It is late April as I write this column. Our parish listening sessions, which are nearly complete — three to go — are revealing many things. I am hearing about the challenges we face as church, a wide variety of perspectives, some hope and gratitude, and a fair amount of frustration and disappointment.
One individual summarized these sessions as expressing a deep hunger. I concur.
The church is one, big family. As our creed says, we believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic church. Sadly, she is not necessarily one, big, happy family. Like every human family, our church family has its issues. But, we are still family, and what gives us hope is that we are God’s family, infinitely loved by Jesus, faithfully led by the Holy Spirit.
Another way of saying this is that the church exists along a very broad spectrum.
So, let’s take that broad spectrum, and place it around the globe — eliminating the beginning and ending points — so it exists in a continuum. Now, we have something that better represents the love of God, as lived by Jesus. Recall the words we say at every Mass: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” Now we better imagine the loving embrace of God, of Jesus, which is all encompassing.
The church, as the creed says, is catholic, which means universal, all encompassing.
No matter where any one individual may ‘fall’ along the spectrum, they are a valid member of the whole. Sadly, the polarization of our American culture has infiltrated our church. One of our first challenges is to overcome this poisonous infection that is eating away at the one body of Christ.
The spectrum today looks something like this: Some people are more naturally drawn to speak of faith, while others are inspired by a relationship with Jesus. Others demand greater attention to morality and doctrine, while there are those who are passionate about the social doctrine and teaching of the church. Some are caught up in personal piety, while others are inspired by putting their faith into action, loving and welcoming the marginalized of society. Some may be truly focused on growing in personal holiness, while others have a burning desire and outward focus on the broader community. Some long for someone to teach them the faith, while others are impatient to get on with living it.
There is no room for an either/or position along this spectrum. What is required is a willingness to accept the whole scope and breadth of the one family of God.
Once again, I direct our attention to Jesus, who upon the cross, had His arms and hands extended, fully and completely. From that cross, Jesus saw us. He saw our present world and situation. From that cross, He embraced the world for our salvation. Jesus, with hands and arms extended, can embrace us equally well, from His right hand or His left, (no matter where we are in his church) and with each of His hands, he desires to draw us to his heart. As Jesus’ heart is at the center of this scene, so is Jesus at the center of his church. He is our unity. He alone satisfies our every longing.
We need the heart of Jesus to give us a greater appreciation for the many and diverse gifts that make up the church. Each person, each member of the Body of Christ is a gift. Each person of the church is also given gifts to share and as Saint Paul says, those gifts are given for some purpose, namely for the building up of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12)
Likewise, Saint Paul says that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them.” (Romans 12:5-6)
Recognizing that we are “individually parts of one another,” what can each of us do to help advance the unity of our church? What attitudes need to be acknowledged and changed? How do views and opinions of others need conversion? How can each of us take a ‘step toward’ our neighbor with the desire to grow in understanding and acceptance? In short, how is each of us being called to build bridges and break down walls of separation and indifference? What gifts are yet to be put at the service of others? Let each one make expectations of self rather than others.
I invite you to join with me in prayer for our one, holy family that is the church of this Archdiocese of Anchorage. May we find our way to the heart of Jesus, and exercise our varied gifts, in union with one another, for His great glory.
We know and believe that the way to the heart of Jesus is through the heart of His mother, Mary. In this month of May, let us seek our Mother’s intercession that we may grow in love, that our practice of faith and life as church may more perfectly mirror the image and love of her Son, Jesus Christ.