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The Church, God’s Means of Redemption

Post Date: June 7, 2021
Author: Henry Avila

A Reflection on the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, June 13, 2021

Reading I: Ezekiel 17:22-24
Responsorial Psalm: 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-161
Reading II: 2 Corinthians 5:6-10
Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

Last Sunday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, where the Church celebrated the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though Christ has only “one body,” that body manifests itself in various forms; as the risen body of Christ, as the Eucharist, in our priests (in persona Christi) and in the Church. These examples are Christ present to us as the body of Christ. By being present to us in various manners, he finds a way to connect with us at all levels, whether sacramentally through the Eucharist or communally through the Church. It is regarding the Church to which I would like to focus our attention for the readings of the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

First Reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24)

“I will take from the cedar’s topmost branches, a tender shoot, and plant it on the mountain heights of Israel. It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar and birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it.” (paraphrased)

In the book of prophet Ezekiel, we can see the early signs of what we would today call “the Church.” The cedar tree is a majestic tree, with its wood being a luxury commodity. It was used to line the walls of Solomon’s temple then overlain with gold. The original cedar tree in the quote above represents the old covenant with the kingdom of Israel. The tender shoot taken from it represents Jesus, and the new majestic cedar represents the new covenant in his blood that gives birth to the new kingdom of God, the Church. This imagery of the cedar tree is like the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13:31 that describes the mustard seed that grows into a great tree and the birds make their nests in it.

Ezekiel is prophesying that the day will come when God will establish a new “cedar tree” in Israel that will “encompass” all kinds of birds and winged things beneath its canopy. It is a prefiguring of the Church that Jesus would establish where it will grow to “encompass” all men, not just the nation of Israel.

Second Reading (2 Cor 5:6-10)

“Although we know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.”

Paul talks about longing to be with the Lord in heaven but says that he is content with God’s will that he remains on the earth for a time. Paul knows that God needs him to preach the Gospel message of salvation so that more people may enter into the Church of God. 

The Church as the members of Christ’s body (Rom 12:5) are united through their common baptism. Those that die in a state of grace remain in that body of Christ even after death. If that is the case, then we have a Church here on earth that is battling the forces of evil to attain heaven. We call this earthly church the Church Militant. Those destined for heaven but are in the process of purification in purgatory are called the Church Suffering. Those members of Christ’s body already in heaven belong to the Church Triumphant. This latter Church is the one that our hearts yearn to enter, but we must also stay here on earth until we have completed the work that the Lord has in mind for us. 

What is your work here on earth that the Lord wants you to complete? For me, it is being the best husband, father and Catholic that I can be. I am called to lead my children into the Church Triumphant by giving them the knowledge and love of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. I am called to teach others about the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ so that they, too, can get to heaven. To accomplish all this, I must also know and love our Lord. There is a saying, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” If I want to give the saving message of Christ to others, I must possess it. If my children ask, “What must I do to have eternal life?” I must be able to answer, “Follow my teaching and example and you will get to heaven.” Have we reached that point in our spiritual life? Where we can tell others, “I know the way to heaven, follow my example.”

Gospel Reading (Mark 4:26-34)

“the kingdom of God is like . . . “

Our Catholic theology holds that the “kingdom of God” is rightfully called the Church. In this kingdom, there are weeds and wheat, good fish and bad fish (see Matthew 13). That means it cannot be the state we call heaven because there are no “bad fish” in heaven. Jesus is speaking about the Church Militant on earth having to battle against sin and the desires of this world. 

Because of Adam’s sin, all humanity has been “disgraced” and has fallen out of communion with God. As Catholics, we understand that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross redeemed the human race, but a deeper question remains as to how does God apply that blessed redemption to us 2000 years later? You see, the “once for all” sacrifice of Jesus Christ was powerful enough to save and redeem all humanity from that “disgraced” condition for all time, past, present and future. But administering that sacrifice of salvation to our souls still needs to happen through faith. Redemption is like an antidote. It has to be administered for it to take effect and save us. We were “purchased for a price,” (1 Cor 6:20) but we must accept our invitation to be reunited with God through the reparation Jesus made for us on the cross.

How, then, do we reconcile ourselves with God? Jesus establishes and institutes the Sacraments for our salvation. The first is Baptism, the entrance into the family of God that cleanses us from our sins and transforms the fallen nature we inherited from Adam into the elevated nature of Jesus Christ. The second is the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the forgiveness of sins after Baptism, and the most important is the Sacrament of the Eucharist – our spiritual food that gives supernatural life to the soul.

But like a good student, we must ask, “Are the Sacraments to be administered by anyone at any time in any manner?” No, they must be done in the context of Jesus’ design for salvation. They must be administered through the Church, which is the means of salvation on this earth, with Jesus being the source of our salvation.

Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church as the means of salvation, because it is only through the Church that the effects of Jesus’ sacrifice (the antidote) are administered to us through the sacraments. Without the Church, we cannot be saved because saving grace is given to us through faith and the Sacraments. 

An interesting note . . . the word Catholic comes from the Greek word katholikos, which is composed of two words, kata and holos. It means to “encompass the whole” or universal. Note how the word “catholic” is meant to “encompass” or include the whole world, just like the cedar tree and the mustard tree include every kind of bird. Our Catholic Church is truly universal and God desires that everyone belong to this great kingdom of God.

Author:  Henry Avila

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