The Catholic Church built on the Stone that was Rejected: The Place of True Hope
October 31 of last year marked the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. I spent some time towards the end of the year critiquing the two fundamental Protestant doctrines of ‘Scripture alone’ and ‘Faith alone’. I also had occasion to remark how the rebellion against the authority of the Pope led to fragmentation not just in the Church, but in the whole of the modern western society that developed in the wake of the Reformation. I would dare say that in the extreme division and disunity that we witness in the world today we are seeing the ‘endgame’ of the Protestant Reformation.
Because Protestant ‘faith’ led to disunity, the modern era, which is now coming to a close, has been characterized by an attempt to rebuild the lost unity of Christendom on a purely rational basis. Well, if Protestantism had anything right at all, then the failure of human reason would have been easy to foretell. After all, Scripture tells us, Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build. (Ps 126:1). Indeed, Scripture also tells us, The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone. (Ps 118:22) The Protestants unwittingly cast off that stone when they cast off the papacy; in the wake of the division of Christianity, the Rationalists intentionally rejected that stone, mistakenly thinking that it had failed.
As we begin a new year, however, I do not want to dwell any longer on the disaster of the past, but to set forth a vision of hope that is given to us by the Catholic faith. Hope means building once again upon the cornerstone laid by God himself, Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of his Church, a spiritual house and a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 2:5)
The Book of Revelation shows us that despite appearances, Jesus Christ is truly the Lord who guides the course of world events, who shepherds his Church amid the turmoil and distress of this life. There are three key visions that show us, we could say, Jesus Christ at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the whole divine plan as it is realized in history and brought to fulfillment in eternity.
First there is the vision of the glorious Son of Man, Priest and King, risen from the dead, walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands that are the Church. (cf. Rev 1:12-20) He is guiding his Church, yes, but that also means that he is purifying and judging his Church. (cf. Rev 2-3)
Second, there is the vision of the Lamb who was slain, standing in the middle of the throne of God in heaven, opening the sealed book in which the whole plan of God is revealed. (Rev 5) Truly, it is a vision of Jesus Christ, priest and victim, the Lamb upon altar at Mass, who through his sacrifices sanctifies the redeemed. The heavenly hosts proclaim, You were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth. (Rev 5:9-10) At the heart of the whole history of the Church, during her pilgrimage in this world is the sanctification of the redeemed through the sacrifice of the Lamb upon the altar and the communion of Christ’s Body and Blood in the sacrament.
Third, there is the vision of the goal, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, coming down out of heaven from God. The Seer writes: I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. … The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants shall worship him. They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Rev. 21:22-23;22:3-4)
The Protestants reading Scripture see this as no more than an invisible reality, a pure spiritual Church; Catholic tradition has seen this reality as made visibly present in the Lamb, the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, visibly present upon the altar and in the sacramental community of faith organized around the celebration of the Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council put this very succinctly, teaching: “The Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.”
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