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To Love the Lord Is To Love His Church

By Deacon Keith Fournier
There is no "Plan B"; the Church is the Body of Christ.

To Love the Lord Is To Love His Church
By: Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

“On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He said, "Who are you, sir?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”” Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9

“Let us love the Lord our God; let us love His Church…Let us love Him as our Father and her as our mother”  St. Augustine

"No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother” St. Cyprian

“For where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is also; and where the Spirit of God is, there the Church is, and all grace. And the Spirit is truth”   St. Irenaeus of Lyons

“There is no plan B” I said to my evangelical Protestant friend. “The Lord has not changed His mind. His work continues through His Body, His Church, of which we are all members through our Baptism”.

This exchange came at the tail end of a lengthy and inspiring conversation, initiated by him. He is hungering for a deeper experience of worship and genuinely seeking a deeper life “in the Lord.” A long time participant in the pro-life movement, he has been touched by the writings of Pope John Paul II. He is also inspired by the witness of Catholic Christians. He asked me some very serious questions that day about what it means to be a Christian. Among other things, I spoke to my friend of the beautiful theology of communion that is the heart of Catholic ecclesiology. I could see in his eyes the interest that will, in God’s time, lead him even more deeply along the path I have witnessed so many others walk.  

This kind of encounter is happening with increasing frequency these days. I have spent much of my own public ministry, through the pro-life cause and my work in authentic ecumenism, in friendship and fellowship with evangelical Protestant Christians. There is a growing respect for - and interest in- the Catholic Church among many of our friends. For some, they have lived in an almost “Church-less” experience of Christianity; one that has so emphasized a “personal relationship” with Jesus (a vitally important truth) that they have not experienced the “horizontal bar” of the Cross, the belonging to His Body and the very real implications of living in ecclesial communion.

However, they are not alone. How many Catholic Christians truly understand the implications of their own Baptism? How many have experienced the grace of identification with the Church as a “mother”, or the interior dimension of living in the Church as a “communion” of persons, flowing from the Communion of the Trinity? Is this all supposed to only be the experience of the “mystics”, the talk of the Saints and Fathers, or, is it supposed to be the truly common experience of every Christian? I believe it is supposed to be the common experience of all who bear the name Christian.

In Catholic theology and practice, we teach -and we are called to practice - the truth that the early fathers, Saints and Councils throughout the ages have affirmed; to belong to Jesus is to belong to His Body. Our membership in the Church is a very real participation in the very life of God; what the Apostle Peter referred to as a “participation in the Divine nature”. (2 Peter 1:4) This kind of real, tangible experience of life in the Church is meant to be the lived experience of every Baptized Christian. For that to happen, we need, above all else, to pray. Prayer is the path to a fuller and fuller encounter with God. In that relationship we change. We enter into new life here and now; a life that is a sign of the fullness of life that is to come.

To love the Lord is to love His Church.

Catholic ecclesiology speaks clearly and simply of our Christian friends in other Christian communities, those who have been validly baptized in accordance with a Trinitarian formula, as already being in “imperfect communion” with the Church.  This is why Catholics do not “re-baptize” a Christian from another community who comes into the fullness that is Catholic Christian faith and life. We speak of them as coming into “full communion”, because they are already, in a very real sense, joined to the one Church which is the mother of all Christians.

It seems that everywhere I travel these days, people are talking about “the Church”. Sadly, the headlines are still filled with the continued uncovering of the reach of the terrible sin of the sexual abuse crisis which Pope John Paul II rightly referred to as a part of the “mystery of iniquity.” There is a purification of the Church underway and we are in the beginning of a needed Clergy Reform within her. However, this is not the first time in her 2,000 year history that such a season of purification and authentic reform has been necessary for the Church to be in fact what she is by vocation. Interestingly, such times of purification often precede or, as I believe is the case in our day, coincide with a great time of genuine renewal.

I believe that we are in the beginning of a great new missionary age of the Church. The good news is that along with the purification there is also a springtime beginning to bloom. For example, within the life of the Church, the “ecclesial movements” are flourishing. There is a movement toward a dynamically orthodox Catholic faith and life taking deep root among the young. I choose to not refer to any of this as a “re-covery” or even a “re-storation”, although it is both. The reason I avoid the “re” words is that such a language makes it sound as though we are going back to something. If we are, it is “back to the future”. The Church and the message that she proclaims is always about the future.

Christians believe in and are following a linear timeline of God’s plan in human history. This is all going somewhere; and that somewhere is into the fullness of some One, who is Jesus Christ. In Him we are all invited into a participation in the very life of the Trinitarian communion. Every man, woman and child on the face of the earth are invited into that communion of love. Proclaiming that and demonstrating it are the mission and the message of the Church. In Him we participate in the re-creation of the world, through the work of the Church. The Church is to be both the witness of - and the means to - the fulfillment of the mission of Redemptive Love revealed in the Paschal mystery of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no “plan B”.

To love the Lord is to love His Church.

This is what we discover in Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus, recorded in the Act of the Apostles. Saul was a known persecutor of the early Church when he heard Jesus ask that probing question “Why do you persecute me?” As far as we can tell through either Biblical or historic evidence, Saul had never even met Jesus, at least during Our Lord’s “earthly” ministry. Yet, so identified was Jesus with His Church, which is His Body, that He asked this profound question of Saul. Saul’s experience and His ongoing life response to the invitation of Jesus Christ became the framework for his continuing conversion and apostolic mission. Jesus is still identified with His Church.

To love the Lord is to love His Church.

The Church is not some “thing”, outside of us, which we try to “fix” or have our “issues” with. Upon our Baptism, the Church becomes our home, our mother, the place in which we now live our lives in Christ. That is not to say we do not sometimes have struggles with our mother. However, she always remains our mother. This profound ecclesial identification is not simply meant to be a source of inspiration or piety for the Christian; it is to become the pervading reality of our lives, now lived in Christ. To perceive, receive and to live this reality requires a continuing and dynamic conversion. We are sons and daughters of the Church. In living our lives in her we now carry forward in time the continuing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ who is the Head of His Body.

The early Church Fathers spoke of the Church as “the world reconciled.” In the great beauty of the Eastern Christian tradition, Catholic and Orthodox, we find an even deeper understanding; redemption and reconciliation are a part of a call to participation in the ongoing re-creation of the world in Christ. Thus, the Church is viewed as the world transfigured.

In its treatment of this “mystery” of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood. [St. Augustine, Serm. 96, 7, 9: PL 38, 588; St. Ambrose, De virg. 18, 118: PL 16, 297B; cf. already 1 Pet 3:20-21] [30, 953, 1219]”

Of course, until the Lord returns, this Church is still composed of human members and thus, she is both human and divine. She is wounded and in need of healing. However, she is the means through which we participate in the very life of God and the balm for healing the Nations. To her has been entrusted the Sacraments and the Word, the gift of a teaching office and the very means of salvation. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is not an optional “extra” that we add on to our lives. She is our life now because we live in Christ, from whose wounded side she was birthed at the tree of Calvary, the altar for the new world. Through faith we are invited, daily, into this mystery; and it is by grace that we will begin to comprehend it and live it.

To love the Lord is to love the Church.

Deacon Keith Fournier is a Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy with permission. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. Deacon Fournier is the Senior Editor and Correspondent of Catholic Online and a Contributing Editor for Traditional Catholic Reports.


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