Why does the Catholic Church exist? (2)

Benjamin God & Faith

I recently posted about the fact that the Jewish nation has a lot of similarities to the Catholic Church, but more needs to be said because the Church has something that the Jewish nation never had: the power to take away sin. The nation of Israel was chosen out of all the nations of the world as a witness that God is real, and that He has spoken His Word to the people of earth. The Catholic Church exists as a witness that the Word of God has taken on human flesh: that God has come to visit the earth and become one of us, sharing in our struggles in every way.

This all seems very clear and simple, but God’s interventions in human history have been anything but simple! This is not because God is complicated, but because human beings are complicated: we are constantly divided in two contrary opinions. On the one hand we struggle with feeling abandoned by a God who seems so hidden and so far away. On the other hand, we find God’s distance comfortable because it leaves us room to imagine that we are lords of the world…able to do whatever we feel like doing. When God reveals the truth that He created us, He also reveals the fact that we are not the masters of our own life, that we did nothing to earn our life and we can do nothing to keep if if God decides that our time us up. We really don’t like the feeling that we are not in control: we rather wish God had stayed at a comfortable distance so we did not feel so small.

It is also true that, as soon as God begins to speak to us, His words conflict with what we feel like doing, or are in the middle of doing, or have already done. God condemns our sin, and once again we find we are divided into two opinions about this. On the one hand, we like the idea of having a clear sense of right and wrong, on the other hand, ambiguity seems to give us more freedom. There is a part of us that prefers “freedom of choice”, which is the freedom to choose for ourselves what is right or wrong. When God speaks to us, He challenges our pride and He condemns our sin.

The Jewish people, over the course of their ancient history, have felt the blessing and the burden of being able to hear God. They knew that God existed, and that He did not want idol worship, or child sacrifice, or adultery, or other kinds of sexual deviations. They knew that God valued the poor and the weak and that we could not kill even the most miserable and useless outcast beggar without God being extremely offended. They knew that God did not value our wealth or our accomplishments, and that the greatest king and the poorest slave are in exactly the same place in relationship to God: both are nothing more than two handfuls of dust that God had blessed with the gift of life. They knew that the instant God took His spirit from us, we would crumble into dust. They knew that God is absolute Lord of life and death.

These truths conflict with human pride and human sin, but God sought to avoid this conflict for the most part, and He told the Jews that they were not supposed to start a preaching mission to convert all the nations. The Jews were only supposed to be a light that shone in the middle of the nations of the world. God did not ask them to challenge the philosophers of the day, only to walk by the light of His commandments as an example of His holiness.

Yet the people of Israel struggled to follow the commandments of God. The Jewish nation was meant to be an oasis of justice in a desert of sin, but they quickly marked out a long trail of failure. The sins of the people of Israel built up constantly, and even though the scapegoat would carry those sins out into the desert every year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Jews were haunted by the constant threat of sin and uncleanness with nothing that could truly take away sin.

Everything changed on the day that Jesus Christ was conceived, because on that day, the very purity and holiness of God came down into the little pool of justice that God had formed in the world, a world filled with sin. The filth of our sin, which is so completely opposed to the purity of God, is the reason why Muslims and Jews reject the idea that God took on flesh. The holiness of God, for these believers, means that He must dwell in inapproachable light, far from human sin. Only those who have purified themselves by repentance, fasting, and prayer, are able to approach God, but they can never come too close. The offensive and frightening thing about Christian teaching is that in Jesus Christ, God comes far too close to us.

If we think outside the boundaries of time and space, we can say that the power of Christ coming into the world is exactly what made the Virgin Mary free from sin, and what consecrated the whole nation of Israel to God, and it was the light of His future coming that drove back ignorance and blindness from the Jewish people centuries before He came. It was not that God made a space in the world, but that sin fled from the spot where Jesus was coming to earth because it could not endure the day of Him coming. Just like the darkness cannot resist even the smallest amount of light, evil cannot resist the power and glory of God. The only reason that evil can exist at all is that God has “hidden His face” in order to give a little bit of space so that we can have free will. This space gives room to fall into temptation, but it also gives room for faith and for living heroically.

You might wonder, if evil is so powerless in front of God, how do we explain Good Friday? Wouldn’t the mere presence of Jesus be enough to scatter all the evil in the world? The reason for Good Friday can be found in the words of Jesus, My God, My God, why have your forsaken me? When Jesus came into our world, He gave up His power and glory, but during His entire life He was always protected by the love of the Father shining down on Him. On Good Friday, God the Father looked away from His own Son; the Father “shut His eyes”, which allowed all the filth and horror of violence and sin to rush on top of Jesus. This is Good Friday, the day when God placed Himself in the range of our violence, the day when the filth of our sin was allowed to touch the all-pure God, and not only to touch Him, but to crush Him to death.

It is on Easter Sunday that we realize the truth: the life in God is so absolute that death cannot touch God. When death touches him, death itself is destroyed! The purity of God is so intense that any filth which comes in contact with Christ either becomes pure, or it ceases to exist at. It is like the fact that lies lose all their power when they are exposed to the truth. It is like the way darkness cannot resist even the weakest little candle. Evil is powerless against the goodness of God, and this is why the devil’s campaign is to alienate us from God. If we are close to God, he is powerless.

The Chruch is “born” from the power of the resurrection, and it is the resurrection that gives the Church her “secret mission.” The Church lives to witness to the truth of God’s existence, but she also exists to carry the power of God in the middle of the world, which is the power of His mercy, the power to destroy evil. This is what happens in confession, we bring our sin to Jesus so that He can destroy it. This is what happens in Holy Communion: we become united to Jesus so that His purity can obliterate the sin that hides in us. As long as we are united to Jesus, when death finally invades us on our last day, it will touch Jesus who is living in us, and death will be destroyed in us.

This will happens if we choose Jesus instead of our sin; our sin will be cast out on the last day, and us along with it if we are holding onto it! This is why part of the Church’s mission is to point out sin, people need to know what sin is so that they can know what to let go of. We are not children of the darkness, but of the light: let us live as children of the light, because the darkness cannot resist even the smallest candle +