We Believe in One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

One of the books I’m currently reading is Timothy Radcliffe’s, Why Go to Church?: The Drama of The Eucharist. I picked it up at the suggestion of a friend of mine after I talked about how much I enjoyed Radliffe’s earlier book, Why Be A Christian? The book explores the “drama” of the Eucharistic celebration in three acts: listening to the word of God (by which we grow in faith), preparation of the gifts through the Eucharistic Prayer (in which we are given hope), and the Our Father through the end of the Mass (in which our hope culminates in love).

There is much in the book that I have thought worthwhile thus far, but one thing that stood out for me – because it is something that is such an issue for so many people today – is the part of the creed where we recite our belief in “one holy, catholic and Apostolic Church.” Many believe they can have God without Church, either because they think the Church serves no purpose (“I pray on my own, why do I need to go to Mass”) or because they are disgruntled by the things like the child abuse scandal or other instances of Church corruption through the ages. (Radcliffe freely acknowledges the difficulty of swallowing the claim that the Church is holy given the indisputable evidence that “members of the Church have often been corrupt, cruel, mendacious and cowardly.”) Or, like the difficulty I had when I first came back to Catholicism after years as a Buddhist, they don’t know how to deal with the fact that they have difficulty with certain aspects of Church teaching.

Nonetheless, Radcliffe maintains that it is nonsensical to proclaim a belief in the Trinity without a belief in “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” To claim the Church is catholic and apostolic is to claim “that neither distance in time from the apostles, nor in space, can destroy our unity in the Holy Spirit. We are separated by two millennia from that small band of disciples who encountered the risen Christ, and yet we are one community with them.” To say anything else, he claims, is to give death the victory. To say the Church is catholic says “that we belong to each other more profoundly in Christ than we do to any nation, tribe or family.” Anything else, he argues, gives the victory to the hatred and divisions that led to Good Friday.

As to the sins of the humans who are part of the Church, Radcliffe reminds us that this was so from the beginning. “Jesus chose as its pillars Peter who denied him and Paul who killed Jesus’ disciples. This fragile and sinful community is the place in which we can all be at home.” Proclaiming our belief that the Church is holy, proclaims our belief “that Christ’s victory over sin on Easter morning cannot be undone.” However corrupt and sinful members of Christ’s Body may be, love has anticipated our failures and forgiven them.” We are sinners, but resurrection continues to happen among us, Christ continues or rise in and through us.

There is a lot to ponder here.


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