R. Z SAYS that this is going to be unpopular among “dissenters and liberals.” I would add to the dissenters and liberals a certain segment of conservatives who persist in a 500-year-old schism. You can almost hear the clack clack clack of smoke rising from their blogging keyboards; you can almost see the Fundies in their pulpits dusting off their “Whore of Babylon” references.
AN ABSURD DICHOTOMY
POPE FRANCIS CELEBRATED Mass today, the Feast of St. George, in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, and in his homily said the following words about where it is possible, and where it is not, to find Jesus:
Christian identity is belonging to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: “Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy.” And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful.
It is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. Well, shazaam. Extra Ecclesiam nulla Iesu.
A lot of conservative Protestants indeed do attempt—in the words of Paul VI—to create the “absurd dichotomy” of Christ or the Church. I have heard the Protestant who has said of Catholics, “They worship a Church, and not Christ,” as if Christ can be divorced from his Bride. Or who has assumed that Christ can be found in any one of the myriad of denominations, as if Christ were a serial adulterer, an unfaithful spouse. But Christ has one Bride.
For all the talk about ecumenism, it is important to emphasize what ecumenism does and does not mean. True ecumenism is not possible apart from the truth. And the Truth subsists fully and substantially within the Catholic Church. That is so because that is how Christ intended it to be; and you cannot forgo Christ’s purposes in favor of your own individual preferences or pet theologies.
What Pope Francis is saying is something along these lines: You may talk a great deal about Jesus; you may admire Jesus; you may love and adore Jesus. But outside the Church, you haven’t found Jesus. This might sound like a subtle distinction, but it is important and it matters. Christ is present in His Church; Christ is present in the sacraments; Christ is present in the Eucharist. That is where all the action of grace is, and there alone is the soul at rest.
ALL THE KING’S HORSES
TO SPEAK PERSONALLY for a moment: I know this, and feel it strongly today, because today happens to be the two-year anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church. And I remember. I remember my first confession and my first Eucharist and when I stood to say, “I believe and profess all that the Catholic Church claims to be revealed by God,” because that changes everything forever and you cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again once the Protestant egg has cracked. You have truly found, and you know it. And that is not possible unless Jesus is there and nowhere else you may ever look to find Him.
Many will be sorely angry at the truth the pope spoke today, but they will be angry only because they know that what he says is so, even if they won’t admit it. They know.
Granted there is some theological nuance here, because the Church doesn’t say that non-Catholics necessarily won’t be saved. And that is absolutely true—though the key word here is “necessarily.” Complacency about this matter is very dangerous. If the Church talks about “invincible ignorance,” “invincible” is a pretty strict standard. And if the Church talks about “separated brethren,” “separated” is a pretty stark condition to be in.
But all that nuance aside, the crucial thing for those outside the Church to understand is this: You are living a life that is less than what Christ intended. Christ intended for grace to be poured out through the sacraments; you don’t have them. Christ intended for us to encounter Him—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Eucharist; you haven’t received it. Christ intended for us to be led into “all truth”—those were his words: all truth—within the Church; you are being shepherded, by your own admission, by fallible teachers. You may talk about Christ until you are blue in the face, but you do not know Him; you have not encountered Him; and your life is less than what He meant for it to be.
But there is a way to come home, and it is more than you could possibly die for joy to receive.
Extra Ecclesiam nulla Iesu.
God bless Pope Francis.
Update: As I suspected, it hasn’t taken long for the Protestant hand-wringing over the pope’s words to begin.