Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Meine Benedikt part 3: The Day the Pope finally got to see me...

Referring to the older post, I wasn’t totally candid when I said one of my childhood dream was to see the Pope in person. You see, aside from that, I also wanted to go to Rome at least once in my life.

My diaconal ordination in April of 2007 signaled the beginning of the end of my stay in Pamplona (or so I thought back then). By the end of June I was expected to be back in the Philippines. But before doing so, I decided to fulfill this childhood dream, now that I was nearer than ever before to one of my dream cities (aside from Venice, Milan, and the Holy Land, which comes in the third place). After talking it over with another newly ordained deacon from Palo, then Rev. Marlon Cua, and arranging things with a priest who was then at that time finishing his masters in Social Communications in the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Fr. Amadeo Alvero, and (then) seminarian Christian Golong, we went to Rome by end of June.

We stayed in an apartment that was adjacent to the seminary Sedes Sapientiae, which was a kind of sister-seminary to Pamplona’s Bidasoa, though a bit younger. I remember that we touched down in Rome on the feast of St. Josemaría Escriva (June 26), and so one of the first things that we did after having placed our things in our lodgings was to go to the Prelatic Church of Our Lady of Peace, where the remains of the saint lie under the main altar. I was told before that the church—the “cathedral” of the Personal Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei—was quite small, but I hadn’t any idea how small it was until I came to visit it. It was really small, considering that it was supposed to a sort of “cathedral-church” of the Prelature. It was like a small chapel; even the main chapel of the Sacred Heart Seminary could contain it comfortably. But it was very beautiful and certainly very dignified. After venerating the remains of the saint, we went down to have a look at the crypt, where the first Prelate of the Opus Dei (Bishop Álvaro del Portillo) was buried, as well as the remains of Carmen, St. Josemaría’s sister.

After dinner, Fr. Amadeo took us to St. Peter’s. I was very excited, since up until then I’ve seen it in videos and read about it only in books. We boarded the bus and when we were quite near, we went the rest of the trip on foot. Suddenly, I was before the famous plaza and the façade of the great basilica. I could remember being very overwhelmed at the sight of it all. It was all so huge. I raised my eyes towards the Apostolic Palace, and saw that the windows of the Pope’s private apartments were all lighted. It was thrilling to know how close we were to the Holy Father at the moment. In the course of our stay there in the plaza, I could see the lights being put out one by one, until the last one was put out.
The next day, we made a tour of Rome’s basilicas, especially the four papal ones: St. Peter in the Vatican, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul-Outside-The-Walls. We started with the Vatican Basilica. It was all so huge, even the angels at the holy water stoops were gargantuan. More intense for me was when we went to the crypt underneath the big church, where the most recent popes are buried. Two years after John Paul II, the queue towards his grave was still quite long. This was the closest that I would be getting to him in this life, I said to myself as I joined the line that passed before his tomb. The feeling was intense, more so because of what this man meant for me. People would take of the “presence” and the “power” issuing from the place. Call me a subjectivist rationalist, but I think what I felt was more because of what this man meant for me and for my vocation.

After the tomb of John Paul II, I went to visit the tombs of other popes: John Paul I, Paul VI, John XXIII and Pius XII. I also went to the tomb of Pius XI. I couldn’t help but feeling awed at being so physically close to the remains of all of these men.

The highlight of the trip was not just that, however. We were able to celebrate the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in the very city where they made their supreme witness to the faith. As is well-known, on this day the Holy Father bestows the pallium on the new metropolitans appointed throughout the past year. At least there was one Filipino among those invested, the Archbishop of Davao, Romulo Valles.

When we went into St. Peter’s, we decided not to push further into the front, but instead contented ourselves at the back, near the entrance to the sacristy. It was a good decision, because it afforded us a view of the Holy Father as he went out. When the procession towards the altar started, everyone was serious, meditative. But after the Mass, more people were talking pictures and waving at the Pope or their archbishops.

As I had said, we were waiting at the end of the barricades, next to the entrance to the sacristy. Clad in clericals at the end of a line of lay people, we stood out from the rest; we were the last people the Pope would see before he final entered the sacristy. When the Pope was just a meter away from my reach, he turned and looked at me. For some moments we looked at each other, and I noted how warm and paternal his gaze was. I remembered this especially because it changed the way I considered him up until then. Clearly, earlier photographs of Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t do him justice, since they gave the impression of a stern German inquisitor. No, what I saw where the eyes of a gentle grandfather, who was smiling at me a meter away.

I broke the spell by doing a small inclination of the head. The Holy Father responded inclining his. Later on I would laughingly say that now I could be happy since the Pope had acknowledged my existence. I also jokingly say that that was the day the Pope finally got to see me.

(to be continued…)

Monday, February 25, 2013

MEINE BENEDIKT part 2: the Pope in Valencia

I’ve always dreamt about meeting the pope in person; it was one of my most cherished dreams. Since I was born wit John Paul II being at the helm of the Church, I always wanted to meet him personally; his death had thwarted those hopes for the meantime (I’m looking forward to meet him in heaven).

But when it was announced that Benedict XVI was going to Valencia in the summer of 2006 to conclude the fifth World Meeting of Families, I was excited at the opportunity that had presented itself, most especially when it was made known that he had reserved a special meeting with seminarians.

The affair in Valencia was slated for summer, during the first week of July. At that time I was working in a summer camp, teaching English to a group of unruly Spanish teenagers, in order to earn money in preparation for my diaconal ordination and for the plane ticket back to the Philippines. The camp was held at El Poblado, a property owned by the Opus Dei, quite near to the only sanctuary properly owned by this personal prelature (the sanctuary of Our Lady of Torreciudad). It was designed to keep youngsters busy for three weeks during the summer months, allow them to learn a bit more of English, and for members of the Opus Dei, this was a fine opportunity to proselytize.

The seminary where I was studying in Pamplona had organized a trip to Valencia, to be there with the Holy Father when he came. For us who were out of town, we were to join the rest of the seminary community there. And so, with the rest of the summer camp (who also went to Valencia to meet up with the Prelate of Opus Dei, among other things), I made the four-hour drive to the capital of the Valencian province. The city was already packed with pilgrims and participants. The kids were accommodated in one of the centers of the Work, while I joined the rest of the seminarians from Bidasoa (as the seminary was called, short for Colegio Eclesiastico Internacional Bidasoa). It was a welcome respite, since being with a bunch of rowdy kids could be very stressful, starting from day one.

The Holy Father arrived in Valencia on July 8; from the airport there was a motorcade that lead him directly to the cathedral, where he was welcomed by the city’s notables. A great number of religious and clergy were waiting to meet him inside the cathedral. From the cathedral he walked the short distance to the adjacent basilica of Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forlorn), were he stood for a few moments in prayer.

I got my first real glimpse of him as he was crossing from the cathedral to the basilica: a distant figure dressed in white and red, with the white skullcap almost undistinguishable from his snowy white hair. When the people assembled in the plaza (we were there since seven in the morning) came to know that the Holy Father was within a few meters, we all became very excited. I was situated not far from the stage where he was about to appear. It was decorated with a huge mural of Our Lady; at the foot of the mural stood the throne where he was to occupy. There were a lot of seminarians coming from different parts of Spain as well.

After some minutes, about quarter of an hour perhaps, he finally came out to meet us. The Holy Father wasn’t very tall, and yet he had this presence that made him stand out. We all erupted into cheers as he waved at us. Finally, when he had settled on the throne he, addressed all present, but spared a few words for us seminarians that were gathered there. He talked to us about our vocation to the priesthood, and the great part that our parents played in the story of our vocation: the family is the best setting which best enables us to hear the call of the Lord and to accept the gift of a vocation. He also told us to live intensely the years of preparation in the seminary.

After the traditional prayer of the Angelus, he imparted to us his blessing, and then he was off. He passed quite near to where I was. Perhaps that was the time when I made the decision not to return to the Philippines without first passing through Rome. I told myself then, a seminarian about to be ordained, that this was not to be the last time that I would find myself with Benedict XVI.

 (to be continued)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters…The Lord is calling me to "climb the mountain", to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this, it is so I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength...We will always be close in prayer!"


The professor was talking about the councils of Christian antiquity when the vibrations in my pocket told me that my cell phone had just received a message. Being in class and judging it not to be that urgent, I decided to let it be and see it later. But after five minutes or so curiosity got the better of me and so I glanced at it to see whose message it was. It was from my mom, asking me if it was possible for a pope to resign, since it was on the news that Pope Benedict had just made known his decision to step down. A bit stunned by it, I immediately got into the Internet, trying to see if it were true. It was already about half past twelve in the morning of Monday, February 11, 2013, and I was in the middle of our class in the history of the ecumenical councils of Christian antiquity. The news that I read left me very stunned: the Pope had made known his decision to step down by the end of the month, for reasons of old age, due to which he acknowledged his increasing incapacity to remain in the exercise of his ministry.

The classroom, being situated in the bowels of the building, was usually chilly; the news struck me cold. The professor’s voice became a droning sound in my ears, as I realized that this was something that hasn’t been done for a very long time, and which up until now, though provided for by canon law, was hypothetical, something that the popes of the twentieth century had not done—though contemplated by some—even when the going went rough in the Church.

Certainly the news was a bombshell, which at that moment was making rounds all around the globe. I managed to contain myself up until the end of the class, when I finally got to share the news:“The Holy Father has made known his plan to abdicate”, I said. There was incredulity in everybody’s face. I was afraid for a moment that I wasn’t able to make myself clear; I chose to read the most essential part of the Pope’s address, delivered just that morning. I could barely read it, since I was choked with the emotion of the moment.

Nobody talked of anything else all throughout the day. Once again Pope Benedict has surprised us. They used to speak of Blessed John Paul II as the “Pope of surprises”, but I think this present pontificate that’s about to come to a close has been one full of surprises. But this last surprise has been the most unprecedented one of all, well for the last six hundred years at least.

And so it ends. As we may read and hear a lot of things about the Holy Father during these last days, I was moved to think about my own experience of Benedict XVI. This pontiff was at the helm of a very crucial moment of my young life: he was there as I made the last preparations before getting ordained to the priesthood, and as I made my first steps in the priestly life. He was the Pope of the formative years of my priesthood. Now as he steps down, I’m having a feeling that the curtain is about to be drawn on a certain period in my life. Though the years will have to confirm it still, I have a feeling that the formative years of my early priesthood are coming to a gradual close. It’s coincidental that I was able to witness live that event when, as Pope Benedict XVI, he first stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter’s as Pope, soon after his election; I was then a theology student in the Ecclesiastical Sciences building of the University of Navarra. Years later, more than seven to be exact, in the same building, now as a priest, I came upon the news of his stepping down.

With the shocking news, I returned to that spring day in 2005, the day when this man first entered, shyly though it may seem but with a firm step, into the public spotlight.


The death of Pope John Paul II on the second of April was something that we would certainly never forget. The drama of the endless surge of people coming into St. Peter’s Basilica in order to pay their last respects to a man whose giant figure defined the better part of the last decades of the 20th century, and the huge farewell which was his funeral was still fresh on our minds. Soon after the funeral, the preparations for the conclave began in earnest. For a much younger generation, this was going to be the first experience of transition that we ever had in the Church; it was an exciting time to be in. I considered myself lucky to be closer to Rome those days (relatively closer than I would’ve had I been in the Philippines), and the air of expectation that was building up in Rome was enough to reach us in Spain.

The day the conclave started, I watched the proceedings intently, absorbed in something which up until that time I had only read during my earlier days in the seminary, or watched in some videos about the papacy. We were praying for a short conclave: among other things, the demise of John Paul II really left us feeling orphaned, and it was strange not hearing the name of the Pope being mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer.

The 19th of April started normally enough. Black smoke issued from the famous chimney that had been installed on the roof of the Sistine Chapel by midmorning, announcing that the cardinals had not come up with the election.

At class that afternoon, we were having Sacred Scripture with Don Vicente Balaguer. Owing to the Internet connection that the classroom had (there was no Wifi in those days, unlike now), we had asked the professor if we could keep the screen down in order to monitor the election via on the Vatican website while class was going on. Don Vicente said it was okay, since he himself was anxious to see what the afternoon’s balloting would bring. The period ended with nothing special. The next period was a class on Dogmatics, and we had Don Francisco Lucas Mateo-Seco as our professor. He ordered the screen to lifted and the computer turned off, since this would distract us (and him, presumably) from the class.

Just as the class was about to end, Don Vicente Balaguer went by in order to announce that the chimney had just emitted white smoke. We tried to reconnect with the Vatican website but, as one could suppose, at the same time, millions were trying to do same thing. We weren’t able to have a good connection, but we could see white smoke issuing from the famous iron chimney.

Outside the classroom, there was major pandemonium. Some were undecided whether to go home or wait for the historic announcement that would reveal the new pope’s identity to the world. Some professors were looking for the dean, who later on told them that classes were suspended for the afternoon. A group—myself included—crowded into a small room with an equally small television set which at the moment lacked an antenna for it to function well. Somebody produced a fountain pen, which served considerably well for the purpose. Everybody was tense; in the images broadcasted from St. Peter’s Square we could see the crowd increasing by the minute. People were flocking to the square—some were running—and soon the place was jam-packed with people. The excitement in the square seemed to ooze into the room where we stood. Minutes later, the glass doors of the central balcony of the façade of the great basilica opened, and the same ceremonial played out several times before in the past was once enacted before our very eyes.

Habemus Papam!” was the announcement that elicited shouts of joy and revelry from the crowd far below the balcony, something duplicated in all parts of the world. We erupted in cheers when we heard that. It’s quite amusing to consider the thought that we all knew what the cardinal proto-deacon had to say, and yet it was as if we were hearing it for the first time.

When Cardinal Medina-Estevez mentioned the name Josephum, it dawned on us that it had to be Ratzinger, something that was confirmed after a few moments. The good cardinal knew how to elicit suspense from the world audience, which practically breathless until he said Ratzinger! with flourish.

The crowd went bonkers, unbelievably, at least for me at that time. I wasn’t familiar with this German cardinal until after the death of Pope John Paul, and I had images of a stern, disciplinarian cardinal in my mind, partly fed by mainstream media. But the death and funeral of the great pope—now his successor—had relayed a different image of Ratzinger, as well as more of his brilliance and deep spirituality, thanks to the homilies that he had delivered during the papal funeral and the Mass before the conclave began.

But the crowd went crazy with joy, despite of that picture. We had a pope, and we weren’t orphans anymore. I believe that was the general feeling at that moment. It didn’t matter if he was German or that he was likened to a German shepherd.

The name that the new pope chose—Benedict—was another surprise. The last time any pope had used that name was not too far away in history: in 1914. Despite of what his figure meant in the history of the Church in the 20th century, which was certainly great, Pope Benedict XV was never well-known, and this perhaps because he was overshadowed by the equally gigantic figures of the other popes and the fact of two great world wars.

It’s interesting to note how the acceptance of a great responsibility could change a person almost instantaneously. There was certainly something different about Ratzinger—now Benedict XVI—when he emerged. In this first meeting with the world, he stepped a bit timidly into the balcony, but that timidity remained only for a moment; what we began to see was a man who had placed everything into the hands of God.

When the Apostolic Blessing had been imparted, and the classes having been suspended, I started the long walk home. As I crossed the university campus, I could hear the bells of the city ring in jubilation. I was smiling as I walked.

That evening, we celebrated solemn Vespers with the Blessed Sacrament exposed; the Te Deum was sung. Everyone was in a festive mood. 

 (to be continued...)


TRANSFIGURED LIGHT: the second Sunday of Lent

1.     St. Leo the Great explains to us that one purpose of the Transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of the disciples: “The foremost subject was to remove the offense of the cross from the disciple’s heart, and to prevent their faith from being disturbed by the humiliation of his voluntary passion by revealing to them the excellence of his hidden dignity” (cf. Sermon 51). Furthermore, by revealing to the disciples’ the Paschal glory with which the face of risen Christ was to shine, we are made to see that the cross doesn’t spell the end of everything, but that the sufferings of the present should lead us to look forward to future glory. Living in our bodies and in our lives the passion and death of Jesus, we will be sharers in his same glory.

2.     “Let us build three tents…” These familiar words of Peter (the same apostle who made the confession of faith in Christ’s divinity), reveal to us how easy we are attracted to what is beautiful, to what is pleasing. It brings home to us once more the natural repugnance of whatever is costly and difficult. “But he did not know what he was saying”, the gospel of Luke records, referring to Peter. We were not called merely to contemplate that Beauty: we were called to share in it. In order to participate in the transfigured glory of the Son of God, we have to share in his Passion and Death. The only road towards the glory of the resurrection is the road of the cross. In our personal, day-to-day life, this means being open to the grace of conversion: dying to our pride, to our selfishness. It means rejecting sin in the many instances of our day; do an examination of your day and you’ll be surprised at the times you’ve been proud and selfish.

3.     “This is my chosen Son; listen to him”: this is basically the challenge of Christian life, which this season of Lent serves to highlight for us. Responding to the grace of conversion is listening (not just hearing) to the Gospel; it means being open to Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Christian life is a process of listening. We cannot respond if we are not capable of listening. Listening doesn’t only lead us to pray and reflect: more importantly, it also leads us to act. “Today if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”: these words of the liturgy should serve as an invitation to listen to Christ, our companion on this Lenten pilgrimage.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013



The apparition and usage of ashes in the liturgy that marks the beginning of lent is a powerful sign. It serves as a damper that serves to remind us of the apparent futility of life; it reminds us of our own mortality, of the vanity of everything that we cherish here and now, and of the stark reality that everything that we see and touch will mean nothing to us when we descend into the silence of the grave. All of this is brought home to us when we hear the ceremonial words that accompany the gesture of the ashes’ application on our heads: Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.  Remember, o man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

The great theologian Romano Guardini, reflecting on the significance of the ashes says that these signify man’s overthrow by time. “Our own swift passage, our’s and not someone else’s, ours, mine. When at the beginning of Lent the priest takes the burnt residue of the green branches of the last Palm Sunday and inscribes with it on my forehead the sign of the cross, it is to remind me of my death” (Guardini, Sacred Signs).

In a way, the ashes on my forehead signify the emptiness of all my earthly hopes, the prompt expiration date of everything that has held my interest until now: riches, titles, and possessions. The time will come—and it may come sooner than I expect it—that I would have to face the most inevitable fact of my existence: my mortality, my death, my apparent annihilation. 

But the ashes also point to my failures as well; failures rooted on my personal defects, which are further proof of the fact that I am not sufficient unto myself. The ashes are an accusation that point to me, me who have tried to built monuments to my ego, thinking that they would stand for everyone to see, and that they would last to the admiration of future generations. The ashes indicate the fact that the sooner the breath of life leaves my lungs, everything that I have raised by myself and for myself will immediately crumble into ash.

Lent is a time to consider many things in our life, reestablish our priorities, rediscover the things that really matter, those that really last. Sifting through the ashes of our sins, of our vanity and pride, we are led to discover that that which is most essential is the one that we have destroyed in the first place: our relationships. The bonds that we have established in our daily life, these are the most important.

The grace of the season of Lent ought to lead us to discover how prompt we have been in disregarding the most important of these relationships: the one that we have with our Lord. The manner how we relate with him affects the way we relate with the rest of creation. Sifting through Lenten ashes, we realize that it is also in our power—aided by God’s merciful grace—to reestablish this relationship, broken through sin, which is an offense against the love of God.

This is an important realization, for a disjointed relationship with God gives for a disjointed relationship with others: those whom I love, those whom I work with, those whom I serve. Even the way we deal with nature is affected with the way we address God.

Let the ashes talk to you at the start of this season of Lent. But aside from these things, the ashes will tell you as well that a life reconciled with God does not end in futility. The Lenten liturgy of the Church starts with ashes, in order to end with the blaze of the light that issues from the Paschal Candle, symbolic of the risen Christ. Lent tells us that sin and separation from God does not need to have the last word in our lives.

As we start the season of Lent, we begin by acknowledging our sinfulness; we acknowledge our need for God and his mercy; drawing to him in the sacrament of reconciliation we are healed of our sins. Partaking of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist we are strengthened to love as God loves. In this way, as Lent progresses, we move from strength to strength, we begin to know ourselves more as children of a God who loves, who allows himself to be called Father by us, something made possible by the generosity of Christ on the Cross.

In the season of Lent, we start with ashes; aided by the Lord’s grace, we end our long journey in the blaze of Easter light. In the early centuries, Christians have likened our Lord to the phoenix, that mythical bird who immolates himself on a burning pyre. The bird dies, only to rise from the ashes, more glorious than before. For the ancients, the phoenix is the symbol of immortality.

Let our Lenten journey be made under the leadership of that divine Phoenix, Christ himself. With his grace, may we rise from the ashes of our repentance, in order to shine with the Christ’s own glory. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Black Legend Series (III): The Rock Of Ages

As I was thinking of ways how to start talking about the early Church, a stage in her history which simplistically we tend to refer as the “Church of the Catacombs”, a terms that is largely misleading, it suddenly dawned on me that one simply cannot embark on a reflection of the two-thousand year old history of the Church without remitting to the very beginning. The story of the Catholic Church does not start with the martyrs, nor with the primitive Church, nor with the mission of the apostles. Her history takes off from the story of a life that was lived in Palestine at the start of the Common Era.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is whom we find at the very beginning of this history that has spent two thousand years in the making. This may surprise us, but it is something that we tend to overlook. Right at the start, I am setting down a very important criteria that should be at the back of our minds as we go along these series: the Church is both a divine reality, but at the same time it is not lacking in human elements. That the Church is a mystery in this sense is evident in every step in the study of her history. This is so true about her that a study of her history would be lopsided if it were seen merely from the political, social, and anthropological point of view. Such an incomplete and lopsided historical perception is mainly to blame for the many myths and half-truths about the Church, especially about her past.

Human and divine. The renowned German historian Joseph Lortz expresses this important aspect of Church history when at the start of his monumental work Geschichte der Kirche he firmly states that the history of the Church is theology.[1] The consideration that this is not merely the history of not just any people, but the People of God not only does it legitimize the scientific nature of this field of study, but it allows us to contemplate it in its proper context: that the Catholic Church makes her progress in history not merely due to social, political and historical factors, but that she goes through history always under the designs of divine providence. Things happen in the Church, present in time, not only due to what man wills and how they execute what they will (for better or for worse); her historical progress follows a design that isn’t foreign from God’s will to save man.

If you want to study how and what the Church is, then you would have to begin with Jesus Christ, who founded the Church. It is in his life and in his death that we would be able to see the seed from which the Church will grow. Thanks to the mystery of the Incarnation, I would venture to say that it is in Jesus Christ that that which is divine, that which is eternal, that which is theological could be dated. For this is what the Incarnation basically is: the irruption of the eternal, the timeless, into man’s history, history which is quantifiable.  This is something revolutionary, as one could deduce from the many references that posterior Christian thinkers would make of this mystery: “Oh wonderful exchange!”, Irenaeus of Lyon would say in the second century. But then the Incarnation is not merely a mystery: it also an event. It something that has taken place in time; it is datable, verifiable. The eternal Son of God has been born of a virgin named Mary, betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David, the roots of which are found in Bethlehem. 

If it is historically verifiable, when was the Son of God born according to the flesh then? We don’t have constancy of the exact date of Jesus’ birth, in the same manner as we would see in our own birth certificates. But this fact does not invalidate the historicity of Jesus’ birth—and as such—his own existence. For one thing, back in those days, people did not keep track of time in the same way that we do (and just because they do not do it the way we do doesn’t mean that it doesn’t tell us anything true). The primary sources that we have of the life and death of Jesus—and what happened afterward with his resurrection and ascension into heaven, is the New Testament, particularly the accounts of the four gospels. These are not biographies of Jesus, strictly speaking: their primary intention is to proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ and his mission, which is part of God’s plan to save man. Though being such—testimonies of faith in the Son of God, what he did, what he taught—as data they give contribute something that could allow us to get to know the historic Jesus.

Together with other extra-biblical sources, we could gather the following: Jesus of Nazareth was born during the final years of the reign of Herod the Great (ca. 748-50 after the foundation of Rome, or 6-4 BC) and died in Jerusalem (on the 14-15 of the Jewish month of Nisan in the year 783 ab Urbe condita[2], which corresponds to the 7 of April, year 30 of the Christian calendar), when Caiaphas was high priest and Pilate the procurator of the roman province of Judea. He started his public ministry soon after receiving baptism from John (a prophet who preached the approaching redemption wrought by the Messiah) in the Jordan. Jesus exercised his ministry principally in the lower region of Galilee, teaching, traveling, and curing. Many followed him, but among these he called twelve men who became his inner circle. His company included people from different walks of life, even public sinner, with whom he ate. He exorcised demons, cured the sick and worked miracles. His taught using parables, transmitting his teachings through simple stories and using everyday images; with these he taught his followers and listeners about the Kingdom of God. his ministry—which could have lasted between two to three years, did not end in Galilee but in Jerusalem, where he used to spend the Passover. During this time, he was secretly arrested, and handed over by the chief priests of his own people to Pilate, tried and charged guilty of sedition. He was crucified and died. Soon after, his disciples (the majority of whom fled during the days of his arrest, trial and death), went about preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead.

These data may provide a minimalist image of Jesus, but these facts are enough to establish the basis for a firm knowledge of Jesus and the origins of the Church, which the accounts of the four evangelists and the Acts of the Apostles relate.[3]

Though nowadays very few people would take for granted the fact of the historicity of the figure of Christ, in the early years of the twentieth century, influenced in a substantial way by liberal Protestantism, certain trends of thought began to question the intention of Christ to found the Church. This view is primarily found among modernists. Modernism is basically an intellectual movement which rose during the first half of the twentieth century (before the First World War) that declared that the Church had to change entirely in order to suit the modern age into which it was entering; in order to be more acceptable to modern man, she ought to change not only in her accidental aspects (which could admit change), but also in her doctrine, in matters of dogma and morals (which is unacceptable, since these, being founded on eternal truths, can never change).

One of the points of the modernist way of thinking—condemned by the Church in 1907—was that the Church wasn’t founded by Christ, who never had the intention of founding anything anyway. Alfred Loisy—a French scriptural scholar, maintained that Jesus, who saw the imminent coming of the end of times, had never thought of founding any stable community, much less the Church; however, the Church was a logical consequence of the preaching of the Gospel. It was the prolongation of this preaching while mankind awaited the parousía. This is encapsulated in Loisy’s iconic statement which could be expressed in the words “Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom, but what came out of it was the Church”. Along with others, this was roundly condemned by the Magisterium.

This makes us turn to the question as to whether Jesus really had that intention of founding the Church. Did Jesus really intend to found it? Did he really see himself as its founder, its head?

Unlike how people might do it today, the Church wasn’t founded in a day or in a specific day in particular, with a notary to record it. Rather, in ascertaining the foundation of the Church, we look to certain circumstances in the life of Christ that show this intention to found the Church. Aside from this, there are also singular events in the life of Christ and in that of the first community of believers (gathered around the figure of the Twelve) in which the Church entered into history.

In the first place, there was the preaching of Jesus, which announced the coming of the Kingdom of God; in his preaching he also called to repentance and conversion. It was a conversion that was not individualistic, but always set in the context of the new People of God.

The institution of the Twelve apostles also showed the will of Christ to found the Church: like the twelve tribes that made up the people of God, they were to be the twelve columns upon which the new People of God would be built. Among them he charged Peter with the power of the keys (cfr. Mt. 10:1-4; Mk.3:13-19; Lk. 6:12-16).

Another evident sign of this will to establish the Church was Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, and his granting of the power to perpetuate it in history to the Twelve. In this, Christ transmitted to the Church, in the person of the Twelve apostles who were seated with him in the Last Supper, the responsibility to be the sign and the instrument of that community which he had formed, one which would have to last until the end of time.

Finally, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which had been sacramentally anticipated in the Last Supper (and made present once again every time the Mass is celebrated) gave birth to a united community, in communion with him. This is a community that is called to be both a sign and the instrument of the work that Jesus had started. The Church is born, therefore, from the total self-giving of Christ, his generosity that procured our salvation; it is a self-giving that has been anticipated in the Last Supper and fully realized on the Cross.[4]

The preaching of Jesus of the kingdom of God and his call to conversion, the call of the Twelve and the special mission of Peter, the institution of the Eucharist and the Paschal Mystery: all these were constitutive of the foundation of the Church. Soon after Pentecost, which ushered the Church to go forth and announce the Good News, the Apostles, conscious that that they had to fulfill a mission that had to last until the end of time (since as such they had received it from Christ), perpetuated it by choosing men to succeed them in the task. When at last all of the original Twelve had gone, they left behind a community of believers, with a structure through which the apostolic ministry continued, guiding and sustaining it in communion with Christ. The Acts of the Apostles show that it is an assembly—ekklesia in Greek, kirche in German, Church in English—vitalized and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

Throughout this reflection, we have pondered on basically two matters: the fact that Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, eternal God and born of the Virgin, and the fact of his will to found the Church. Jesus is the divine founder of the Church. It is a Church founded on the rock of Peter’s faith, as the familiar passage of Matthew 16:16 would tell us: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. “And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church”.[5] More than just Peter, the rock upon which the Church is founded on is none other than Jesus Christ himself, the Rock of Ages. He had founded the Church, endowing it with the gift of his own divine life, making it indestructible. Steadfast as Peter’s confession of faith in Christ, the horrors and evil which two thousand years of human history had also experienced (among other things) hadn’t been able to destroy the Church, an edifice founded surely upon firm rock.

[1] Cfr. Joseph LORTZ, Historia De La Iglesia, vol. I, Madrid 2003, 12.
[2] Ab Urbe condita means “after the foundation of the City”; this was the way of computing the passage of years in the Roman empire: by taking count of the years since Rome—the City par excellence—was founded.
[3] Cfr. Domingo RAMOS LISSÓN, Compendio de la Historia de la Iglesia Antigua, Pamplona 2009, 32.
[4] Cfr. Ibid., 33.
[5] Mt. 16:18.