Jesus’ initial teaching at the beginning of his public ministry was, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mk 1: 14-15) In the person of Jesus, God was once again approachable as He had been to our first parents in the Garden of Eden. As Jesus, God once again walked among his people, spoke with them, instructed them, healed them, ate with them, forgave their sins, and invited them to share in the Kingdom of God at hand while they continued their journey here on earth. On one occasion, while praying for his dis-ciples Jesus said, “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” (Jn 17: 16) When we choose to follow Jesus, we choose the Kingdom of God that is at hand now and reject the cra-ziness in the world. Near the end of Jesus’ public ministry he knew he would soon be put to death, rise from the dead and some time after that ascend into heaven to be with the Father again. But the Kingdom of God that he had made present and the heavenly gifts associated with it needed to continue for his followers until he returned. To make this possible, Jesus established the Church on the Apostles he had been preparing for this as they traveled and worked with him for three years. He commissioned them and gave them power to do what he had done so that they could continue the work he had begun. These are the gifts that the Church established by Jesus on the Apostles holds and continues to make available to Jesus’ followers until he returns.
The following are some of the major gifts the Church holds for its members:
The primary gift is the Church, itself, which Jesus empowered the Apostle Peter to lead, instruct, and officially speak for in matters of faith and morals so that Jesus’ message could continue to be taught without error and new challenges to the church could be resolved with authority. Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19) Jesus gave Peter real power and authority for the Church which has been passed on through the laying on of hands to his successors. Because of this we can trust in the teaching of the Catholic Church on issues of faith and morals and thus grow in a healthy relationship with God.
Jesus also gave power to the Apostles to forgive sins. Jesus proclaimed “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mk. 2: 17) and he told the Apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:23) The Catholic Church continues this ministry of Christ through the sacrament of confession and the absolution of the priest, who says, “I absolve you of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the Apostles also continued to heal many who were sick and lame. This healing ministry continues in the Catholic Church as the sacrament of the sick through the laying on of hands and the anointing with oil. The Apostle James taught, “Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priest of the Church, and let the priest pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.” (James 5:14-15) Today many re-gain their health after being anointed and if physical healing is not the will of God, the anointing heals the person of sin and prepares them to enter heaven and be greeted by Jesus.
The most intimate and most precious of the gifts that Jesus gave to the Church is his continued presence to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the form of bread and wine consecrated by the priest during the celebration of the mass. Through this gift, Christ, our Lord and God, remains approachable and physically touches us. This gift was given to the Apostles at their last supper with Christ when he blessed bread and wine and said, “this is my body, this is my blood. Take it and eat it…do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:14-20).
There are many other gifts of the Holy Spirit received by Catholics through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Priesthood. Through these sacraments individuals are sanctified by sharing in the life of Christ and by becoming temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells within them. Through the Catholic Church, which was founded on the Apostles by Jesus, himself, the Kingdom of God continues to be at hand to all who accept and receive the spiritual gifts offered to everyone through the Church. Every baptized Catholic has a treasure chest of God’s gifts awaiting them as they live their lives in Christ in relationship with the Church. As Catholics, we continue to live in the world and all the craziness that it exhibits, but we are no longer of the world. We reject the world’s craziness in order to live in the Kingdom of God at hand.