This is an exciting moment for the bishop of Rockville Centre! A new initiative in the field of communications brings with it challenges we have to turn into
opportunities; but, most of all, we have a new vista with new possibilities. The Long Island Catholic newspaper has become The Long Island Catholic magazine. So I decided to change, too! My new column in the magazine will be called “Belong More Deeply.” In the last couple of years, as I have traveled around the diocese and talked to priests, parish staff and people in the pews, I have sensed that this theme has struck a chord in the hearts and minds, the hopes and the prayers, of us all. So let’s make it our own!
After all, we all can belong more deeply to Christ, to His Church and to one another. At the heart of this are a call and an invitation. The call comes from the heart of Christ, Be holy as I am holy. The invitation is to walk with Him, talk with Him and make your personal journey not an isolated, lonely one, but one in which He walks with you and we walk together as His brothers and sisters, friends to Him and to one another as parts of His body, as members of His Church. There are so many things to know about the Church and so much for us to share. Just think of what the greatest religious event of the twentieth century, The Second Vatican Council, gave us in the Constitution of the Church and the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World. These documents are two of the five principal texts of the Council. I’d like to take a moment and look just at the chapter headings of the first. In capsule form, they tell us a lot about who we are and what we are called by Jesus to become.
Chapter one centers on who we are by speaking of the mystery of the Church. We are a human organization, yes. But that historical fact says little of what the Church truly is: a sign and sacrament of communion with God and of unity of ourselves as Church that shows the way to the unity of humankind with God and one another. We are caught up in the mystery of God’s love as poured forth into us as the body of His Son on earth.
Chapter two tells us we are the people of God. There are many images of what theChurch is and they are all complementary. But this image is one that has become most powerful among us all these past 50 years. The image of the people of God stresses the dynamic nature of who we are. Such a “people” includes all of us as members of the one body: pope, bishops, priests and deacons, consecrated women and men, lay faithful all together. It is a mistake to think this is a title only for laity or only for a part of the people. It is all of us or it is none of us.
Chapter three tells us that the Church, in her inner being, is hierarchical by God’s own plan and Jesus’ own intention. We are not a democracy. Our head is Christ. As head, He has designated a variety of offices in the Church to lead, to sanctify and to teach the faithful, with the assurance of divine assistance. This role is one that is of the esse of the Church. And of pope and bishops, we can say that any who accepts them accepts Christ and the One who sent Christ. Anyone who rejects them, rejects Christ and the One who sent Him.
Chapter four speaks of the vast majority of the people of God, the laity. Here we encounter the dignity of all the baptized, their intimate relation to God and their various roles by which they build up the Church. Here, too, we see how their lives in family and in the world are the indispensable witness for the world to come to know God.
In chapter 5, we are called to recognize that each one of us, and all of us together, are equally called to holiness. Sanctity is the common goal of us all. No one an advantage over another because of office or charism. And holiness is the offer of life here and life eternal that is a gift of a loving God.
Only in chapter 6 does the Constitution speak of religious and consecrated life. Why is that? The special act of consecration to God in the Church through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience within a religious community is a particular charism of holiness. Religious, by their lives, point to the Kingdom of heaven. They are witnesses to the “ever more” that is the offer God makes to us, the promise for life and life eternal.
As the people of God, we are on pilgrimage. Therefore chapter 7 focuses our gaze on ourselves here in this world as we journey to the next. This world is not something to be endured. It is a reality to be transformed, as we make our way in imitation of Christ, whose journey to Jerusalem brought us all salvation.
Finally the last chapter, chapter 8, turns our gaze to Mary, the Mother of the Church, that wondrous new title given to her by Pope Paul VI. She is the mother of this Church, which we are. She is our guiding star and our constant helpmate. She shows the Church the way to her Son and is the icon of what the Church is called to be.
In this Year of Faith, we are all called to deepen our understanding of our identity as Church and embrace with ever greater zeal the opportunities and the challenges of belonging more deeply to the Church and thus to the Lord and thus to one another.
This is exciting – not just for me but for us all!