The parable was spoken by Jesus as an image for the Church. Jesus said that while we are not to be of the world we must be in the world. The Church cannot remove itself from the real world, no matter the corruption. We are not a sect, creating our own little island of purity. Jesus rubbed shoulders with sinners. He sat down and ate with them. He persevered with the Twelve even when they failed to get His message to the very end, when two betrayed Him, then all save one ran away when He needed them most, at His execution. ‘Go out into the highways and byways and invite all to the Feast,’ Jesus said. The Church is not just a museum of saints; it is a community of sinners and saints, as Pope Francis says. We only need to read our history.
Like most Bishops I have been confronted with stories about scandals, have met people deeply affected by wrongs done them by Church personnel, know a lot better than most about our shortcomings in our parishes and schools, am very aware that many women feel disempowered in the Church, and realise the pain of parents when their children seem to disengage from the practice of their faith.
But I also know about our blessings. I know that, warts and all, the Church remains a vehicle of salvation for humanity, for all our brothers and sisters. From time to time we need to get a view from the balcony.
When in the midst of the dance floor, moving and shaking and whatever with a crowd of people in tune with or submerged by the music, it is not possible to get the whole picture, to see the overall movements and patterns that are on the dance floor. I admit this image may be more appropriate for a former style of dancing (!) but when one went up onto the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you could see the patterns of movement.
The Church has five features that transcend all the disturbances and human errors that beset it. Firstly, it is the Place of the Word. The New Testament was formed in the midst of the Christian community, it is the product of the Christian community. The Church both proclaims and teaches the Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It proclaims and interprets the message of Jesus, who is the Word spoken by the Father. The Church both proclaims and is formed by the Word in its midst.
Secondly, the Church is the Home of the Saints. There are holy people in the other Churches, of course, and indeed in other religions such as Islam. It is a feature of the history of the Church, however, that in every age, and no matter what circumstances the Church was in, men and women outstanding in holiness have been raised up by the Lord, and acclaimed by the community as blessed and saints. If anyone was to know a harsh side of the Church, it was Mary MacKillop. She remained a faithful daughter of the Church, realising that communion with this community was indispensable in her search to know and live the will of God.
A third feature of the Church is that it is a Community of Healing, anointing and teaching. The Church has attempted to live the Gospel calling one to love one’s enemies and to reconcile with each other in Christ. It is the community that anoints, both literally in baptism and other sacraments, and in the making holy of people and callings. It is the community that breaks open the Word, and with the insights of the saints, is a community that proposes a vision of life and meaning, well beyond that which the world by itself can offer.
Fourthly, the Church has always been the Servant of the Weak. One can take this to mean the teaching of young lives in schools, the work to care for the aged, the nursing and healing among the lepers and those afflicted with all sorts of diseases, the work for justice for those who are oppressed, the care for those forced to be refugees, defender of anyone suffering injustice.
Fifthly, the Church is the giver of the Bread of Life. One cannot receive the Bread of Life outside this community. We cannot enact the Eucharist as an individual separated from communion with this community. Christ as the Bread of Life is basic to our living of His teaching. He is Bread for our journey, and none of us can grow in holiness without the Eucharist.
The above is not intended as any litany of triumphalism, but as a profile of a community which helps make up our identity, and separated from which results in a loss of meaning for ourselves as individuals and as people who see Christ as the centre of their hopes and faith for themselves and those they love.Jump to next article