The four distinct marks that determine the Church
How can we be sure of the true Church that was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ? This is already visible through the four characteristics:
1.) ONE- It is clear in Matthew 16:18 that Christ only founded one Church, not churches, whose promise is that not even the gates of Hell can overcome it. This Church is a Church of unity in diversity, for as Christ said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Cf. Matthew 18:20). And we are brought to unity by the Holy Spirit that stirs us up in our different forms of service and works, guides us throughout our life journey, consoles us in the midst of our weakness, and empowers us to become courageous witnesses of the faith.
2.) HOLY- This is what the Lord Jesus tells us when he told us to ‘be perfect, just like our Heavenly Father who is ‘perfect’ (Cf. Matthew 5:48). Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are called to live a good example and also do good works, yet avoiding evil. Even priests are called to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in their ministry. Now there is no denial of erring priests and Bishops in the past until now, even history would tell about the worst Popes (including Antipopes). This is because they are tempted with what this world contains, all the money, power, luxury, lust, excessiveness, etc. Such abuses and scandals prove that the Church is a human institution. However let us not generalize this whole issue. While these are happening, the Church also suffers persecutions, trials, and attempts of destruction from emperors, pagans, tyrants, and dictators. She also suffers slander from other faiths that criticize her doctrines claiming them to be unbiblical, manmade, and of paganic basis. However throughout the years, the Church remains to be a divine institution because Christ promised that even the gates of Hell shall not overcome it.
3.) CATHOLIC- The word Catholic means “universal”. And we can see here the missionary mandate of Christ to the Church before his Ascension (Cf. Matthew 28:18-20): to Go, Baptize (be faithful to such promises), and Teach, for he is with us always until the end of the age. Thus the Church is scattered throughout the world. From Jerusalem during the time of the Apostles, it spreads throughout different regions and continents and because of a large number of faithful, we are all called to be the Church open for all, so that God’s mercy and love may be embraced in her. We are called to build relationships with one another and other people for God, to be united in a diverse culture. As we engage in a dialogue with other denominations and sects, those non-Catholics and non-Christians who did good deeds and lived good lives will be saved. But since they did not have the opportunity to embrace Christ and his Church, they can be saved through the Baptism of Desire.
4.) APOSTOLIC- The Church can be traced back from the time of the Apostles until now. Remember that Christ built his Church on the foundation of rock, which is the authority of Saint Peter. After the Pentecost event, the Apostles began their preaching. A large number of believers was added to the Way, which was later called by St. Paul in Antioch as “Christians”. St. Peter was succeeded by the Popes who preside the whole Universal Church, and our present Pope is Pope Francis. The Apostles were succeded by the Bishops whose task is to shepherd the faithful in large snd small territories. Then the Bishops ordained and continue to ordain Priests and Deacons to assign them in different communities for the spiritual care of the faithful. Thus this process of the Church’s authority is also known as the Apostolic Succession.
My dear friends, may the 4 marks of the Church help us realize how blessed we are to be part of this Church founded by Christ, so that we can also be a blessing for others. Together as the People of God, we proclaim with faith this article of our Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”