The Fifth and Sixth Marks of the Church

The Nicene Creed fittingly noted four marks of the True Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These marks identify four essential qualities and characteristics the Church has and they distinguish the True Church from any false claimants. Now we, of course cannot add authoritatively to this venerable list. Nevertheless permit me a couple of “prayerful additions” to the four marks of the Church. These cannot join the official list but I humbly submit these “marks” for your consideration to serve in a similar way to distinguish the True Church from false claimants and to give insight into the Church’s truest identity.

The 5th Mark of the Church: Hated. Jesus consistently taught us to expect the hatred of the world if we were true disciples.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:18-20).

Or Again: All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,how much more the members of his household! (Matt 10:22-24)

Or yet again, Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

One of the more painful aspects of Church life, yet also one of the aspects of which I am most “proud” is that we are hated especially by the world. It is true that some of the Evangelicals are ridiculed but few can deny that a very special and intense hatred for the Catholic Church and is widely on display. It’s never OK in our society (nor should it be) to scorn Jews or Muslims and to mock or attack their faith traditions. Most of the other Christian denominations (except the Evangelicals) also escape much hatred. But the Catholic Church, ah the Catholic Church, now it seems open season on her. We are scorned, badly portrayed in movies, our history is misrepresented, our sins (and we do have them) are exaggerated, our teachings called bigoted, backward, unrealistic, and out of date. And no matter how ugly, bigoted and inaccurate the world’s hatred is, very few if any express any outrage at how were are treated and misrepresented. Try any of this on the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, et al. and the outrage and claims of bigotry are echoed by the media (and well they should be). Meanwhile Dan Brownet al. get to go on and on about “evil” priests and bishops, a crucifix can be submerged in urine or the Blessed Mother smeared with dung and this is praised as “art” and funded by government grants.

I am not complaining (though these things are wrong). I am actually quite hopeful that this means we are doing something right. We are a sign of contradiction to the world and we are hated for it. We speak the truth to a world gone mad and we hold on to that “old time religion.” That we are hated puts us in good company with Jesus and the prophets and martyrs who stood with him. If we are really doing what we should be doing, the Church ought to experience significant hatred from the world. So hatred by the world is an essential mark of the Church if you ask me. We do not look to be hated. Neither do we look for conflict. But in preaching Christ crucified, in preaching the whole counsel of God and not some watered down version of it we surely do find hatred and conflict comes to us. Some people and denominations try to fit in with the world. They accept its ways and comprise the clear teaching of Christ. But the True Church speaks the whole truth of God in love and does not cave to the world’s demands. The true Church, by Christ’s promise, is hated by the world and those allied and wedded to it. But no need to fear…the sixth “mark” is here!

The Sixth Mark of the Church – Perduring – To perdure means to permanently endure. Here too Christ firmly established this principle and promise to the true Church:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it(Matt 16:18).

There are no governments or nations that have lasted 2000 years. Very little else in this world can claim such antiquity and even if it does can it claim to have remained essentially unchanged in its dogma or teaching? The Catholic Church is one, even after 2000 years. An unbroken line of Popes back to Peter and an unbroken line of succession for all the Bishops back to the Apostles through the laying on of hands. Not bad. Now consider that this is a miracle! If the Church were depending on human beings to exist and stay unified how long do think she would have lasted? Probably about twenty minutes, max. Our history is not without some pretty questionable moments, in terms of the human elements of the Church. That the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church certainly suggests they would try again and again. But here we are, a miracle. Still standing after all these years. Christ is true to his promise to remain with us all days unto the consummation of the world. We, the human elements of the Church may not live teachings of Christ perfectly, but the Church has never failed to teach what Christ taught even (as now) when the world hated us for it. At times we are tepid and struggle to find our voice, but Christ still speaks and ministers even in our weakness. Yes the Catholic Church is a miracle, the Work of Jesus Christ. And thus the sixth Mark of the Church is that she perdures. By God’s grace we exhibit this sixth mark. Nations have come and gone, empires risen and fallen, eras opened and closed, but through it all we perdure.

So there it is, I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic, (and if you don’t mind me saying), hated and perduring Church.

Here’s a very interesting hip hop song by the rapper Akalyte on these two additional “marks” of the Church.

The Church in China

We live well in America and it is easy to be a Catholic. True enough we see increasing threats and limits coming to our religious liberty, but all in all we still live free and well. Not so in other parts of the world where the Church is openly persecuted and her freedom is limited, often quite severely.

This is a short interview of Cardinal Zen, the recently retired bishop of Hong Kong. It was filmed in April 2009.

The Church in China has not been allowed by the government to officially recognize the Pope since the 1950s, and as a result it split into an underground Church that recognizes the Vatican and an officially government recognized church which has cooperated with the government. Pope Benedict XVI issued a letter in 2007 in which it was announced that many of the bishops in the above ground church had made contact with Rome and announced their allegiance to the Pope. The Pope, in his letter asked them to declare openly their allegiance to Rome and for the Chinese state to cease preventing them from doing so, however, many of the bishops have still failed to do this and Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong has been strongly encouraging them to do so. In a letter he sent last year he told the bishops to have the spirit of St Stephen and that if they had to choose between not following the pope’s instructions and being martyred than they needed to be martyred.

Here is an excerpt of that interview.

Pondering Persecution

In this week just before Holy Week we are reading from the 8th Chapter of John’s Gospel wherein Jesus enters into increasingly severe conflict with the temple leaders in Jerusalem. The conflict will ultimately end with Jesus death which we celebrate a week from this Friday.

I wonder if most Catholics today are ready for persecution. It probably doesn’t take a prophet to realize that, as the world around us goes increasingly insane and strays from God’s ways, we are more and more likely to experience persecution. The basic path seems to be this:

  1. Biblically Based moral vision is set aside either as old fashioned or as merely “personal opinion.”  
  2. Tolerance is exulted as the only real virtue.
  3. Insist that all behavior (except perceived intolerance) is to be tolerated.
  4. Accuse anyone who questions newly sanctioned behaviors of being intolerant and thus worthy of increasing punishment. Call them names such as intolerant, reactionary, rigid, unkind, mean, hateful, etc. Generally incite personal dislike of those who hold to traditional biblical morality through such labeling.
  5. Begin the process calling all perceived intolerance “hate crimes”  and start exacting punishment. Start by removing tax exempt status, begin permitting lawsuits for failing to observe all forms of tolerance (Except tolerance of intolerance).  
  6. Exact more punitive measures such as jail time for those guilty of  so-called “hate crime” or intolerance. Declare such people as dangerous since their “intolerance” may cause violence and thus call for their imprisonment.

As the world gets crazier such a process (which is already far along) does not seem so far-fetched. In Canada there are already clergy on trial for the “hate-crime” of opposing so-called “Gay marriage.” You can read more of that  HERE  and HERE. But there are several things to ponder about persecution:

  1. Persecution is normative for the Christian. Jesus exemplifies this in his own life and also teaches: If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:19ff)
  2. Hence, the fact that we are persecuted does not mean we have done anything wrong.  – Too many Christians are swayed by the anger of others into thinking that they have done or said something wrong or inappropriate. While not every tactic we might use is always appropriate, our message, even if delivered with appropriate means will often anger the world. Again, this DOES NOT mean we have done anything wrong.
  3. Refuse to accept and internalize the labels. Just because some one calls you intolerant does not mean that you are. Further we should not be required to tolerate everything. Hence it is appropriate to strongly oppose, to refused to tolerate that which we consider wrong.
  4. Courage– Preaching and living the faith in a world gone increasingly mad will require guts and persistence. We must re-examine our intense need to be liked by everyone and approved by all and prefer nothing to God and his truth.

So, as we see Jesus in the Gospels of this week go into the fray for our sakes, we must admire his courage and pray for similar strength and virtue. Things may get difficult in the years ahead. But listen again to Jesus: In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”  (John 16:33).

I preach on this topic at this morning’s Mass. If you’d like to hear more you can listen here: Pondering Persecution (17 Minutes)

Here too is a video clip of John 8 that depicts the increasing opposition that was mounting against Jesus. It is from the Movie The Gospel of John.