2008, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Carl E. Olson 1220 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.