Unam Ecclesiam! One Church! There is only one Church founded by Jesus Christ according to the teaching of Saint Paul to the Ephesians: "One body and one Spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism." This is from the epistle for the votive Mass for the unity of the Church.
We know and we confess, in our Creed, that the Church is one. But what is the unity of the Church? If we consider the word ‘unity’ in its concrete meaning, that there is only one Church, and if we consider the unity according to its abstract meaning, it signifies that the Church is an organic entity which makes an indivisible whole. Its nature would change if we could suppress one of the parts of which She is composed. In other words, Our Lord founded His Church 2000 years ago and He has endowed Her with substantial elements which cannot be removed by any human authority. They are essential parts of the Church which allow us to know precisely which Church is the One founded by Jesus. If one Church lacks of one or more of these elements, we can know with certitude that it is not the true Church.
You already know the four traditional marks which permit us to recognize the Church of Jesus Christ: Unity, Apostolicity, Sanctity and Catholicity. Many books do a very good job of explaining the four marks very well and you can study this in our Apologetic class.
Now, I would like to focus on another mark of the Church, which can be really a part of Her definition. We can take this mark from Saint Therese of Lisieux who is now a Doctor of the Church. Her teaching is certainly not a systematic one as it that of Saint Thomas Aquinas or Saint Bonaventure or any other great theologian, but there is, unmistakably, a deep penetrating gaze on the Church that we can share with her. With Saint Therese of Lisieux, we can include in the definition of the Church the element of charity. Charity would be the created soul of the Church and her interior spirit which invigorates her.
Taking the thought of Saint Therese, the theologians make it clear. It is the Charity of Our Lord Jesus Christ which focuses on the cult inaugurated by Him and continued by the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the dispensation of the Sacraments and enlightened by the voice of Jesus and of His Vicar on earth. With Charles Cardinal Journet, we can summarize and say that the soul of the Church is Charity as it is sacramental or in relation to the cult. If you like the Aristotelian vocabulary, we can say that Charity is the formal cause of the Church, the other causes being the community of the faithful for the material cause, the Holy Ghost for the efficient cause and eternal life for final cause.
Of course we can argue about this definition of the Church. As such, it is not perfect. Some would say that this definition doesn’t take into consideration Faith which is nevertheless an essential part of the reality of the Church. We can answer that Faith is implicitly included with the “community of the faithful”. And a definition is just the expression in human language of a reality. The same reality can have many definitions, each one shedding a light on a particular side of the matter.
If we accept this definition of Charity as the soul of the Church and if we accept the principle of unity given above, that means that there is no Church without Charity. In fact, we can also say that Charity is included in the theological mark of holiness.
At this point, there is another difficulty. What about the sinners who have lost Charity? We know that a mortal sin doesn’t exclude a sinner from the Church, except by sins against the unity of the Church: apostasy, heresy or schism. The fact is that it is not necessary to have Charity in order to be a member of the Church. Saint Robert Bellarmine is right when he says that “the Church is the community of the faithful united by the profession of the true Christian Faith and the communion of the same Sacraments, under the government of the legitimate pastors, especially the only Vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff.” We must hold this definition in order to refute the Protestant theses of the invisible Church. The purpose of Saint Robert Bellarmine was to give a definition of the Church which makes her as visible as “the Kingdom of France or the Republic of Venice” are.
We have here the definition of the Church given by Robert Bellarmine the theologian. There would be another definition of the Church lived by Robert Bellarmine the Saint. Those two definitions don’t oppose each other, but the second one is more a matter of the heart. It is more crucial that we actually practice it in our lives than to be described in books. In fact you have to be a Saint to write it in a book. Saint Therese of Lisieux did it:
“Considering the mystical Body of the Church, I couldn’t recognize myself in any members described by Saint Paul, or rather I wanted to recognize myself in all. I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary, the noblest of all couldn’t miss her. I understood that the Church has a Heart and that this heart is burning of Love. I understood that only Love makes the members of the Church act. If this Love comes to die, the Apostles will not announce the Gospel, the Martyrs will refuse to shed their blood. I understood that Love includes all the vocations, that Love was everything and embraces all the times and all the places, in one word that Love is eternal. Then in the excess of my delirious joy I cried out: O Jesus, my Love: my vocation, at last I have found it...My vocation is Love! Yes I found my place in the Church, and you gave me this place, O my God; in the Heart of the Church my Mother, I will be Love. Then I will be all and my dream will be achieved."
Dear Brethren, we pray during this week – and I hope not only during this week – for the unity of the Church, so that the members of all the other Churches will return into the only Church of Jesus-Christ which is the Catholic Church. But don’t forget also the members of the Church who have lost Charity. They need it and they will regain Charity through the intercession of the Saints. They are still members of the Mystical Body and can benefit from the Charity of the members in state of grace. Let us pray for ourselves so that our Charity may be greatly improved and we can be signs of the Love of God in the world.
May Our Blessed Mother grant us the grace to share her love with all the Saints, united around Our Lord Jesus Christ principle and end of all Love.