I posted the lengthy quote from the pope's homily at the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2011 because I believe it poses something critically important for all of us to consider. Let me be a bit more specific about that with this follow-up on the previous post.
"I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church..." So said the pope to the world's Catholic youth - and to all of us, too, young and old and even very old. These are important words for us to consider in any age but certainly in our own when it's apparent that many people in the Church do not, in fact, love the Church. Many people have left the Church and perhaps an equal or greater number, maintaining some active level of Church membership, are quite articulate about their dislike, their disgust, their disdain for the Church.
Of course, as is so often the case, the word Church is used in a variety of ways by an equal variety of folks. Some do not love the institution we call the Church. Some are disgusted by Church administrators. Others reject the authority of the Church and still others refuse to accept the Church as teacher, as arbiter of truth. It's curious that some who love their local parish and pastor still speak freely of their disdain for the Church while others who reject the local pastor and the parish life he leads, loudly profess their love for the Church. Who is the Church here? Where is the Church? What is the Church?
I think it's fair to assume that when Benedict XVI pleads with us to love the Church he's pleading with us to love the whole Church and not just the parts, players and proclamations that please us the most. Certainly the pope is calling on us to love one another and the whole Church by the measure of Jesus' love for us. And the measure of Christ's love for us is nothing less than the Cross.
It was St. John who cautioned us that if we fail to love our neighbor whom we do see, how can we claim to love God whom we have not seen?
No one (not Christ, not the scriptures, not the pope) calls us to love the sins of others but each of us is called to love those who sin, even those who sin against us.
No one (not Christ, not the scriptures, not the pope) calls us to overlook or accept the harm inflicted by others' failings but each of us is called to love those who have failed, to care for those who have been harmed and to change whatever has or might or will enable the same harm to be done again.
Each of us (the pope; all bishops priests and deacons; and every one of God's sons and daughters) is called to be holy, today and everyday. Each of us, without exception or exemption is called to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Our loving the Church cannot be be excised from the commandment that we love our neighbor anymore than anymore than we can excise any individual from the category of neighbor - as defined by Christ.
If we are to love the Church or if we are to love the Church more than we have, we will need to change and as we change, the Church changes. That means we will need to let go some things that many of us hold very close.
Our mistrust of one another will never yield the fruit of healing for which the Church so sorely hungers. Our fear will never find the truth the Church is charged to uncover, to live and to preach. Our suspicion will never harvest the growth for which the Church so dearly yearns. Letting go mistrust, fear and suspicion on all sides is the shriving asked of us all that we might be open to how and where and when God's Spirit will move to make us more and more one in Christ, to make us more and more his Body, to make us more and more his Church.
The pope pleaded with the young people in Madrid, "I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church which brought you to birth in the faith, which helped you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and which led you to discover the beauty of his love."
There is but one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one Church - through which we have been born again and in which we have been helped to grow in the knowledge of Christ and to discover the beauty of his love. If we cling to anyone else but Christ, to anything less than our shared faith, we have begun already to lose our grasp of what we treasure so deeply.
As the young pilgrims return to their native lands I'm sure they are pondering what the pope said to them. Let's ponder and pray with our young people. Let each of us look again at our love for the church as well as our disdain, disgust or disagreement with the Church. Let's look deeply into ourselves, deep into the Church's history and deep into the future and those who will inherit the legacy of faith, the gifts and burdens we will leave behind.
What does each of us need to do to embrace and love the Church more than we have - not for its own sake, but for Christ's and for our own?
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Posted by Concord Pastor at 1:09 AM