Catholicism is sometimes criticized as not being “relational” enough, while supposedly overemphasizing rules and regulations. Such criticisms are false for a number of reasons, not least because the inner heart and the outward expressions of the Catholic faith are intensely relational.
Today’s readings form a rich tapestry woven from a number of interconnected relationships: between the Father and the Son, between God and man, and between members of the Body of Christ, the Church. The connections between each of these are rooted in the Triune relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and they reveal themselves in the external actions of worship and service within the Church.
For example, the reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows how early Christians had to grapple with the pressing problem of the Church’s growth and expansion. Greek-speaking Jews who had relocated to Jerusalem had expressed frustration because their widows were not receiving necessary assistance. The apostles appointed seven men to address these concerns. The laying on of hands and prayers indicates that these were likely the first deacons, commissioned to serve (the Greek word diakones refers to a servant or helper). This is just one of many references in Acts to the structure and hierarchy found within the early Church, resulting not from a desire for rules, but from a concern for the well-being of all.
Although he doesn’t use the words “authority” and “hierarchy,” Peter referred to both realities when he wrote that Jesus Christ is the “living stone” and “cornerstone,” while those who form his “spiritual house” are “living stones.” The foundational stone spoken of by the Prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist is Jesus, the Messiah (see Is 28:16; Ps 118:22). It is specially cut to be the cornerstone of a building, the Church, which St. Paul describes as “a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:19-21).
How are we made living stones? Through the Sacrament of Baptism. How is this “chosen race” fed and nourished? By the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which Peter alludes to in writing of “spiritual sacrifices.” This sacrifice is called “spiritual,” not because it isn’t real and actual, but because it is superior, made present by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the purpose of the Eucharist is relational in the deepest sense of the word, for by partaking of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, we enter more profoundly into communion with the Father.
This communion with the Father is what Jesus spoke of when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” for he then stated: “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” St. Peter Chrysologus wrote, “It is not possible to attain to God except through God.” Hence, God became man, so that man could attain to God through the God-man. “No one, therefore,” wrote St. Cyril of Alexandria, “will come to the Father, that is, will appear as a partaker of the divine nature, except through Christ alone.”
The Son returns to the Father to prepare a place for his disciples, and in order to send the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth (see Jn 14:16-17). These point, respectively, toward the Ascension and Pentecost. In this we get a glimpse of the relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity, working together in love so that we might enter into divine life and everlasting communion.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.