Another strange trial. As if it were not enough for men to torment Joseph, Jesus Himself became his persecutor. He cleverly slipped through his fingers and remained lost for three days.
What have you done, faithful Joseph? What has become of the sacred treasure the heavenly Father entrusted to you? If you have not yet understood Joseph’s fatherhood, see his suffering now and understand that he is a father. His regret proves it, and Mary was right to say: “Your father and I have sought You with great sorrow.” O my Son, she said to the Savior, I do not fear to call him Your father here, and I know this does not injure the purity of Your birth. We are speaking of cares and worries; that is why I can say he is Your father: because his worries are truly paternal.
See with what suffering Jesus tries fidelity, and how He wishes to be only with those who suffer. He seeks out the strong and courageous souls who do not refuse to carry His cross, who do not blush to be the companions of His poverty and misery.
Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, First Panegyric of St. Joseph
Month of St. Joseph: Joseph Had a Hidden Life for Jesus
We should consider the secret of the Eternal Father entrusted to Joseph’s humility. We should see Jesus Christ hidden, and Joseph hidden with Him, and let this beautiful example stir up in our hearts a love for the hidden life.
What am I trying to do, exposing to the light that which Scripture has shrouded in a mysterious silence? If the Eternal Father willed His Son to be hidden from the world and for Joseph to be hidden with Him, let us adore the secrets of His Providence without seeking to unveil them. It will be useful, however, for the salvation of souls to meditate upon such a beautiful subject. I shall at least say that Joseph had the honor of being with Jesus Christ every day, that along with Mary he shared the most fully in His graces, and that nonetheless, Joseph was hidden, his life, his actions and his virtues were unknown.
Perhaps we will learn from so beautiful an example that it is possible to be great without shining, to be blessed without noise, to have true glory without the help of renown and with nothing more than the testimony of one’s conscience; and this thought should move us to despise the glory of the world.
Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, First Panegyric of St. Joseph
Sermon of St. Leo the Great on the Transfiguration
Christ prepared His Apostles for the Cross with the Vision of His Glory
In order, therefore, that the apostles might entertain this happy, constant courage with their whole heart, and have no fear about the harshness of taking up the cross, and that they might not be ashamed of the punishment of Christ, nor think what He endured disgraceful for themselves (for the bitterness of suffering was to be displayed without despite to His glorious power), Jesus took Peter and James and his brother John, and ascending a very high mountain with them apart, showed them the brightness of His glory; because, although they had recognized the majesty of God in Him, yet the power of His body, wherein His Deity was contained, they did not know.
And, therefore, rightly and significantly, had He promised that certain of the disciples standing by should not taste death till they saw the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom, that is, in the kingly brilliance which, as specially belonging to the nature of His assumed manhood, He wished to be conspicuous to these three men. For the unspeakable and unapproachable vision of the Godhead Itself which is reserved till eternal life for the pure in heart, they could in no wise look upon and see while still surrounded with mortal flesh.
This Vision Was Also for the Entire Church and for Us
The Lord displays His glory, therefore, before chosen witnesses, and invests that bodily shape which He shared with others with such splendor, that His face was like the sun's brightness and His garments equaled the whiteness of snow. And in this Transfiguration the foremost object was to remove the offense of the cross from the disciple's heart, and to prevent their faith being disturbed by the humiliation of His voluntary Passion by revealing to them the excellence of His hidden dignity. But with no less foresight, the foundation was laid of the Holy Church's hope, that the whole body of Christ might realize the character of the change which it would have to receive, and that the members might promise themselves a share in that honor which had already shone forth in their Head. About which the Lord had Himself said, when He spoke of the majesty of His coming, “Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in their Father's Kingdom”, while the blessed Apostle Paul bears witness to the self-same thing, and says: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed in us;” and again, “For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. For when Christ our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory.”
The Transfiguration Manifests the Unity of the Two Testaments
But to confirm the apostles and assist them to all knowledge, still further instruction was conveyed by that miracle. For Moses and Elias, that is the Law and the Prophets, appeared talking with the Lord; that in the presence of those five men might most truly be fulfilled what was said: “In two or three witnesses stands every word.” What more stable, what more steadfast than this word, in the proclamation of which the trumpet of the Old and of the New Testament joins, and the documentary evidence of the ancient witnesses combine with the teaching of the Gospel? For the pages of both covenants corroborate each other, and He Whom under the veil of mysteries the types that went before had promised, is displayed clearly and conspicuously by the splendor of the present glory. Because, as says the blessed John, “the law was given through Moses: but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” in whom is fulfilled both the promise of prophetic figures and the purpose of the legal ordinances: for He both teaches the truth of prophecy by His presence, and renders the commands possible through grace.
But It Also Teaches Us That Suffering Must Precede Glory
The Apostle Peter, therefore, being excited by the revelation of these mysteries, despising things mundane and scorning things earthly, was seized with a sort of frenzied craving for the things eternal, and being filled with rapture at the whole vision, desired to make his abode with Jesus in the place where he had been blessed with the manifestation of His glory. Whence also he says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you will let us make three tabernacles, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elias.” But to this proposal the Lord made no answer, signifying that what he wanted was not indeed wicked, but contrary to the divine order: since the world could not be saved, except by Christ's death, and by the Lord's example the faithful were called upon to believe that, although there ought not to be any doubt about the promises of happiness, yet we should understand that amidst the trials of this life we must ask for the power of endurance rather than the glory, because the joyousness of reigning cannot precede the times of suffering.
During his State visit to the African continent from March 11 to 14, 2019, the President of the French Republic paid a visit to the site of Lalibela, considered to be the “new Jerusalem” in Ethiopia.
In the early afternoon on March 12, 2019, Emmanuel Macron visited the 11 churches of Lalibela carved out of stone, a remarkable archeological and religious site added to the World Heritage List by Unesco in 1978.
Lalibela takes its name from an Ethiopian king who made it the center of his kingdom in the 13th century, conferring upon it an openly religious dimension by making it a holy land and pilgrimage site for Christians everywhere in the country.
Manuscripts in Ge’ez—a liturgical and classical Ethiopian language—were found in the remains of these 11 troglodytic churches; they confirm that the religious complex was indeed founded on an initiative from King Lalibela, who gave the land to the clergy so they could benefit from it.
Tradition situates the beginning of Christianity in Ethiopia with the baptism of Queen Candace’s eunuch by the deacon St. Philip in the 1st century.
But in 451, the Church of Ethiopia fell into schism and heresy, refusing the Council of Chalcedon’s dogma on the two natures, divine and human, united in the Person of Christ.
Beginning in the 14th century, missions were founded in Ethiopia in the hopes of bringing this land back to the unity of the Church, leading to the martyrdom of many religious.
At the end of the 19th century, the activity of the Catholic missionaries had a second wind, and in 1961, an ecclesiastical province was created with Addis Ababa for its see.
After a bloody civil war that resulted in a division between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Pope Francis erected the Eritrean Metropolitan Church as a separate eparchy from the Ethiopian Church.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad reminded the French president during his visit on March 12, 2019 that he hopes for a stronger cooperation with the French in order to preserve the site of Lalibela.
The Holiness of the Church
Catholics profess in the Creed that the Church is “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.” These four properties or marks represent important aspects of the mystery of the Church. Their meaning, however, is often poorly known and the post-conciliar theology has frequently distorted them.
Theology attributes many “properties” to the Church: the four marks just cited, but also visibility, indefectibility, infallibility, Romanity and hierarchy. These are inseparable elements of the true Church that cannot exist without them. The first property we shall consider is holiness, which corresponds to the end or purpose of the Church.
What is Holiness?
Derived from the Latin sanctus “that which is prescribed”, the word signifies both a state of purity and a firmness or stability in this state. The Gospel teaches us that these elements are a result of God’s love for us and our response to this love. The holiness of the Church, therefore, lies first and foremost in true charity.
This charity is first of all that of Christ for His Church, His beloved Spouse. It is His first gift to her: a love that makes her holy because she is pleasing to God Who is holiness itself. The Church is holy with the holiness of Christ, the Holy of Holies, because she is one with Him.
Charity is also the goal set for the Church, who must lead her children to perfect union with God. This union is none other than holiness itself, which becomes a reality in charity. The perfection of the spiritual life is strictly identical to the greatness of charity. At our death, we shall be judged upon love.
Holiness is also all the means Christ has given His Church to bring souls to this perfection of the spiritual life. Above all, her doctrine, the ultimate revelation of the very life of God Himself, who is charity. This also includes the priestly hierarchy, bishops and priests, who confer the sacraments that produce grace and divine life in souls.
It also includes the divine cult, accomplished in a perfect manner by Jesus Christ our High Priest on Calvary, and entrusted to us in the Holy Mass, the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross. The Church has thus been endowed with an inexhaustible treasure of holiness. A treasure ordained to the sanctification of souls, the production of grace, and the union of souls with God.
The Church Is Holy
This holiness is firstly that of souls. It can have varying degrees: an ordinary degree, that consists in avoiding grave sin and remaining in the state of grace, and a heroic degree, that of the canonized saints.
But it is also the holiness of the means that make it possible to obtain this end, in other words, all the means we have just listed. And these means are proportionate with the result. That is why holiness can be found among the faithful at every period of the Church’s history.
There is an objection, however, that can seem quite formidable today: with all the scandals in her ranks, is the Church truly holy? And one might add: what has become of the doctrine itself, this Revelation from the Father of Light to enlighten us? It seems to have been the first victim, especially since Vatican Council II. Can we really claim today that the Church is holy? Has she ever been? For there has always been sin.
The Church is Spotless
St. Paul clearly confirms: “Christ loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it,
that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27) This text directly refers to the present Church, as she was after her baptism, the grace of which was meant to incorporate her into Christ.
The same teaching can be found in the first epistle of St. John, where it is written that “Whosoever is born of God, committeth not sin: for His seed abideth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (I Jn. 3:9). But also that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I Jn. 1:8). The beloved apostle wishes to teach us that the members of the Church sin when they betray the Church; the Church, therefore, is not without sinners, but she is without sin.
Saying the Church is without sin means that she never consents to sin; but it does not mean that she has nothing to do with sin. Her mission is to go seek out her children in the midst of their sin, to fight unceasingly to make the limits of sin recede in them and in the world. The Church is very involved in sin: it is the adversary with which she will grapple until the end of time.
The Church Is Not Without Sinners
She is the kingdom of the Son of God, from which those who cause scandals and commit iniquities will only be driven out at the end of time (Mt. 13:41-43); the net that will contain both good fish and bad until the end of time (Mt. 13:47-50)). She only banishes sinners in extreme cases. There are always many sinners in the Church.
Sinners are members of Christ but not in the same way as the just. They can belong to the Church to which the just belong, but they alone can never make up the Church. The notion of member of Christ and of the Church is applied differently to the just and to sinners.
Sinners are members of the Church by reason of the spiritual values that still subsist in them: sacramental characters, theological faith and hope, but also by reason of the collective charity of the Church. They remain associated to the fate of the just in the way a paralyzed member continues to participate in the goings and comings of a human person.
The Church continues to live even in her children that are no longer in the state of grace, with the hope of once again attaching them to her in a living union.
The Church Does Not Sin, but Repents and Converts
In her children who sin and who, at her request, renounce their sin, it is the Church herself who repents and does penance. How can the Church do penance if she does not sin?
It is the same beings who sin and do penance. They sin by betraying Christ and the Church; and they do penance in the name of Christ and the Church. That is why we must say that the Church, who does not sin, does penance. The Church, as a person, therefore, takes responsibility for penance, but she does not take responsibility for sin.
When the Church places the Pater on our lips, when she has us say to the Father, “Forgive us our trespasses” (Mt. 6:12), it is indeed in her name that we pray and beg forgiveness every day, but for the faults committed by us, and not by her.
The Church Is Immaculate
If we define the Church like journalists, from the outside, without taking into account her profound mystery, we cannot understand the true holiness of the Church.
But if we define the Church by what makes her the Church, then we see that even though she has many sinners, she is most pure and holy; that she becomes incarnate and visible in that which is pure both in her just children and in her sinful children; that her own boundaries include only that which is pure and good in her members, be they just men or sinners, and exclude all that is impure, even in the just; that the entire Christ, both Head and Body, is holy in all His members, both just and sinful. The Church is immaculate.
It is true that apostolic men have said that bad Christians soil the Church, but this simply means that these members belong entirely to the Church by right, and that the world will hold her responsible for their faults; alas, this is an all too understandable injustice.
In reality, the just and the sinners are in the Church only by that which is holy in them, excluding all that is sin. “From Heaven, Christ never ceases to look down with especial love on His spotless Spouse so sorely tried in her earthly exile.” (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, June 29, 1943) http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_29061943_mystici-corporis-christi.html
The Sinners in Her Bosom Provide Proof of the Holiness of the Church
But we must go even further, and say that not only do the sins of men not eclipse the holiness of the Church, but they actually contribute to highlighting it; indeed, if we see that the institution perseveres in spite of human weakness, this is an argument in favor of the divinity of this institution. The Church thus represents a true moral miracle.
Leo XIII pointed this out: “The Church historian will be all the better equipped to bring out her divine origin, superior as this is to all conceptions of a merely terrestrial and natural order, the more loyal he is in naught extenuating of the trials which the faults of her children, and at times even of her ministers, have brought upon the Spouse of Christ during the course of centuries.” (Letter to the Bishops and Clergy of France, September 8, 1899) http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_08091899_depuis-le-jour.html
St. Pius X was even more explicit: “When vice runs wild, when persecution hangs heavy, when error is so cunning that it threatens her destruction by snatching many children from her bosom and plunges them into the whirlpool of sin and impiety—then, more than ever, the Church is strengthened from above. (…) Only a miracle of that divine power could preserve the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, from blemish in the holiness of Her doctrine, law, and end in the midst of the flood of corruption and lapses of her members. Her doctrine, law and end have produced an abundant harvest. The faith and holiness of her children have brought forth the most salutary fruits” (Encyclical Editae Saepe, May 26, 1910).
The Church, therefore, is not a sinner, for sin is not in the Church. The Church weeps for the sins of her sons, but the tears she may shed do not disfigure her.
Recent Imputations against the Holiness of the Church
Unfortunately, the teachings of Vatican Council II, without explicitly denying the essential holiness of the Church, do not make a clear enough distinction between the two types of holiness, that of her members and that of her principles (revealed doctrine, the sacraments, the divine cult, the sacrifice, the laws).
The Council expressly says that the Church must “always be purified,” that she never ceases “to apply herself to penance and renovation,” that “she never ceases to renew herself.” This implies at least a moral renovation; and the Church cannot be herself the subject of this purifying renovation unless she has first been the subject of sin and guilt. Such is the interpretation of an “official” commentator such as Karl Rahner.
Paul VI said the same thing: “The Church should be holy and good, she should be as Christ thought and conceived her, and sometimes we see that she is not worthy of this title.” (L’Osservatore Romano, February 28, 1972) Likewise, John Paul II in paragraph 33 of his apostolic letter Tertio Milllenio (November 10, 1994): “Although she is holy because of her incorporation into Christ, the Church does not tire of doing penance. As Lumen Gentium affirms: ‘The Church, embracing sinners to her bosom, is at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, and incessantly pursues the path of penance and renewal.’” And again, in paragraph 35: “This does not exonerate the Church from the obligation to express profound regret for the weaknesses of so many of her sons and daughters who sullied her face, preventing her from fully mirroring the image of her crucified Lord.”
The same idea is to be found in the following text pronounced by Pope Francis before the clergy of Rome on March 7, 2019: “The Lord is purifying His bride and is converting us all to Himself. He is putting us to the test so that we understand that without Him we are dust. This saves us from hypocrisy, the spirituality of appearances. He breathes forth His spirit to restore the beauty of His bride, surprised in flagrant adultery.” As explained above, the Church does indeed do penance, and in this sense, purifies herself in her children. But she can in no way be called an adulteress, for that would attribute our sins to her, and deny her true holiness.
In the face of the sins of the Church’s members, particularly those who should be irreproachable models for the flock, we must not let ourselves be scandalized, but rather remember our own weakness and the teaching of Vatican Council I, reminding us that we must believe in “the eminent holiness of the Church.” We therefore must not partake in this self-flagellation that is a lack of faith in this article of the Creed.
“One falls into a great illusion when one invites the Church, as a person, to admit and proclaim her sins. One forgets that the Church as a person is the Spouse of Christ, that He ‘purchased her with His own blood’ (Acts 20:28), that He has purified her so that she might be ‘a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish’ (Eph. 5:27), that she is the ‘house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth’ (I Tim. 3:15). When humility endangers magnanimity, it has ceased to be a virtue,” Charles Journet, Théologie de l’Eglise, DDB, 1958, p. 241.