Hindsight is 20/20. When I came back to the Catholic Church it was during my third year of college at ETSU. I had known that there was a Catholic Center near campus but I was quite good at forgetting it was there just as I had become quite adept at ignoring my faith. But one fall day (I cannot really explain why) I felt a pull to stop by the Center. I stopped and I remained and once I remained a very small voice deep in my heart calling me to consider the idea of priesthood as a vocation (a voice which I had become very, very adept at ignoring) came forth full force and it could no longer be sidestepped.
The 20/20 hindsight is this: it was not just the priest and his ministry (although he is a fine priest and now a good friend), it was not any overwhelming number of people involved (the group connected to the Center was small), it was not perfect music nor solemn worship, nor was it a perfect group of people with no problems or quirks that kept me there. It was this small grouping of imperfect people and more. It was Jesus Christ in the center of it all. Christ in the breaking of the bread, Christ in the proclaiming of Scripture, Christ in a very human and imperfect small group of people trying to live and grow in their faith. All of this together is what kept me there and what, in turn, then allowed me to grow in my own vocation. Now I recognize it, it was community grounded and centered in Christ. It was Christian community that I needed, even though I did not realize it at the time.
There are many communities in our lives and our world. What are some of the communities in your life? There is the community of family and the community of friends. There are civic communities that work together for certain values. There are communities of parents that gather around the sporting, school and social activities of their children. There are communities that gather around specific interests and activities (i.e. hiking, biking, card playing or painting are some examples). I, through volunteering at Bays Mountain Park with the wolf program, have even found a community of people gathered around the feeding and care of wolves! Who would have thought it?! And, to some extent, God and good is found in all of these groupings because bidden or unbidden God is present. Sadly, though, we also know that there are communities gathered around hateful thoughts and ideologies that oppose God and his Kingdom and that cause great harm in our world and in people’s lives. God will judge all communities accordingly.
Not all communities are equal though – even the ones that achieve good and bring good to our lives. My 20/20 hindsight has led me to a conviction. We all need Christian community in our lives and this community is specifically enfleshed in Church. There is a uniqueness to church that is essential. When I was living the college life at ETSU I had all sorts of communities in my life, yet I was still thirsting, yearning and unsatisfied. I think this uniqueness of the Catholic Church was established by God in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. No other organization can claim such a founding event!
But there are some realities to Church that need to be understood. Christ is not put off by our smallness and imperfections. He is still present even in their midst. Is Church perfect where everyone gets along and there are no hurtful words, offenses or sins made by church people? No. In all honesty can any of us say that we are perfect and that we have never sinned nor given offense nor hurt another person by our words or actions? Why do we expect of a church made up of other human people a perfection which neither we nor our society have yet to achieve? Life is better served not by focusing on what we believe to be the speck in our brother’s or sister’s eye but by humbly acknowledging the plank in our own. Life is also better served by not allowing the faults of others to be used as an excuse to sidestep community and our need for it.
Church community is not here just to answer my needs the moment I need them answered and then I can step away again until the next need. This is a common understanding (really misconception) about community but a very immature understanding. It happens and people can live their life in such a way and understanding but it does not allow for true growth and the fullness of life. When I came back to the church, I dived into many of the activities at the Center and it was in that “doing” and “living” of community that nourished and fulfilled. Christianity is not a spectator sport and neither is Church meant to be just a filling station.
The only one person that Church community is built around is Jesus Christ, if we expect any priest, deacon, bishop, pope, religious man or woman, choir director, youth minister, CCD or school teacher to be everything for everyone then we are fooling ourselves and frankly, we need to grow up. There is a reason why the Catholic Church has devotion to the communion of saints as opposed to hero worship. Saints are men and women who grounded their whole lives not in themselves and their own sense of achievement and purpose but in Jesus Christ who is the only one that is truly essential in the Church. Christ is the head and we, the body.
Are you put off by some of these points? I do not mean to be harsh to offend but I do want to raise awareness. Why? Because I see pain, division and just plain evil in our world today. I also see people, good people, hurting and yearning for something more while the answer is right in front of them. Christ is present in his Church and in church community there is a life found that is unique and that nourishes the deepest yearning of the human heart but church has to be entered into and it has to be lived for this to occur. Yes, it does require commitment but so does everything that is truly valuable and life-giving in life.
This is my fall stewardship appeal as pastor of St. Dominic Church. Not a call for more money and funding … although there are continuing needs … but a reflection on Church and community. What are the communities in your life and is Church really one of them? If not, why not and what can be done about that? If Church is not one of your communities, can I help? I would be happy to meet and pray with you about it.