By Father Andrew Dickinson
Eighty years ago this summer, on June 29, 1943, in the midst of World War II, Pope Pius XII signed an encyclical letter entitled Mystici Corporis (On the Mystical Body of Christ), written to the whole Church on the doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ. His Holiness desired to strengthen the bishop’s and people’s understanding that all baptized members of the Church share in a visible unity of the Body of Christ—we are all members of his Body.
The Church is not reduced to a building or to an official, but is composed of all baptized members and is visibly present in the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII knew that, in a time of suffering and grave challenge, the Church needed to be reminded of her supernatural connection to her Lord, and that this supernatural connection is shared by all her members.
As we draw closer to the implementation of the diocesan Set Ablaze initiative, it is no small providence that it shares this anniversary with Mystici Corporis. While we do not face the explicit opposition of the consuming deluge of war, we are facing a grave challenge to our lives as Christians as the culture around us continues to divorce itself from its Christian origins. Now is a time for courage founded in faith.
The unity of the Body of Christ on earth, the Catholic Church, is expressed locally in our diocese and our beloved parishes. When July 5 arrives, many of us are wondering: “What will happen? What will we face?”
Take courage in faith.
For the first months following July 5, 2023, we will not see much outward change. Our Mass times at our parishes will remain the same—initially. The first months will be a time for our newly assigned pastors to familiarize themselves with the pastorates and for you good people to familiarize yourselves with them. Then, after Sept. 1, 2023, the true work of Set Ablaze will begin. Your pastor will lead you in prayer, discussion and planning to see: “How do we provide the faith and grow the faith within our pastorate?”
This is no simple question.
All of us are aware that things are changing, whether through technology, demographics or politics. Our role as the Body of Christ on earth is as it always has been—to bring the light of Christ to areas of darkness and illumine the nations by Christ who dwells within us. Those who took Bishop DeGrood’s invitation to study the book “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission” are more aware of the long trajectory that brings us to this day.
Our coming work will take both faith and courage. Each of us must renew our faith as we go forward. It will take faith to remain confident that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (see Heb 13:8). It will take faith to confess and hold that Jesus Christ is found on earth in the body of the Catholic Church.
It will take faith to see that the Church is present not just in buildings but, most of all, in the lives of the baptized. It will take faith to remember that God is always in charge—even if suffering comes our way—as we just celebrated with our annual observance of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
The Passion of Jesus always leads us to consider courage. Our coming work will take courage from each of us in many ways as well. Courage to break through the parochialism of the past that divided parish against parish. Courage to bear the light of Christ in areas of our culture where darkness consumes.
Courage to bear witness to friends, neighbors and family of the faith that brings the love of God. Courage to consider something new. I am so grateful to have seen faith and courage in action already in the beginning efforts of the parishes I have served in Aberdeen. They had a long history of parochial turf battles—often led by their pastors—but they are softening and cooperating with wonderful faith and courage. Thanks be to God!
The Catholic Church is the Body of Christ on earth, composed not just of buildings but of each baptized believer. We might imagine ourselves as individual cells within the Body of our Lord—each one necessary for vibrant and active life and each one dependent on the Body as a whole to remain alive.
Our confidence comes not from ourselves but from the victory of our Lord. May your faith be strengthened and your courage show forth in the Body of Christ as we go forward in Set Ablaze.