From the very beginning of the Church, the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops had the primary task of teaching the faithful so that they could fully live the Christian faith and give it away to others. The Church has always been blessed with good teaching Bishops, especially at critical times in her history. We are living in just such a time.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - From the very beginning of the Church, the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops had the primary task of teaching the faithful so that they could fully live the Christian faith and give it away to others. The Church has always been blessed with good teaching Bishops, especially at critical times in her history. We are living in just such a time.
Some of the most profound teaching on the Christian Faith and way of life is found in the Apostolic Fathers. We have letters which circulated from the first few centuries written by giants like Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch. We also have sets of instructions and catechetical teaching to the early church such as the Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve).
In fact, the word encyclical means circulating letter. We now attach the word mostly to the most authoritative teaching in the letters from the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. However, it is derived from the way those letters from the early church bishops were passed to believers. They were circulated.
Throughout Church history the teaching and pastoral letters from Bishops have helped the faithful of the Church to mature in their faith, apply that faith to their daily lives and grow in their capacity to influence their age and progress in holiness. So it can be - so it must be - in our own day.
Those who read my writing know that I call attention to the wonderful Bishops we have in the Church. There are more being raised up daily by this great Pope. Today I want to pass along two great examples of teaching Bishops. I will be following up with many more.
I recommend that our readers take the time to read, study, pray through and incorporate two recent letters from two great Bishops into their lives. Though written to their own flock, these letters should be circulated as such letters were in the early Church.
The first letter is from the Most Rev. John J. Myers, the Archbishop of Newark. It is entitled "When Two Become One: A Pastoral Teaching on the Definition, Purpose and Sanctity of Marriage." Please click the live link and download this tremendous instruction.
Send it around to those whom you care about. Make it known to your priests, deacons and lay leaders. Republish it in the blogosphere. Use it in your study groups and prayer groups. In an age when marriage - and the family and society founded upon it - are under ferocious assault, the Archbishop of Newark gives one of the clearest presentations on marriage I have read in a beautifully written, readable 16 page letter!
He writes, "This pastoral reflection is offered to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Newark to help them form their consciences, discern their vocations and, for the married, fulfill their vows. It is also offered to other men and women of good will-of every faith-who join us in the sincere hope of seeing family life flourish in northern New Jersey and throughout our state and our nation."
"Because God loves and cares for us, He has revealed to us the nature, purposes, and meaning of marriage. This revelation is recorded in sacred Scripture and Tradition; it is safeguarded and faithfully developed by the Magisterium, the teaching office of the Church. This gives Catholics the assurance of faith in the Church's firm teaching on the nature of marriage."
"But marriage is also part of God's creative plan and can be known through reason, unaided by revelation. The truth about marriage is, in other words, part of the natural law. This pastoral letter will therefore consider marriage from the perspective of reason as well as revelation."
The second letter is written by the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC, His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl. It is a Pastoral Letter on the Church entitled "The Church, Our Spiritual Home."
This letter opens up the fullness of Catholic Ecclesiology (the theology of the Church) in an accessible, profoundly spiritual and inspiring letter format. It will change your life by helping you to comprehend the deeper meaning of living in the Church. Once again, download it and circulate it. Study it, pray over and give it away to everyone whom you truly care about.
Cardinal Wuerl is an extraordinary teacher. Here are a few "tidbits" to whet your appetite for this wonderful letter. "My purpose in writing you this letter is to reflect on what we mean by the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church is not an abstraction or a mere human institution. The new Body of Christ is made up of all the members of the family of faith who are blessed with the gifts of the Spirit and are united as one body around the Apostles and their successors, with Christ as its head."
"The answer to the question, "Why should I be a member of the Catholic Church?" follows on the response to the question "What is the Catholic Church?" The short answer to these questions is that the Catholic Church is the continuing presence of Jesus Christ in the world - in our day and time. The Church is the Body of Christ. This revealed teaching is not metaphorical language. Nor is it just a figurative way of speaking about the Church. Sacred Scripture holds up the Body of Christ for our creedal profession in a very real, literal sense. We will examine the identity of Christ with his Church as we move through these reflections."
"Again, the simplest answer to the question, "What is the Catholic Church?" is that the Church is the presence of Christ in the world today. The Church is variously described in the pages of Sacred Scripture as the Body of Christ and as the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth."
I am what is now routinely called a 'revert" to the Church. Though raised as a Catholic, I fell away from the practice of the ancient faith. My teenage search for truth finally led me home.
The route was circuitous. Among the places it led was my reading the "fathers" (early leaders) of the first centuries of the Church. In ancient Christian writings I discovered how the early Christians viewed their participation in the Church as integral to their belonging to Jesus Christ. The Church is fundamentally relational.
The Church is God's plan for every culture and for the entire world. We live in the Church. We may leave our buildings after Liturgy but we never leave our communion with the Lord and, in Him, with one another for the sake of the world. The early Fathers called her the "world reconciled". In its treatment of the Church, the Catechism explains:
"To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood." (CCC#845)
The Catholic Church needs conversion at every level. Many Catholics do not know what their Church teaches. Some embrace a "cafeteria Catholicism"- choosing what parts of the faith they will follow. A pervasive and practical atheism has had a corrosive effect, evident in those who claim the title Christian and profess the ancient Christian Creed at Mass but fail to live it during the rest of the week.
How many Catholics understand the full implications of their own Baptism? How many understand what the Church teaches? How many experience the Church as a "mother", or live their lives in the Church as a "communion"? How many have come to perceive the Church as "Some - One" rather than some-thing?
Yet, it is this kind of living faith which is needed. Is it supposed to only be the experience of the "mystics", the talk of the Saints and Fathers? Or, is it supposed to be the truly common experience of every Christian? The answer is clear; it is to be the common experience of all Christians.
It is interesting that both of these letters were released on September 14, 2012, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. That is no accident. The Cross will triumph in our own age as the Church is awakened to proclaim its full meaning in word and in deed.
We live in a new missionary age. For the Church to accomplish her mission she needs a fully converted and well formed clergy, religious and lay faithful who, as the fruit of the New Evangelization, joyfully their place in the work. What a treasure we have in great teaching Bishops who send us such letters in this critical hour. They are setting the pace. We should pray for them and be fed by their ministry.
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