Daily Reflection
May 13th, 2006

Robert Heaney

John A. Creighton University Chair
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Acts 13:44-52
Psalm 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4
John 14:7-14

John 14:7–14
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, tells us that there are two great sacraments – Christ, the sacrament of God; and the Church, the sacrament of Christ. At the time that seemed puzzling to those of us more than 40–50 years old today, both because these two are not mentioned among the seven we learned in catechism class, and because we had been taught that a sacrament was “an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.” But a closer examination of the catechism definition reveals that, at heart, it means simply “a sign that makes real what it signifies”. And that fits perfectly not only the seven we learned years ago, but the two great sacraments highlighted by Vatican II. Christ is the sign of God. He makes God really present in humanity.

Jesus’ exchange with Philip in today’s Gospel makes precisely that point, in virtually so many words. “What there is to know about God can be learned by knowing me.” “What you see in me is what God is.” The thing that is hard for us to grasp – and we are no better at it than Philip – is that it is not some ethereal, exalted, spiritual Jesus who shows us God. It is the human Jesus, merciful, healing, compassionate, inclusive, reaching out, and – above all – crucified, who shows us God. Perhaps we would have preferred something a bit more majestic.

In the first letter of John we hear that God is love. Not a loving person, but pure, self-giving love. Jesus is that love, lived for us.

That leaves us with the second of the two great sacraments – the Church as the sacrament of Christ. As Jesus made God present in humanity, so the Church – the body of Christ – by its holiness and manifest self-giving, makes Christ’s own self-giving present in our world. Well, some might say: what about clerical sexual abuse? ham-handed episcopal management? repression of dissent? sexism? hierarchical power lust? How do these make Christ present to our world? They don’t. And they cannot be excused. But to raise such questions shows that we haven’t fully recognized Christ in His humanity. We are still looking for Christ in majesty. The “Church” that is the sacrament of Christ is not just – or even primarily – the institution, its structures and officials, but the body of the faithful, ordained and lay, who live lives of self-giving.

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