When we recognize that the Church Christ founded is not simply an organization comprised of bricks and mortar but a living organism, the Mystical Body of Christ, we start to understand how different it is from any organization that has ever been formed in history. The Church has also been characterized as a living vine, with the people as its branches. Both images bring forth an image of something alive and vital.
If the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, as scripture attests, we know that our allegiance is not with a group of people that have formed a corporate style of organization. Incredibly, this organization is our union with the One. And this One person that we belong to is Jesus Christ and this is the 1st mark of the Church; that it is One.
Because we belong to Jesus Christ and we know and believe in our hearts and minds that He is God we also belong to that which is always Holy. It can never be unholy as God can never be unholy. This is the 2nd mark of the Church: it is Holy. Though we often separate ourselves from Christ by sin or wound the Mystical Body of Christ, He is always willing to readmit us into His Body should we do penance and seek reconciliation. He grafts us back onto the Vine as St. Paul says. If not, we have severed our relationship to the only salvific means man has: Jesus Christ Himself.
Christ Jesus, though he came to the Jews, opened the gates wide and called all of mankind to Himself. It was a universal call to the world and that is why the Church will forever be called Catholic, the 3rd mark of the Church. The diversity within the Church and her presence throughout the world testifies that men from every corner of the earth have found Christ Jesus in His Mystical Body. They have eaten of His flesh and drunk of His blood and thereby find their life in the Lifeblood of Christ as a participation in His Person.
The Apostolic nature of the Mystical Body of Christ is that the Church is a living memory and living union with Christ that stretches back in history to the founding of the Church. For we are Apostolic: the 4th mark of the Church. As the Apostles were sent into the world to teach the Good News and to draw as many as would listen to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, we too are asked to do the same in every age and it is our participation in the Apostolic nature of this Mystical Body to be sent into the world and draw all things to Him. Our communion with the Lord is a participation in His love; the self-sacrificing love of a family member.
As I think about the characteristics of the Mystical Body, it strikes me that when we decided to take up membership in the Church (to be a member of the Mystical Body) and become a part of the Living God, we are called to share in His Life and in His sufferings as well. We don’t just take up membership, we take up His cross. We will take the stripes, wear the crown of thorns, be mocked for our beliefs, and ultimately carry our cross with Him and suffer agony with Him, both in body and in soul. The world will hate us as it did Him and scorn us for being a stumbling block to their worldly designs.
We sometimes forget as Christians what exactly we were called to. It is not the romanticized faith of warm and fuzzy feelings, honor, esteem and a successful and prosperous life. We know that our happiness does not reside in the world. We are called to something far greater than anything this world has to offer. In fact we reject the world and the things of this world and seek only to remain joined to our Head. If we live in Him and die in Him, we will also rise with Him and abide with Him in an endless participation in His Divinity. It is as St. Athanasius said: “God became man so that man might become a god.”