Article 63 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
Nowadays it is common to see mission statements formulated for non-profit organizations and other service oriented groups. Many parishes even have a “parish mission statement” that is written on the cover of the parish bulletin or highlighted on the parish website that seeks to capture the direction or desired goals of the parish community.
As a child I was taught that our mission as Catholics is to attend to matters of faith and good works by performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I guess this seemed obvious after hearing the gospel proclaimed so often at Mass and having read various gospel passages about the way Jesus lived his earthly life.
Many of you have memorized and can repeat the corporal and spiritual works of mercy even now. Many of you have in fact followed the precept to perform these works according to the temporal and spiritual needs of your neighbor? How many of you, however, have made a practical demonstration of their efficacy in your daily lives?
How about God’s mission? Have you ever considered what God’s mission might be? This section of the Catechism begins by telling us that “from the beginning until ‘the fullness of time,’ the joint mission of the Father’s Word and Spirit remains hidden, but it is at work. God’s Spirit prepares for the time of the Messiah. Neither is fully revealed but both are already promised, to be watched for and welcomed at their manifestation” (ccc 702).
When we study the 46 inspired books of the Old Testament to discern “what the Spirit … wants to tell us about Christ” (ccc 702), we learn that “the cloud of the Holy Spirit both revealed [Christ] and concealed him in its shadow” (ccc 707). The Law, the Prophets and the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament tell us that the Messiah is coming with the promise of redemption. We also learn that the same Holy Spirit who breathed on the waters at Creation (see Genesis 1) and inspired the Old Testament writers, is the same Holy Spirit who restores the glory of God lost by original sin.
The Holy Spirit always moves in the direction of life. As the Catechism puts it: “It belongs to the Holy Spirit to rule, sanctify, and animate creation, for he is God, consubstantial with the Father and the Son” (ccc 703). In creation, “God fashioned man with his own hands … and impressed his own form on the flesh he had fashioned” (ccc 704). As a result of the fall of Adam, we humans became “disfigured by sin and death,” but remained “in the image of God … (however) deprived of the glory of God” (ccc 705). Through the action of God’s only begotten Son, the glory of God is again restored “by the Spirit who is ‘the giver of life’” (ccc 705).
The Catechism tells us that “the characteristics of the awaited Messiah begin to appear in the “Book of Emmanuel … especially in the first two verses of Isaiah 11″ (ccc 712) as follows:
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-2).
Later in the Book of Isaiah, “the Servant songs … proclaim the meaning of Jesus’ Passion and show how he will pour out the Holy Spirit to give life to the many. Taking our death upon himself, he can communicate to us his own Spirit of life” (ccc 713). The evangelist Saint Luke (14:18-19) makes reference to this passage from Isaiah in his gospel.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2).
Finally, the prophetic texts from the Old Testament Books of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Joel that concern the mission of “the sending of the Holy Spirit are oracles by which God speaks to the heart of his people” with accents on “love and fidelity” (ccc 715). In the New Testament Book of the Acts of the Apostles (2:17-21), St. Peter proclaims the fulfillment of these prophesies on the morning of Pentecost. “According to these promises, at the ‘end time’ the Lord’s Spirit will renew the hearts of men, engraving a new law in them. He will gather and reconcile the scattered and divided peoples; he will transform the first creation, and God will dwell there with men in peace” (ccc 715). In the end, it is the poor “humble and meek” who “rely solely on God’s mysterious plans” that are “the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission” (ccc 716). They await, according to the Catechism, “the justice, not of men but of the Messiah” (ccc 716).
Next time we will discuss how the hidden mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit becomes the mission of the Church and our mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 22:21).