The five-year-old was NOT going to go into the church. Despite his father’s urgings, the child resisted. “Why don’t you want to come to Mass”, the dad asked? “Because it’s BORING!!!” wailed the boy. The dad paused, before responding. “Well, I’m going to go into Mass to thank God for everything God does for us.” The dad reeled off several things he was grateful for, beginning with the little boy, his mommy, and the baby on the way. “I don’t think anything God does for us is boring”, he said. With that, the little child took his dad’s hand and with a big smile proceeded into the church.
Today’s readings are about the institution of our catholic (universal) church, its structure, and purpose. For the apostles and early Christians, the church was the new, heavenly Jerusalem…founded by Christ upon the 12 apostles, with the Jews members as well. The Church would be
open to everyone—no exceptions!
Metaphorically, the new Jerusalem—the Church, is coming down from heaven. There is no separate temple, for the Father will reign for eternity in the holy city, in communion with all of creation; the Lamb of God is its eternal light. This is obviously an image of heaven given to John, the writer of the Book of Revelation. Just what heaven is like, no one on earth knows…beyond that what God has in store for those who love God and neighbor is beyond our wildest imaginations!
Before there was a Catholic Church as we know it, Jesus told His disciples that “whoever loves me will keep my word, my Father will love him, and We will come to him (and her) and make our dwelling with them.” Jesus promises to send the Advocate, Wisdom, the Holy Spirit to both teach us and remind us what He taught. “Be at peace”, Jesus reiterates; “do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. I will never abandon you and I WILL come back for you when your time on earth
So, Jesus is crucified, buried, arises from the tomb. At one point, Jesus appears to the apostles fishing on Lake Galilee, telling Simon Peter that he is to be the rock upon whom the Church will be built. A short time later Jesus ascends to the Father, before the Holy Spirit descends upon
the disciples huddled in an upper room in Jerusalem. Now the church is born!!! What is to be its mission…and how will the Church accomplish it?
We know its mission, because Jesus spelled it out for us—go into the whole world to share the Good News, baptizing those who embrace my message in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and telling them all I have told you. And I will be with you always (Mt. 28:18-20).
How, then, will the Church commissioned by Jesus, carry out its mission? Avery Dulles, in describing the mission of the Catholic Church in his book, Models of Church, drew heavily upon two important
publications of the Vatican II Council—Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) and Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World). He identified five models of church, all of which are apropos.
The Church is an institution, with the Pope as its earthly head, officers, departments, budgets, projects, dioceses, parishes, and missions—the hierarchal church as we know it. The church is also the Mystical Body of Christ, a living, growing, and at times contrary gathering of Christians
with Jesus Christ as our head. As such, we are commanded by Jesus to love one another, pray for one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and exhort one another to live holy lives.
Since the Church is the Body of Christ, it is also a sacrament—a public prayer by which our Creator God showers us with grace and mercy. In “Church” (Mass) we are fed by the Word of God in Scripture AND fed with the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus in Holy Eucharist. By
being present every week (more often if we can at daily mass) we are not only strengthened in our faith, we are brought closer together as one body in Christ—a true family of believers who encourage, strengthen, and console one another. THIS is clearly what Jesus meant
when He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand in our world! And he modeled for us how to treat one another when He washed the apostles’ feet at the Last Supper.
We also know that Jesus sent us out of this “Church” building and community to bring the Good News to the world. We are therefore heralds—prophets, evangelists, people commissioned to bring Jesus to others. God is love, so our primary tool by which we share the Good News is to love others, especially those who assert that our Catholic Christian faith is old fashioned, not-for-them, or unimportant compared to pursuing secular society’s indulgences and goals.
Finally, reiterating Vatican II, the Church must be, as Christ was for his followers—a servant of all. For Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world from sin (John 3:17). To save us from evil; to save us from pride; to save us from indifference; to save
us from selfishness. That includes acknowledging the people around us at Mass, saying a kind word to the distraught-looking individual in the checkout line at WinCo, assisting the elderly person struggling to open a door, offering to help the young mother with toddler in hand, baby on
her hip, lugging packages across the parking lot, and smiling warmly to the tattooed, pierced, jean-shredded, multi-colored hairdoed youth passing us by on the street.
There’s much more we can say about what “Church” is…or what Church ought to be. But for today, let’s agree that our Church is a gift to us from God, forever renewed by God’s abiding Holy Spirit—meant to be a font of life for us and all the world.