We Catholics passionately love our Church. Like our family, we are “born into it” at baptism; like a mother, our Church strengthens us in Confirmation, forgives us in Reconciliation, feeds us in the Eucharist, consoles us with the Anointing of the Sick, and gives us away in Matrimony or Holy Orders. Like our family, our Church is there at birth, maturity, sickness, and death. Like a family, we might quarrel at times and complain about one another, but, like a family, we rarely leave, can always return, and carry our family name, traits, and pride forever. The Church is our spiritual family.
Many people spend a lot of time asking, “What is the Church?” Before long, they discover that the answer can only be found if they re-word the question: “Who is the Church?” Because, simply put, as St. Paul teaches, the Church is Christ, a lesson he learned on the road to Damascus, when the Lord told him that, in persecuting the Church, Paul was in fact persecuting Jesus Himself. (Acts 9: 4-5)
When I was a new priest, my first pastor, Monsignor Cornelius Flavin, had a great reputation for winning converts. He started every set of instructions with three simple definitions: a theist is one who believes in God; a Christian is a theist who believes Jesus Christ is God; a Catholic is a Christian who believes that the Church is Jesus Christ.
That is a crucial lesson for today. Ronald Rolheiser observes that people today want “Christ without the Church, a King without His Kingdom.” We as Catholics say, sorry, but you cannot split them. Jesus remains alive, powerful, accessible, and active in His Church! The Church is Christ. As the French theologian de Lubac asked, “For what could I know of Him [Jesus] without her [the Church]?”
Now, let’s face it, at times it can be very difficult to love the Church. Again, the Church is like our family. At times it is hard to love our family, as we recall hurts, dysfunction, and sad episodes. The Church is Christ, and since Christ was true God and true man, the Church is divine and human, too. In her divine order, she is beautiful, holy, spotless; on the human side, she can be sinful, ugly, and clumsy. That’s because her members are; that’s because I am; that’s because you are…
Flannery O’Connor, the renowned southern writer, who loved and cherished her Catholic faith, knew the imperfection of the Church. “It’s not so much suffering for the Church that I mind,” she commented, “but suffering from it!” She was right: there is a lot in our Church that tempts us to give up, to get cynical, to leave. Jesus asks us, as He asked His apostles when people abandoned Him, “Are you going to leave me, too.” With St. Peter all speak up, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone” — and, we add, Your Church— “have the words of everlasting life.”We love the Church, warts and all. We stick with her. We pass on the faith to our children. We fight the “choice” fallacy that holds up the pagan gods of privacy, convenience, and freedom, with its chant of “leave me alone.” The Church is at odds with this contemporary pantheon. Listen again to Father Rolheiser:
What we must challenge is the pathological individualism and excessive sense of privacy within culture. Especially must we challenge the fallacy, as omni-present as the air we breath, that our lives are all our own, that we owe nothing to anyone besides ourselves, and that we can buy into family, neighborhood, and Church how and when we like it.
We are Catholics; we belong to the Church, at the core of our being. We did not choose Jesus and His Church; they chose us. And we are eternally grateful they did.
Our faith, our Church, goes back to Jesus, His Mother, His Apostles, His Spirit unleashed at Pentecost. It is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
“Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives!”
And many happy returns…
June 14, 2011 by joyfulpapist