Reflection on the Four Marks of the Church

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by Kim Long

The Nicene Creed was written centuries ago to help Christians remember the important beliefs of the faith. In the Nicene Creed we identify the four marks of the Church. These marks are not characteristics that the Church creates, develops or learns, but are qualities that Jesus Christ shares with his Church through the Holy Spirit. The four marks of the Church are that it is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

Events in our daily lives offer us the opportunity to connect with God in many ways, from visiting the sick, making a meal for a friend, offering a prayer and recognizing a deeper meaning to almost anything we do. Events in our daily lives can be viewed through many lenses or perspectives.

ONENESS

Several years ago my number came up – it was my turn to teach our eleventh grade Confirmation class. I liked all the students, but I feared I would not be able to connect with them. In the end, it was one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had. I spent a lot of time in prayer and reflection about how to lead this group, which was full of 13 very different personalities.

On day one the Holy Spirit set the tone for the coming year. Looking at the students, again who were so different from one another in background, personality and where they were in their relationships with God, I wondered how to break the ice. I posed the question, “How do people know you are part of your family?” Each stated their family surname but I gently pressed them to think  more about it. Then statements began to roll off their tongues: “We’re Hispanic,” “We’re Creole,” “My family are welders,” “All the men in my family served in the military,”  “My family are farmers,” “My uncle is a priest,” “We pray the rosary with my grandmother.”

I asked, “How do people know we are Catholic?” Those answers came a bit quicker: the cross of ashes, Communion, giving up something for Lent, pro-life, Advent. Then we began to talk about the marks of the Church, which they told me they did not know. I reminded them we pray them every Sunday in the Creed: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. They knew them, they were even “marked” by them, but they did not realize it.

In the visibility of the Church, oneness is easy to recognize through the liturgy. Whether we are in Shreveport, Ireland, Jordan, or anyplace on the planet, our Mass is the same, our readings are the same. This is a wonderful comfort in a world that seems to be ever-changing.  In the visibility of the oneness of the Church, diversity also exists just as it did in that Confirmation class.

Ephesians 4:4,5 “There is one body, one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one faith, one hope, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.”

HOLY

I received a telephone call from my oldest son a few days ago. One of his employees and his wife were in town with their four-year-old son. They were at a local hospital due to their son’s condition. At four years old his body’s white blood cells needed to “wake up.” I offered to go by and check on them, but my son said, “No, I don’t think they will be there very long.” I offered a prayer for the family and went about my business and my busy-ness as Holy Week fast approached.

Late one night my text alert buzzed: “Mom, can you go by and visit them? I think they need a friendly face.”

The next afternoon I parked and went in search of this young family. I found them, introductions were made and the usual questions gently asked, “Can I do anything? Do you need anything? Is there a pastor I can contact for you? Would you like to pray?”

I gave them my number and wondered if I would hear from them. We had not met before that day. I texted daily to check on them and then they asked if I would be willing to stay with their son while they got something to eat.

In the entry to his hospital room were strict instructions to wash, put on gloves, mask and gown. I wondered if I would frighten this child whom I had not seen before. He thought I looked funny and we laughed about it. During that short 90 minutes, he laughed, we played cards, looked at every picture on my cell phone and then he said, “Do you want to see my back?” Not sure I did, I said ok.

He lifted his pajama top and there were two bandages and a clear plastic shield. He seemed to catch my inability to respond to this and assured me, “It doesn’t hurt. The doctor said it will come off by itself.”

As I left the hospital I prayed hard for that family and I thanked God for showing me His grace and His holiness in that small, brave four-year-old child. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s quote, “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy” never rang louder in my ears as it did that moment.

CATHOLIC

This was a moment I dreaded. The phone call, the preparation, the loss. I did not want this funeral to happen because I did not want this friend, inspiration, disciple and brother in Christ to die, yet I knew he was tired and as it states in Timothy, he had finished the race.

In all the time I have been at my parish, I have seldom seen the church as full as it was that day; every pew was occupied. As I looked around at the sea of faces there were Creoles, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Anglos. There were young and old and we all knew and loved the same person.

As I sat there, I thought about how many lives he had touched, how loved he was, and how each one of us had known a different side of wonderful spirit. As the priest (one of five or six) rose to give the homily, he began to say everything that I was thinking.

Later I told that priest, whom I have known for many years, to “get out of my head.” But the truth is he wasn’t in my head, our brother in Christ, was in all of our heads.
As I walked away, the meaning of the word “catholic” was being widened past my pew, my grief, my parish; I was beginning to realize the fullness, beyond time and space that our faith offers daily. God had taught me through Pete’s life and now was teaching me through his death.

“The word of truth is growing…and bearing fruit in the whole world.” (Colossians 1: 5-6).

APOSTOLIC

The old television show Mission Impossible always began the same way. The main character would find a small tape recorder with a cryptic and dangerous mission and then the zinger at the end was always the same: “This is your mission should you choose to accept it.” So it is with the gospel.

Unlike the cast of Mission Impossible we have (in most cases) more than 47 minutes to fulfill our mission. What is our mission? To live out the gospel teachings of Jesus – simple, but not easy. If we take a look at the apostles, they went from being disciples (students) to apostles (teachers). And truth be told they came into this role gradually. Peter went from denying Jesus to being the rock upon which the Church was built. Thomas, in his doubting moment, gives me courage to know that when I doubt I don’t have to stay in that moment of flux. Apostolic can also be tied to learning. I ask myself, “Am I willing to let go of what I think I know and be open to the teachings of the Church? Am I willing to examine them and make adjustments in my life? Am I willing to accept my mission to do my part in echoing Jesus’s prayer ‘on earth as it is in heaven?’”

I am growing in my appreciation of the marks and what they have to teach me. Did it happen all at once? No. But I am willing to learn, contemplate, pray over, accept what they have to teach me about being a better person, to lead me in a way that allows me to live my baptismal promises more deeply. This Eastertide I hope you will consider these teachings and all they offer us. May we walk in the light, may we rest in the shadow and may we continue the journey to deepening our faith. May we become “marked and dangerous,” fearless in our love of God and all that He has for each of us. “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)  •

One Response to Reflection on the Four Marks of the Church

  1. Al Dumas says:

    Dear Ms. Long,
    I finished reading your well written article regarding the marks of the church. But I had an experience with it when the magazine first arrived that I thought you might find amusing.

    I came in and found the magazine folded open with page 15 facing up (and page 14 facing down to the counter.) Having attended nearly all of the events associated with the visit of the heart of St. John Berchmans, I immediately recognized the picture of Father Peter and the Bishop, and so I picked up the article to read it.

    I didn’t pay any attention to the title, but the opening grabbed my attention right away! As I quickly read on: “…finished the race … all knew and loved the person …I thought about how many lives he had touched [looking down at the picture again]… our brother in Christ …taught me through Pete’s life … [looking back at the picture again, searching for the author under the 'title' and not finding it] … through his death.”

    My startled reaction was: “GOOD HEAVENS, THE BISHOP WAS WRITING THIS ABOUT FATHER PETER’S FUNERAL!!!” I had just gotten a form letter from him signed April 19th; he seemed in good health — what had happened?!?!

    Well, you can imagine my relief when I opened up the magazine and saw BOTH pages, and that this was just a part of the article. After I read the whole thing, I, of course, was moved at little Pete’s death, but very, very relieved that Father Peter was still alive and well.

    Just thought you might get a smile out of this.

    Al

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