B. Jose M Escriva

The Supernatural Aim of the Church

by St. Josemaria Escriva

A homily given on 28 May 1972 Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity  


Let me begin by reminding you of something Saint Cyprian tells us: The universal Church is a people which derives its unity from the unity of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. [1] It is not out of place therefore to preach about the Church on this feast of the most Blessed Trinity. The Church is rooted in this fundamental mystery of our catholic faith: the mystery of God who is one in essence and three in persons.

The Fathers all see the Church as centred in the Trinity. Look how clearly Saint Augustine puts it: God then dwells in his temple. Not only the Holy Spirit but also the Father and the Son ... Therefore, the holy Church is the temple of God, the temple of the entire Trinity. [2]

Next Sunday when we gather again, we will consider another marvellous aspect of the Church. We will fix our attention on the marks of the Church that we will recite in a few moments in the Creed after singing our belief in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit: Et in Spiritum Sanctum, we say, and in unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam [3] We confess that there is only one Church which is holy, catholic and apostolic.

All those who have truly loved the Church have known how to relate these four marks to the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, which is the most ineffable mystery of our faith. We believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of God, in which we receive the faith In her we know the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and are baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit [4]

Difficult moments

We need to meditate frequently on the fact that the Church is a deep, great mystery, so that we never forget it. We cannot fully understand the Church on this earth. If men, using only their reason, were to analyse it, they would see only a group of people who abide by certain precepts and think in a similar way. But that would not be the Church.

In the Church we Catholics find our faith, our norms of conduct, our prayer, our sense of fraternity. Through it we are united with all our brothers who have already left this life and are being cleansed in Purgatory - the Church suffering - and with those who already enjoy the beatific vision and love forever the thrice holy God - the Church triumphant. The Church is in our midst and at the same time transcends history. It was born under the mantle of our Lady and continues to praise her on earth and in heaven as its mother.

Let us strengthen our faith in the supernatural character of the Church. Let us profess it with shouts, if necessary, for there are many, physically within the Church and even in high places, who have forgotten these capital truths. They try to propose an image of the Church which is neither holy nor one. Neither would it be apostolic since it is not founded on the rock of Peter. Their substitute is not catholic, because it is riddled with unwarranted irregularities which are mere human caprices.

This is nothing new. Since Jesus Christ Our Lord founded the Church, this Mother of ours has suffered constant persecution. In times past the attacks were delivered openly. Now, in many cases, persecution is disguised. But today, as yesterday, the Church continues to be buffeted from many sides.

Let me say once again that I am not a pessimist by habit or by temperament. How can we be pessimistic if Our Lord has promised that he will be with us until the end of the world? [5]

The effusion of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles gathered together in the Cenacle provided the first public manifestation of the Church. [6]

Our Father God is a loving Father. To help us understand this, Scripture graphically tells us that he takes care of us like the apple of his eye . [7] He never ceases to sanctify, through the Holy Spirit, the Church founded by his beloved Son. But the Church is going through difficult moments. Confused shouting is heard on all sides, and all the errors which have occurred in the course of the centuries are reappearing with great fanfare.

Faith. We need faith. If we look with the eyes of faith, we will see that the Church carries within herself the explanation for her existence and purpose. Anyone who contemplates her with eyes filled with love for the truth, must recognise that, quite independently of those who are her members and the ways in which the reality that is the Church is expressed in the materialworld, she carries within herself a unique and universal message of light, which is liberating, necessary and divine. [8]

We cannot but help feel sadness invade our soul when we hear heretical voices around us. And that is what they are, for I have never liked euphemisms. We see that the sanctity of marriage and of the priesthood is attacked without fear of rebuke. We see people deny the immaculate conception and the perpetual virginity of our holy mother Mary, along with all the other privileges and gifts with which God adorned her. We see the perpetual miracle of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, the primacy of Peter and even the resurrection of Our Lord put in doubt. How can anyone not feel tempted to sadness? Have confidence, for the Church is incorruptible. The Church will shake if her foundation shifts; but can Christ be moved? As long as Christ remains her immovable base, the Church will remain strong until the end of time. [9]

Human and divine elements in the Church

Just as in Christ there are two natures, both a human and a divine one, so by analogy we can refer to the presence in the Church of human and divine elements. No one can fail to see the human part. The Church, in this world, is for men, who are its raw material. And when we speak of men we speak of freedom, which permits the co-existence of grandeur and meanness, of heroism and failure.

If we were to focus only on the human side of the Church, we would never understand her. We would still be distant from the threshold of her central mystery. Sacred Scripture uses many terms derived from everyday life to describe God's kingdom and its presence among us in the Church. It compares her to a sheepfold, to a flock, to a house, to a seed, to a vine, to a field in which God plants or builds. But one expression stands out and sums up all the rest: the Church is Christ's body.

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. [10] Saint Paul also writes that all of us, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. [11] How luminous is our faith! We are all in Christ, for He is the head of the body, the Church [12]

This is the faith which Christians have always professed. Listen with me to what Saint Augustine tells us: The whole Christ is made up of head and body, a truth which I am sure you know well. The head is our Saviour himself who suffered under Pontius Pilate and now, after his resurrection from among the dead, is seated at the right hand of the Father. And his body is the Church Not this or that church, but the Church that is spread throughout the world. Not only the one which exists among the men now living, for those who went before us and those who are to come to the end of the world also belong to it. The entire Church formed by the assembly of all the faithful since all of them are members of Christ, has Christ as its head. He governs his body from heaven. And although the head is not visible to the body, it is united to it by love. [13]

You should understand now why the visible Church cannot be severed from the invisible. The Church is, at one and the same time, a mystical body and a juridical body. Pope Leo XIII tells us: By the very fact that it is a body, the Church is visible to the eyes. [14] In the visible body of the Church, in the behaviour of men who make it up here on earth, we find weaknesses, vacillations and acts of treason. But that is not the whole Church, nor is it to be confused with this unworthy behaviour. On the other hand, here and now, there is no shortage of generosity, of heroism, of holy lives that make no noise, that are spent with joy in the service of their brothers in the faith and of all souls.

I would also like you to consider that even if human failings were to outnumber acts of valour, the clear undeniable mystical reality of the Church, though unperceived by the senses, would still remain. The Church would still be the Body of Christ, Our Lord himself, the action of the Holy Spirit and the loving presence of the Father.

The Church is, therefore, inseparably human and divine. It is a divine society in origin, and supernatural in its aim and in the means that are directly ordered to this end. But in so far as it is made up of men, it is a human community. [15] It lives and acts in the world, but its goal and strength are not here but in heaven.

It would be a serious mistake to attempt to separate the charismatic Church, supposedly the sole follower of Christ's spirit, from the juridical or institutional Church, the handiwork of men, subject to historical vicissitudes. There is only one Church. Christ founded only one Church which is visible and invisible. It has a hierarchical and organized body and a fundamental structure by divine law, with an intimate supernatural life that animates, sustains and vivifies it.

We cannot fail to recall that when Christ instituted his Church, he did not conceive it or form it in such a way that it would contain a number of generically similar but distinct communities without the bonds that make the Church indivisible and singular... And thus when Jesus spoke of this mystical edifice, he mentions only one Church which he calls his own: 'I will build my Church' (Matt 16:18) . Any other one you can imagine outside of this cannot be his true Church since it was not founded by him. [16]

Faith, I repeat. Let us believe more, asking the Blessed Trinity, whose feast we celebrate today, for greater faith.

Anything can happen, except for the thrice holy God to abandon his spouse.

The Church's aim

In the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul affirms that the mystery of God, announced by Christ, is carried out in the Church. God the Father has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all. [17] The mystery of God is to set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. [18]

It is an inscrutable mystery, of pure gratuitous love. For he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him [19] God's love is limitless. Saint Paul also tells us that our Saviour desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth [20]

This, and no other, is the aim of the Church: the salvation of souls, one by one. For this reason the Father sent his Son, and now I am sending you out in my turn. [21] This is the origin of the command to teach his doctrine and to baptize, so that the most Blessed Trinity may live in men's souls in grace. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age. [22]

In those simple and sublime words that conclude Saint Matthew's gospel we find the obligation to preach the truths of faith, the need for sacramental life, the promise of Christ's continual assistance to his Church. You cannot be faithful to Our Lord if you neglect these supernatural demands: to instruct in Christian faith and morality and to frequent the sacraments. It is with this mandate that Christ founded his Church. Everything else is secondary.

Salvation in the Church

We cannot forget that the Church is not merely a way of salvation; it is the only way. This is not a human opinion, but the express will of Christ: he who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. [23] This is why we assert that the Church is a necessary means of salvation. No later than the second century, Origen wrote: If anyone wants to be saved, let him come to this house so that he can obtain salvation . . . Let no one deceive himself: outside of this house, that is outside of the Church, no one will be saved. [24] Of the deluge, Saint Cyprian says: If someone had escaped outside of Noah's ark then we would admit that someone who abandoned the Church might escape condemnation. [25]

Extra Ecclesiam, nulla salus. That is the continual warning of the Fathers. Outside the Catholic Church you can find everything except salvation, Saint Augustine admits. You can have honour and sacraments: you can sing 'alleluia' and respond 'amen' You can uphold the gospel, have faith in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, and preach that faith But never, except in the catholic Church, can you find salvation. [26]

Nonetheless, as Pius XII lamented little more than twenty years ago, some reduce to an empty formula the need to pertain to the true Church in order to obtain eternal salvation. [27] This dogma of faith is at the root of the Church's co-redemptive activity. It spells out the Christian's grave apostolic responsibility. Among Christ's express commandments is the categorical one to incorporate ourselves in his Mystical Body by Baptism. And our Saviour not only commanded that everyone enter the Church, but also established that the Church be the means of salvation, without which no one can reach the kingdom of celestial glory. [28]

It is a matter of faith that anyone who does not belong to the Church will not be saved; and anyone who is not baptized does not enter the Church. Justification cannot take place after the promulgation of the gospel, without Baptism or its desire, the Council of Trent established. [29]

This is a continual demand of the Church which on the one hand stimulates us to greater apostolic zeal, and on the other manifests clearly the infinite mercy of God with his creatures.

This is how Saint Thomas explained it: The sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to someone in two ways. First, in reality and desire, as is the case of those who are neither baptized nor wish to be baptized: which clearly indicates contempt of the sacrament for those who have the use of reason. Consequently those to whom Baptism is wanting thus, cannot obtain salvation: since neither sacramentally nor spiritually are they incorporated in Christ, through whom alone can salvation be obtained. Secondly, the sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to someone in reality but not in desire: for instance, when a man wishes to be baptized, but by some misfortune he is forestalled by death before receiving Baptism. Such a man can obtain salvation without actually being baptized, on account of desire for Baptism, a desire which is the outcome of 'faith that works by charity' whereby God, whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. [30]

God Our Lord denies no one supernatural and eternal happiness, although it is a completely free gift to which no one has a right, especially after sin. His generosity is infinite. It is a matter of common knowledge that those who suffer invincible ignorance of our most holy religion but carefully observe all the precepts of the Natural Law which are engraved by God in the hearts of all men, and want to obey God and lead an upright life, can obtain eternal life through the efficacious action of divine light and grace. [31]

God alone knows what goes on in the heart of each man, and he does not deal with souls en masse, but one by one. No one on this earth can make a judgement about the eternal salvation or condemnation of any individual.

Let us not forget that conscience can be culpably deformed and harden itself in sin, resisting the saving action of God. That is why it is necessary to spread Christ's doctrine, the truths of faith and the norms of Christian morality. That is also why we need the sacraments, all of which were instituted by Jesus Christ as instrumental causes of his grace [32] and remedies for the weaknesses that ensue from our fallen nature. [33] Finally, that is why we need to receive frequently the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

The awesome responsibility of all the Church's members and especially of its shepherds is made dear in Saint Paul's advice: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and in the name of his coming and of his kingdom: Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. [34]

A time of trial

I cannot say how often the prophetic words of the Apostle have been fulfilled, but you would have to be blind not to see how they are being carried out almost to the letter in our own time. People reject the doctrine contained in the law of God and of the Church. They twist the content of the beatitudes, translating them into a socio-political doctrine. They attack those who try to be humble, meek and pure of heart as ignorant or outdated partisans of things long ago consigned to the past. They refuse to bear the yoke of chastity and invent a thousand excuses to evade Christ's divine precepts.

There is one symptom that sums up this whole situation: the attempt to change the supernatural aims of the Church. When they speak of justice, some people no longer understand by it a life of sanctity, but a particular political struggle, more or less influenced by Marxism, which is incompatible with the Christian faith. For them, liberation does not imply a personal battle to flee from sin, but merely a human task which may be noble and just in itself, but which is meaningless for a Christian, if it implies losing sight of the one thing necessary [35] - the eternal salvation of souls, one by one.

With a blindness that comes from separating themselves from God - this people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me [36] - some fabricate an image of the Church that has nothing to do with what Christ founded. Even the holy sacrament of the altar, the renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary, is profaned or reduced to a mere symbol of what they call the 'communion of men with each other'. What would have become of souls if Our Lord had not sacrificed himself for us, to the last drop of his precious Blood? How can they despise this perpetual miracle of the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle? He has stayed with us so that we can talk to him and adore him. He has stayed with us as a foretaste of our future glory, so that we decide once and for all to follow in his footsteps.

These are times of trial, and we have to ask the Lord with an unceasing clamour [37] to shorten them, to look mercifully on his Church and to grant once again his supernatural light to the souls of her shepherds and of all the faithful. The Church has no reason to try to pander to men, since they, individually or in community, cannot save themselves. The only one who saves is God.

Loving the Church

We need to shout out loudly today - time and again those bold words of Saint Peter to a group of important people in Jerusalem: This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. [38]

Thus spoke the first Pope, the rock on which Christ built his Church. He was moved to do so by his filial devotion to the Lord and by his solicitude for the little flock entrusted to him. From him and from the rest of the Apostles, the first Christians learned to love the Church tenderly.

Have you seen, in contrast, how people talk heartlessly about our Holy Mother the Church nowadays? What a great consolation it is to read the ancient Fathers' ardent and loving phrases about the Church! Let us love the Lord our God; let us love his Church, Saint Augustine writes. Let us love Him as our Father, and her as our Mother. Let no one say: 'It is true that I still go to the idols and consult the possessed and the sorcerers, but I have not abandoned the Church, I am a Catholic. ' You may still be united to your Mother, but you offend your Father. Someone else might say: 'God forbid. I do not consult sorcerers or the possessed. I do not practise sacrilegious prophecies nor go to adore demons nor serve gods of stone. But I belong to the Donatist party. ' What use will it be to him not to offend his Father if his Father will avenge his Mother whom he offends? [39] And Saint Cyprian puts it more briefly: No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother. [40]

In our days many refuse to listen to the true doctrine about our Mother the Church. Some want to redesign the institution, trying to introduce foolishly into the mystical body of Christ a democracy modelled on that of some civil societies. Or worse yet, they clamour for an ecclesiastical body whose members would be equal in every respect. They refuse to believe that by divine institution the Church is made up of the Pope, with the bishops, priests, deacons and lay people. That is how Christ wanted it to be.

The Church is by divine will a hierarchical institution. The Second Vatican Council describes it as a society structured with hierarchical organs [41] in which the ministers are invested with a sacred power. [42] The hierarchy is not only compatible with freedom; it is at the service of the freedom of the children of God. [43]

The term democracy is meaningless in the Church which,let me insist, is hierarchical by divine will. But hierarchy means holy government and sacred order. In no way does it imply a merely human arbitrary order or a subhuman despotism. Our Lord established in the Church a hierarchical order which should not degenerate into tyranny, because authority is as much a call to serve as is obedience.

In the Church there is equality, because once baptized we are all equal, all children of the same God, our Father. There is no difference as Christians between the Pope and someone who has just joined the Church. But this radical equality does not mean that we can change the constitution of the Church in those things that were established by Christ. By expressed divine will there are different functions which imply different capacities, an indelible character conferred on the sacred ministers by the Sacrament of Orders. At the summit of this order is Peter's successor and, with him, and under him, all the bishops with the triple mission of sanctifying, governing and teaching.

Forgive me for being so insistent, but I must remind you again that the truths of the faith are not determined by majority vote. They make up the depositum fidei: the body of truths left by Christ to all of the faithful and entrusted to the Magisterium of the Church to be authentically taught and set forth.

It would be an error to think that since men seem to have become more aware of the bonds of mutual solidarity that unite them, we ought to change the constitution of the Church as if it needed updating. The times do not belong to men whether ecclesiastics or not. The times are God's, who is the Lord of history. And the Church can bring salvation to souls only if she remains faithful to Christ in her constitution and teaching, both dogmatic and moral.

Let us reject, therefore, the suggestion that the Church, ignoring the Sermon on the Mount, seeks a purely human happiness on earth, since we know that her only task is to bring men to eternal glory in heaven. Let us reject any purely naturalistic view that fails to value the supernatural role of divine grace. Let us reject materialistic opinions that exclude spiritual values from human life. Let us equally reject any secularizing theory which aims to equate the aims of the Church with those of earthly states, distorting its essence, institutions and activities into something similar to those of temporal society.

The Depths of God's wisdom

Remember what Saint Paul told us in the epistle we read today: O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counsellor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid ?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. [44] In the light of God's words, how petty seem human designs when they are used to undermine what Our Lord has established!

But I do not want you to ignore the fact that on all sides we find evidence of man's warped behaviour. Not being able to get around God, he turns and takes revenge on other men. Contemporaries of ours become terrible instruments of evil when they serve as occasion and inducement to sin, sowing confusion which leads people to commit intrinsically evil actions and flaunt them as good.

There has always been ignorance. But nowadays the most abysmal ignorance in matters of faith and morals is disguised at times with high sounding terms which appear theological. That is why Christ's commandment to his apostles which we have just heard in the Gospel, Go and teach all nations [45] takes on, if possible, an even more pressing urgency. We cannot be indifferent. We cannot fold our arms and go into seclusion within ourselves. Let us step forward to fight, for God, a great battle of peace, serenity and doctrine.

We must be understanding, covering everything over with the kind mantle of charity. But charity must strengthen us in the faith, increase our hope and make us strong to say loud and clear that the Church is not what some people pretend. The Church belongs to God and has only one aim, the salvation of souls. Let us draw near to Our Lord and speak to him face to face in our prayer. Let us ask him forgiveness for our personal weaknesses and let us make reparation for our sins and for those of other men who may not realize in this climate of confusion, how gravely they are offending God.

In the Holy Mass this Sunday, in the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary, Jesus Christ, priest and victim, will offer himself for the sins of men. Let us not leave him alone. Let there well up in our heart an ardent desire to be with him, next to the Cross. May our clamour rise to the Father, the merciful God, asking him to give back peace to the world, peace to the Church, peace to consciences.

If we do this, we will find next to the Cross Mary Most Holy, the Mother of God and our Mother. And guided by her blessed hand, we will come to Jesus, and through him to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

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FOOTNOTES 1 St Cyprian, De oratione dominica, 23, PL 4, 553 2 St Augustine, Enchiridion, 56, 15; PL 40, 259 3 Creed of the Mass 4 St John Damascene, Adversum Iconium ,12; PG 96,1358, D 5 cf Matt 28:20 6 Leo XIII, Encyclical, Divinum illud munus, AAS 29, p 648: Ecclesia, quae iam concepta, ex latere ipso secundi Adami velut in cruce dormientis orta erat, sese in lucem hominum insigni modo primitus dedit die celeberrima Pentecostes. Ipsaque die beneficia sua Spiritus Sanctus in mystico Christi Corpore prodere coepit 7 Deut 32:10 8 Paul VI, Address, 23 June 1966 9 St Augustine, Enarrationes in psalmos, 103, 2, 5; PL 37, 1353 10 Eph 4:11-12 11 Rom 12:5 12 Col 1:18 13 St Augustine, Enarrationes in psalmos, 56, 1; PL 36, 662 14 Leo XIII, Encyclical, Satis cognitum, AAS 28, p 710 15 ibid , p 724 16 ibid, pp 712-713 17 Eph 1:22-23 18 Eph 1:10 19 Eph 1:4 20 1 Tim 2:4 21 John 20:21 22 Matt 28:18-20 23 Mark 16:16 24 Origen, In Iesu nave homilia, 5, 3; PG 12, 841 25 St Cyprian, De catholicae Ecclesiae unitate, 6; PL 4, 503 26 St Augustine, Sermo ad Cassariensis ecclesiae plebem, 6, PL 43, 456 27 Pius XII, Encyclical, Humani generis, AAS 42, p 570 28 Pius XII, Letter from the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston, Dz-Sch 3868 29 Council of Trent, De iustificatione, ch 4, Dz-Sch 1524 30 St Thomas, S. Th. III, q68 a2 31 Pius IX, Encyclical, Quanto conficiamur moerore, 10 August 1863, Dz-Sch 1677 (2866) 32 cf St Thomas, S. Th. III, q62 a1 33 cf ibid, q61 a2 34 2 Tim 4:1-4 35 cf Luke 10:42 36 Matt 15:8 37 cf Is 58:1 38 Acts 4:11-12 39 St Augustine, Enarrationes in psalmos, 88, 2, 14; PL 37, 1140 40 St Cyprian, De catholicae Ecclesiae unitate, 6; PL 4, 502 41 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen gentium, 8 42 ibid, 18 43 cf Rom 8:21 44 Rom 11:33-36 45 Matt 28:19

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