The Four Marks of the Church are these. The Church is
But the Church on earth seems to be the opposite of these four things. The Church as we see it is
1. Not One, but Fragmented and Fractious.
2. Not Holy, but filled with Sin and Sinners.
3. Not Catholic, but Provincial and often Self-serving
4. Not Apostolic, but Idiosyncratic and often Protestant
And yet that’s not what the Church IS.
It’s not that the ideal Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. It’s not that the future, redeemed and purified Church will be all those things. It’s that the essence of the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. That’s what the Church’s nature is. That’s what the Church is even now! The Church is the Body of Christ; that is its corporal essence, even when we sinners subvert her four marks.
In other words, in so far as we are fragmented, we are not the Church. In so far as we are sinful, we are not the Church. In so far as we are provincial or idiosyncratic we are not the Church.
I have seen the Church alive and filled with the glory of her Four Marks – at the annual American Chesterton Society Conference, at EWTN, with the Little Sisters of the Poor, etc. And I have seen myself and others fall shy of those Four Marks. But I have seen the Church as she really is. And it is not a reality we create. It is a reality we (by grace and by our cooperation with grace) participate in.
Marriage is like this, too. A husband and wife indeed become One Flesh. They both die for and live for the other. That’s the essence of the sacrament. That’s the ontological change – the change in their very being, in their very nature – that the sacrament effects. In so far as (and when) they nag at each other or do their own thing or work against each other, they are corrupting and denying the reality that actually exists by virtue of the grace conferred in the sacrament of Matrimony. Their challenge is to be true to the new reality that actually exists within and between them, not to deny that reality, and not to try on their own efforts to create it whole cloth out of nothing, as if Marriage were a human construct or a future ideal and not an already existing divine fact.
We don’t need to gin ourselves up or lift ourselves by our own bootstraps to be saved. We don’t create the reality we seek; we say yes to it and cooperate with it, and it is offered to us as a gift, for which we should be grateful. But this is difficult for us to imagine, even if we’re Devout Catholics.
We moderns and post-moderns tend to think that we create reality. We don’t think we discover it or seek it or serve it. We think our private Unrealities are real. We honestly think we are gods and that we determine everything from our own genders to what is legal and just.
This seeps into the Catholic worldview as well. We Catholics tend to forget that faith doesn’t come first, with reality following. Reality comes first, and faith is a reaction to the discovery or revelation of reality. Faith affirms what actually IS, even though “what actually IS” may be difficult to perceive. It may take the eyes of faith to see it.
Believing we can create reality is a kind of madness born of pride. Seeking the reality that is true but hidden is an activity that requires humility. And seeing that what we desire already exists is perhaps one of the keys to understanding Our Lord’s enigmatic assertion, “The Kingdom of God is among you,” (Luke 17:41) or “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34)