Monday, July 4, 2016

Step Two

Today we celebrate the signing the Declaration of Independence. We Virginians feel particularly proud thinking of the role that Jefferson played in the writing and approval process.  But what we can forget is that the Declaration did not make us a country, nor did the subsequent war, all they did was separate us from England. It was a great first step.

The other date which every Amercian ought to know is June 21, 1788, the date that the US Constitution was ratified by New Hampshire and The Untied States of America, the nation, was born. Here another Virginian must be remembered, John Marshall. Marshall understood what many did not. As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he understood that we could never be, as we say today, one nation under God, if each state could simply ignore those laws it did not like. He understood that without institutionalized unity there could. be no nation. It would take the better part of a century, a civil war, and the death of more than 600,000 Americans  to resolve this debate. 

For the Church that unity is also essential. That is why in the creed  one comes first even before holy. That is why in chapter 17 of John's Gospel Jesus prays "that they may be one, as we are one...that they may be brought to perfection as one"  In order to preserve her unity the Church also needed a constitution, not human words on paper, but a structure established by Christ himself. Jesus knew that  if the Church was going to survive it needed a structure that could survive the ages and assure the faithful transmission of His message. 

Most Catholics know we trace the role of bishops to the apostles, and the role of Pope to Peter. But many have never asked where the priests come in.  If you were at mass yesterday you heard how Jesus, in addition to the 12 chose another group, 70 or 72 (manuscripts vary).  This was in perfect continuity with what God did for Moses.  In the Book of Numbers we read how a warn out Moses, asked God for help in governing the complaining people, and God had Moeses choose 70 elders, on which God placed some of the Spirit he had given Moses. 

God is unchanging and so with his new covenant in addition to Peter and the other apostles, Jesus who is God repeated the choosing of elders to assist the apostles. The Greek word for elder is presbyter, the title to which we are ordained even today. Common English uses the word priest as the translation.  

Because the hierarchical constitution of the Church was given by Christ not even the Pope can change it. He can tinker around the edges. He could allow Latin Rite priests to marry, women to be deacons; there is a biblical foundation for that. But no human can alter the fundamental structure of the Church. That constitution is not ours to amend. 

Independence from English rule is a wonderful thing to celebrate. But we should not confuse that with the self-centered notion of independence so rampant today. Even less should we think that this notion of freedom void of responsibility toward others is Christian. The first thing the Bible teaches us about humans is that we were created to be one. 

As we celebrate our freedom let us also call to mind our responsibility and let us pray as a Church and a nation for unity.