Sunday, August 5, 2012

Who Defines the Catholic Church?

Homily for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

It would be interesting to take a poll of all of the people in our area, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and ask them this question:  “How would you define the Catholic Church?”  My sense that for many people in our area, especially our young people, the definition of the Catholic Church they would give would be quite superficial.  Maybe they would begin with the hierarchy – the pope and bishops, they might mention Jesus - perhaps they would highlight the social teachings of the Church – maybe some of the main beliefs that we profess each week in the creed.

But I wonder how many would say something like: “It is the group of people who in Baptism God has adopted as his sons and daughters and who he feeds with the body and blood of his Son so that they are made into members of his body working to redeem and sanctify the world.”

Alright -  no one would say that.  I don’t think I would even come up with that off the top of my head.  I had some time to think about it when I was working on the homily.   But this is the definition that Jesus gives us in the Gospel today: the Church, his followers, are those he feeds so that they can faithfully live in him, carrying out his work in the world.

How can we work to help our culture rediscover the right definition, the truth about the Catholic faith?  How will our society encounter in us, in our Church, not just a set of beliefs or an institution, but a doorway, a gate through which God leads all men and women to the green pastures of intimate union with him?  

Maybe some would say that we should do an advertising campaign, hire pr consultants, or work on our branding.  And perhaps some of these steps might help.  But the reality is much more simple and challenging: our culture will see the truth about us when we live it.  When we, as St. Paul urges us in our second reading today, put away the old self of our former ways of life, and are renewed in the spirit of our minds and put on the new self, created in God’s way of righteousness and holiness of truth.

When we show in our lives that we are men and women nourished by heavenly food.
When we stop at least in the morning and evening for a substantial period of time to speak with Christ who is our source of nourishment and strength.
When we choose to turn off the television and leave aside browsing online and instead spend time and effort working to understand and live the lessons of the sacred scriptures and the lives of the saints.
When we set up routines in our families that place common prayer and engagement in the life of the parish first, and let extracurricular and social engagements and entertainment time come second.
When we resolve to find the help we need in confession and with learned men and women of faith, not settling for sinful habits or a mediocre life, but seeking true holiness and union with God no matter the personal cost.
When we actively seek out ways to be of service to others with our time, gifts, and finances more than seeking ways that others can be of service to us.
When we sacrifice in order to make our relationships with our wives and husbands, our children and parents, a top priority.
When we prioritize community with our brothers and sisters in Christ, whose encouragement and support we need and who we are meant to support and encourage in living the Christian life.
And when we courageously stand against bigotry, gossip, deceitfulness, manipulations, and hatred in the workplace, at home, in our friendships, in our community, and especially in our parish.

Do people know that you are Catholic?  How?  I have a feeling most people figure out that I am.  But what about the rest of us?  I hope that it’s not just because they see our cars parked here for Mass on Sunday.  I hope it’s not because we sometimes wear a t-shirt from a Catholic event or have a wall calendar of the popes, or because they have overheard us arguing about a church teaching.  Any definition of the Catholic faith based on such superficial observations will be horribly impoverished.

Our children, our neighbors, our community need to see in us the witness of a truly different kind of life.  And so our parish must continually ask itself: Is it clear by the choices that we make each day that Jesus Christ is the source of our deepest nourishment and strength – the beginning and end of each day?  Do we seek to do his work, his will, above all things, to be faithful to him in all that we do and say?  Are we devoted to one another, who have been made brothers and sisters to one another in Christ?  Can the world see, when they look upon us, that we are members of a body that is nourished with of a new and different kind of food –
a food that comes from heaven, a food that unites us to God and one another and makes us sharers in his work?

The credibility of our faith demands that Christians not lower the bar, settling for a mediocre secular life.  St. Paul urges us all: Put away the old self of your former way of life, be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self.  May our witness show the world that what defines the Church is not principally the hierarchy or controversial teachings, but a beautiful, generous, compassionate, courageous divine life lived and shared among those who are nourished by Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.

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