There is perhaps nothing that should give us more comfort in these troubled times than the thought that we are members of the one true Church instituted by Christ, who said to His disciples: “I shall be with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” [Mt 28:20]. Whatever may happen in this world, however great may be the disasters that befall it, however many the difficulties, hardships and sufferings that life at any time may present, there remains the indubitable fact that Christ, the Son of God, is ever in our midst to support and to guide by His omnipotent strength and unerring wisdom His Church and all who are members of it.
“Behold, I shall be with you all days” (Mt28:20b)
But it is not every Catholic who fully understands or realises what this means, and so he fails in a greater or less degree to profit by and to enjoy the immense consolation that might be his. Let him reflect that being a Catholic makes him a member of the great Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, the Head of which is Christ Himself, and which embraces not only all Catholics upon earth but the countless multitude of the saints in heaven, as well as all the suffering souls in purgatory, who, although unable to help themselves, can – as most theologians teach – most efficaciously help us by the assistance of their prayers.
Christ is the Head and we His Body – the Mystical Body, the Church, is as real and true as any physical body
The Catholic must conceive of this Mystical Body that though by its nature supernatural and spiritual it is none the less a very real and true Body, as real and true as is any physical body. It derives its life not only, though principally and essentially, from its Divine Head, but from all its members as well, who work together for the good of the whole. Every member of the Body is bound to contribute his share, great or little as it may be, to the general benefit of the other members, just as every member of a physical body is necessary for its complete health and maintenance. When any member or part of a human body is hurt or sick, the rest of the members of that body come to its relief and help to its restoration and renewed health, whenever and as far as this is possible.
A true “team effort”
So he who would have a right understanding of what it means to be a Catholic must bear in mind that he is a member of a Body where all, without exception, who make up that Body are concerned to bring about his spiritual and eternal well-being, as well as their own. The mistake for any one to make is to look upon himself as isolated and apart from the other members, independent of them and capable of procuring his final salvation without their aid. Such a one has not grasped the meaning of the Communion of Saints: he does not see that if he be finally saved, he will be saved not as one individual, aloof from all others, but as being a living member of the whole Body which is saved. So when a sinner repents and turns to God, it is primarily and chiefly because Christ, the Head of the Church, died for him on the Cross, but also because other members of Christ’s Body by their holy lives and prayers are continually making intercession for all sinners, so that Christ’s redemptive work may have its desired effect.
“You are always on our mind…”
This, then, is one of the consolations a Catholic can enjoy, that though he is often tempted and sometimes falls into sin, yet he is ever in the mind of Christ and the faithful fellow members of Christ’s Body, who, if he will only avail himself of their help, will bring him back to spiritual life and the privileges of grace of which they are the possessors.
Certain and glorious victory
It is the thought of this immense and unlimited strength upon which he can draw that gives a Catholic confidence and courage to go on with his struggle against evil and to advance ever more in a life of holiness in the service of God. He knows that he is not alone but is attended by untold millions of holy men and women in heaven and on earth, who recognise in him one of their own great body and are ready at his every moment and step to proffer him help. He is in truth one of a vast and all-conquering army in whose certain and glorious victory he can share, if only he will identify himself with that army and strive to be a faithful soldier in its ranks. What matter if the campaign be a hard one, fought amid all the evils of a disrupted and ruinous world, when he can be persuaded that the struggle is a comparatively very brief one and that at the end, with the rest of his fellow soldiers, he will join their great Leader who already by His own life and death has secured the victory and is waiting to give him a share in His own everlasting glory and happiness.
“Go ye and teach all nations”
These, to the Catholic who will think, are not empty words, the effervescence of a poor rhetoric. They are the exact and solemn truth, the teachings of his Faith. With that great blessing of Faith, for which he can never thank God enough, he knows to that together with all the other members of Christ’s Mystical Body there is offered up for him every day and all day the sacrifice of the Mass, which continues the great sacrifice of the Cross and bears equal merit and fruit. In addition he has the help of the Sacraments, especially those of the Holy Eucharist and Penance; and he may hope that when he is dying he may receive Extreme Unction, to be forgiven his sins, to be strengthened and consoled, and to be admitted sooner to the unclouded and full vision of God. All these are undoubted blessings, the thought of which serve to console a Catholic amid the difficulties that confront him to-day. He is the more grateful for the gift of Faith when he sees around him so many who are without that support and know not where to turn to find relief in their miseries. Their unhappy condition ought to be a spur to his zeal. The Church is a great missionary organisation, as its Divine Founder declared when He said to His disciples, “Go ye and teach all nations,” and every Catholic is a member of it and is called upon, at least by his example and prayers, to further its purpose, which is none less than the conversion of the world. He should know that he will best promote his own interests by forgetting and sacrificing himself for the good of others; by taking an intelligent interest in the welfare of the Church in general and of his own parish in particular; by participating, as far as his opportunities and conditions of life allow, in all that active work which aims at the spread of Catholic truth and at bringing within Christ’s fold those irreligious and unbelieving souls who form, alas! such a large part of the world to-day.
The virtue of charity, the distinguishing mark of every genuine follower of Christ
To act this way is to exercise the great virtue of charity, which must be the distinguishing mark of every genuine follower of Christ. On the other hand, it will be seen how radically false is the piety of those who, though they frequent church, are so absorbed in themselves and their spiritual welfare as never to consider the needs of others or to raise a little finger to help them. Indeed they may be noted for their uncharitable conversation and their harsh condemnation of others.
The good Catholic will make no such grievous mistakes. He will realise how spurious is a [“faith”] that is not infused with the love of God and of his neighbour; and he will be suspicious of all [“faith”] that concentrates almost solely on self and has no remembrance in prayers and good works for the Church as a whole, the Mystical Body of Christ, of which he is privileged to be a member. In recounting the consolations his religion affords him – the certainty of its truth, the help of the Sacraments, the hope of eternal felicity – he will let no day pass without thanking God for the blessing of being Catholic.
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S. J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949