The end of Matthew’s Gospel could be used as the statement to sum up the Catholic Church: “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, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
The words recorded by Matthew were received by the Apostles. After being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the emboldened disciples not only preached, but also most gave their lives for the faith. The direction is not just to the Jewish people, but all people. The call for baptism is a visible sign of the person’s change towards a life in relationship with Jesus. The baptized now become part of the community with the Divine. The teachings are more than the Mosaic Law followed by the Jews, but a law taken to a higher level, a law of being: the Beatitudes. Jesus promises His presence will remain, not just in the memory of the Apostles, but alive in the community — through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as well as the guidance of the Holy Spirit leading the Church.
I’ve heard it on more than one occasion the suggestion that the Catholic Church is an old fuddy-duddy institution and needs to get with the times. The wheels of change seem to move too slowly in the Catholic Church. Yet the whole point of the Church is to preserve what Jesus taught and to continue teaching in each generation. Upon the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II says, “Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church, and which she fulfills in every age.” The revised Catechism is rich and deep, and is a product of the inspiration wrought from the Second Vatican Council. I love the words Pope John Paul II uses in describing it. “The principal task entrusted to the Council by Pope John XXIII was to guard and present better the precious deposit of Christian doctrine in order to make it more accessible to the Christian faithful and to all people of good will. For this reason the Council was not first of all to condemn the errors of the time, but above all to strive calmly to show the strength and beauty of the doctrine of the faith.” (emphasis added)
While some may think reading the Catechism is a great way to fall asleep, that can be said of any textbook someone tries to read for entertainment. The Catechism is not a story, rather it contains an in-depth plunge into each line of the creed, each of the sacraments, the necessities of living a moral life, the ten Commandments, as well as an entire section dedicated to prayer. This amazing tool can inspire the faithful and help guide and clarify when questions arise. It illustrates why we can’t ask the Church to change based on what our secular culture wants.
In each generation the practices of the Church look a bit different, especially when compared to the societal ways of each time. I think it can be hard in our modern standards to realize just how rebellious Jesus was. No man would even talk to a woman who was not in his family, yet Jesus spoke to many, healing them too. While charity does have its roots in the Jewish faith, the Christian tradition took it to new levels. Today, it is so commonplace, it has become ordinary — part of the fabric of what it means to be human. It is upon us Catholics to continue, as members of the Church, making disciples of all nations, by our being. As we observe the commandments of Jesus, we continue weaving the fabric of the Divine into our world.
The faith is a true treasure, and the Church not only guards it against the cultural weaknesses in each era, but celebrates and brings to life all those who seek its wealth. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Holy Spirit will inspire next!