For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. Luke 15:24
All through my life, I have heard it said that the Church needs to be “relevant” to contemporary society. If memory serves, this was all about the perceived character and “tone” of much of Church life in the 60’s and 70’s: fusty, dull, and essentially closed. I do not doubt this was true of at least some of the Church then (and now). To this day, I associate the smell of a slightly moldy basement with that of many churches in my youth – a smell of old coffee and damp, long-unopened books gathering dust.
And yet, the notion of the Church needing to be “relevant” to the world is a rather odd one, really. It seems to me that the Gospel, when taken as a whole, communicates pretty much the opposite. The world must become relevant to God, who alone is real, complete, and whole. The Church’s ministry in this is to be the herald of these good tidings, to embody the message, to share the news that our search for meaning is at an end… we have been found by the God we rejected; our alienation and our wanderings are over at last. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is, to me, the whole story of our redemption and transformation in miniature. Only when we “come to ourselves” and returned to the Father will we become truly ourselves, for our deepest and fullest identity can only be found in the presence and will of the God who called us into being.
Many churches today find themselves deeply exhausted by the search for an elusive and illusory “relevance.” Sunday by Sunday, each component of the “package” is constantly being weighed as to its “selling power.” Jesus was very accessible, and he ministered to the marginalized, but he was never “packaged” and he never he never tried to “sell” anyone anything. If the Church was once too stodgy, today it runs the risk of being too trivial.
The Church does not need to be relevant. That is marketing lingo. It needs to be profoundly authentic, utterly transparent to the Gospel. There are many ways to be and do this. St. Timothy’s expresses this in a particular range of ways. It is not “better” or “worse” than others for that. But, this parish must be a place where humans can become relevant to themselves, to each other, and to their God again. When this happens, we look at each other and no longer see strangers but sisters and brothers in Christ. We look at Salem and see not overwhelming need but tremendous opportunity. We look to God and see not a distant “concept” or a stern task-master, but a Lover of Souls reaching out to us and giving us the grace to become our potential selves. Each Eucharist is a proclamation of our destiny in God through Christ, our profound relevance to our Creator because of what we have been given by being born anew in Baptism.
We have all been found by God; we who were dead are alive again in Christ. Now, let us have done with searching for a false relevance and renew our commitment to shining with the light of God, that others may find their way back to the Father’s embrace.