392 years ago today, Saint Josaphat, an Eastern Catholic bishop in Ukraine, was dragged out of his rectory and murdered by the Eastern Orthodox townspeople that he was trying to lead back into union with the Roman Catholic Church. The Church does not hesitate, in her prayers, to say that he poured out his blood like Christ. He died for the principle that it matters whether we Christians are Catholics. My question for you today is did he die in vain?
After all, I frequently hear that it doesn’t matter whether or not someone is Catholic, as long as they’re Christian. They’ve got better music down the block, or you like the preaching better. Catholicism becomes just one denomination, just one option. Or perhaps we’ll go further and say that the Church itself doesn’t matter: all that matters is having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” That personal relationship is obviously vital, but Cardinal Dolan has pointed out the folly of trying to have the Good Shepherd without the flock, trying to have the King of Kings without His Kingdom, trying to have the Head without the Body of Christ. So to answer my initial question, I ask you to consider four more questions:
The first question: Did Jesus intend to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth? Yes.
The very first words out of Jesus’ mouth in St. Mark’s Gospel are “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15). And we hear that again in today’s Gospel, when Jesus says that, although it has not yet arrived fully, the Kingdom of God is among us.
The second question: Did Jesus establish this Kingdom in His Church? Yes.
In the famous passage of Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus says to Peter, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Note, He doesn’t say He’s giving the keys to the Kingdom to everyone, to all believers. Instead, Christ explicitly gives the keys to the Kingdom to St. Peter, the head of the Church, using the singular “you.”
The third question: Did Christ set an earthly leader over His Church? Yes.
We’ve already heard this, in the Matthew 16 passage I just mentioned. But we see it in other places as well. We see it in Luke 22, at the Last Supper, when Jesus entrusts the care of the laity to the Apostles, and then entrusts the care of the Apostles to St. Peter, telling him, “strengthen your brethren.” We see it in John 21, in which Jesus tells Peter, and Peter alone, to tend His lambs and to feed His sheep. And we see it throughout the Book of Acts, in which Peter speaks on behalf of the entire Church.
The final question: Did Christ entrust this Church with authority and with the fullness of truth? Yes and yes.
At the Last Supper, Jesus makes two important promises. First, He promises that the Holy Spirit, who He calls the Spirit of Truth, “will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). And a little later one, He says that “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). So the Church has the fullness of faith, not because of human intelligence, but because of the protection of the Holy Spirit. Second, Christ promises that the Spirit of Truth will be with the Church “forever” (John 14:16).
So where do we stand? Do we think the Church is dispensable? That it no longer has the protection of the Holy Spirit, or no longer has the fullness of truth? That Christ’s Church no longer has an earthly head? In short, do we think that St. Josaphat died in vain?