16 April 2009

Evangelical and Catholic

The freedom of the Gospel is not a freedom from the life of the Church, but a freedom to live with Christ, as a member of His Body, in faith and love. This freedom derives from the fact that life is not obtained by works of self-righteousness, but is received by grace through faith in Christ. That very life which is so freely received, is freely lived in gracious love toward others, and especially toward those who are fellow members of the Body of Christ. In this faith and love there is no compulsion or coercion, but simply living.

From the vantage point of both faith and love, the traditions of the Church are received and respected, not as absolute or inviolate, but as good gifts.

Faith strides freely forward in the Gospel, abiding with Christ in God; and as the Gospel does not bind, but bestows everything, so faith is not bound by anything, but is free to bestow what it freely receives. Faith is therefore free and clear to receive the traditions of the Church without fear — excepting those traditions which are not truly of the Church because they obscure or contradict the very Gospel by which alone the Church and all her members live. In truth, faith rejoices and delights in the Church's evangelical traditions, especially because they are not fabricated but received; they are not self-invented but inherited as gifts, as treasures of the family and household of God. Faith is not bound by tradition, but generally prefers to receive what is handed over, in harmony with the receiving of that uniquely sacred Tradition which is Christ and His Gospel. Faith lives by receiving.

Love does not hide in the freedom of this faith, but looks outward to the neighbor. Love does not insist upon its own way, but willingly defers to the neighbor. Above all else, love is chiefly concerned with the free course and confession of the Gospel, that the neighbor may also receive Christ and all His benefits. So love may sometimes choose to let the traditions of the Church go by the wayside, where they would otherwise impede or becloud the Gospel. But love will more often embrace the Church's traditions, both to honor the confession of the Gospel on the part of faithful fathers and mothers in Christ, and for the sake of those who are better served by the wisdom of the Church than by the cleverness of the local moment. Love not only gravitates toward the whole of the Body of Christ, but desires to gather lonely and isolated individuals into the embrace of that whole Body. That catholic communion of the Church is found only in the Gospel, but the catholicity of the Gospel is confessed in the common traditions of the Church.

To be truly evangelical is to be truly catholic, and to be truly catholic is to be truly evangelical. Not only in abstract ideology, but, like the Church herself and her members, this evangelical catholicity is lived in the body on earth, in the speaking of faithful words according to sound patterns of doctrine, and in the handing over of practices that serve and support the administration of the Gospel. Wherever those traditional patterns and practices can be received in harmony with the Gospel, there both faith and love rejoice to receive them, to use them, and to hand them over to the present and future generations of the Church on earth, to children, and to children's children, even to a people yet unborn.

Faith does not say, "Do I have to?" but simply offers thanks for gifts received. And love, in turn, does not insist, "You must," but graciously invites: "Be my guest; what's mine is yours."

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