Over the past few months, people have given me a lot of advice. “You’re doing a good job,” they’ll say “but here’s what the Church should really do…”
Some of the advice is helpful, and like all advice, some is not. I am certain that all of it is the fruit of real love for the Church. But almost all the advice I receive makes one fundamental mistake: it assumes that the archbishop alone is responsible for the teaching and activity of the Church, and its successes and failures, in the Archdiocese of Denver.
Today there is a great temptation to entrust the mission of the Church entirely to the Church’s institutional and hierarchical members. The consequence of the modern world is to perceive ourselves as consumers of the Church’s sacramental and educational services. In fact, the consequence of the modern world is to perceive the Church as an institution like a government agency, a political party, or a global charity. How we regard these institutions often determines how we regard the Church—and how we perceive our role in the Church’s life.
Paragraph 752 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Church is the “universal community of believers: … the people of God that gathers in the whole world.” The Church “draws her life from the word and from the body of Christ, and so herself becomes Christ’s body.”
In short, the Church is the people of God: the baptized on Earth, the suffering souls in purgatory, and the saints enjoying eternity in heaven. The Church is defined in the Eucharist: she is nourished by it, sanctified by it, and united in it.
The Church is, above all, a mission. The Second Vatican Council, in section 8 of “Lumen Gentium” states that “Christ established and sustains on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.” Christ established the Church because every human being needs Jesus Christ—needs God’s mercy, truth and grace.
The Holy Spirit has entrusted certain responsibilities and obligations to the hierarchy of the Church: the Holy Father, and the bishops of the world in communion with their priests, have an absolutely essential mission in the life of the Church. But so do families, communities and all the baptized. None of us is excused from Christ’s work of communicating truth and the grace of redemption to all—none of us is excused from proclaiming Christ, boldly and clearly.
The world, more clearly than ever before, is in need of the proclamation of Christ. Each of us can see the unrest, uncertainty and ambiguity of our times. The recent election was a demonstration that many Americans are unclear on fundamental truths about humanity, the natural law, and eternal truths that bind every just society.
Because the world needs Christ so clearly, the Church needs the active and joyful commitment of all the baptized to build a culture of life. I, and the priests and deacons of the Archdiocese of Denver, simply cannot proclaim Christ alone. Nor should we. Christ depends on the whole Church to fulfill our mission—the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and each member of the body of Christ on earth.
Please join me, dear brothers and sisters, in praying to understand the mystery of the Church. The Church is Christ’s and we carry out his mission, not our mission or the mission we think the Church should undertake. Please join me in praying to see the Church as Christ does—his people, his body, entrusted with proclaiming salvation to all humanity who he loves. Please join me in praying for the grace to fulfill the mission of the Church—her divine mandate—so that all may know the enduring love, justice, truth and mercy of Our Father in heaven.