What it Means to Be the Church

To be Catholic is to be a part of the most amazing body ever created. Why? Because it was founded by Christ. Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18) He did not say, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build one of my churches.” Many Catholics are unaware of just how amazing the gift of being Catholic is because they see the Catholic Church as only one of many religions, with no special or unique place in the world. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

To fully understand the beauty of the Church, let’s start by looking at the word “religion”. The word religion has its roots in the Latin word religare, which means “to bind.” Christ founded the Church as the means to bind men to Himself. The word bind has the implication of being restrained against the will but for Christ. In fact, through the Church, Christ created the avenues and channels of grace that would create a bond of faith with Him and our free choice to be Catholic, to be a part of the Church, gives us what we need to follow Jesus in this life and into the next.

Many people today are trying to be spiritual – to enter into a supernatural bond with something greater than themselves – without what they would consider religion. They see organized religion as threat to their freedom or a man-made, oppressive set of rules. Nothing could be farther from the truth. To belong to the Catholic Church is to have free access to the grace of the Sacraments, the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the successors of the apostles, and the promise that not even the gates of hell can stand against us. The Catholic Church brings freedom, life, and salvation to all.

But what is the Church? Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.” Is it a building? Is it an institution? The Catechism teaches us:

752 In Christian usage, the word “church” designates the liturgical assembly, but also the local community or the whole universal community of believers. These three meanings are inseparable. “The Church” is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ’s Body.

It goes on to teach:

759 “The eternal Father, in accordance with the utterly gratuitous and mysterious design of his wisdom and goodness, created the whole universe and chose to raise up men to share in his own divine life,”to which he calls all men in his Son. “The Father . . . determined to call together in a holy Church those who should believe in Christ.” This “family of God” is gradually formed and takes shape during the stages of human history, in keeping with the Father’s plan.

As Church, we are a family born out of the Father’s love, instituted by Christ, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit to become the Body of Christ on earth and share in the divine life of the Trinity.  Wow! What great love the Father has to give us such an amazing gift!

I’ve worked for a long time with the Steubenville Conferences at Franciscan University and our mission is, in the spirit of St. Francis, to “Go, rebuild My Church.” We want to equip and empower all Catholics to live as disciples of Christ and help in the building of the Church through evangelization, service, and prayer. It is our hope that everyone who comes to a Steubenville Conference would hear the personal call to build their local Church.

I have been talking with many people lately about how the Church needs to create access points where people who are not Catholic can encounter the beauty of the Church in a way that would make them desirous of becoming Catholic. In the Acts of the Apostles, it was the love and witness of the early believers that drew people to want to become part of the Church. I do not believe that has changed.

I’ve watched Catholics have a life-changing encounter with Christ at a Steubenville Conference because they were invited by a friend. We each have the opportunity to be that person for others—the Church that creates a community of faith and love that can share graces with their wider community.

Each one of us has the call and duty to be a light in the darkness. Each one of us must be the incarnation of the love that created the Church. If we accept this invitation, we will help build the Church. We will bring more people into our family of love. We will build God’s kingdom on earth.

To find out more about the Steubenville Conferences, visit www.steubenvilleconferences.com


John Beaulieu has worked in the Christian Outreach Office of Franciscan University since 2003 and is the director of Marketing and Engagement. A graduate of Franciscan University, John has worked in youth ministry for over 20 years. He spent two years serving with NET in his youth and more recently has been a featured speaker at the National Catholic Youth Conference and the National Conference for Catholic Youth Ministers. John speaks on topics including the Holy Spirit, media and teen culture, and Christian evangelization. He has served as an adjunct professor, teaching youth ministry in the Catechetics Department at Franciscan University. John and his wife, Lisa, live in Steubenville with their five children. He will be presenting at the Steubenville Conferences this summer, which you can find out more about at steubenvilleconferences.com.

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