Monday, June 3, 2013

Saving the Church

‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
Luke 6.38

How often we hear people speak of needing to “save the Church,” as if the Church were an automobile company about to go bankrupt, or a political campaign nearing collapse! The recurrent theme of “how we can save the Church” is one of the strongest signs that our era is uniquely unable to understand what the Church is, and the mystical character of its life.

When we speak about “saving the Church” we are really saying that it is a purely human creation—ours to create and ours to destroy. To believe this is really to practice an unacknowledged atheism. The Church doesn’t need us to save it; it saves us. In simple terms, the visible Church is Christ’s risen mystical Body here on earth, and it will remain until the consummation of all things at the end of the ages. Until then, it is to live and share the Gospel freely and truly.

The Church was not born in a boardroom but in a place of prayer. It did not start by a vote but by a gift from God. It is not kept going by the limited efforts of mortals but by communion with an inexhaustible source: the Holy Trinity. 

The Church is a partnership between humans and Christ. We are the branches; he is the Vine. We are the members; he is the Head. We are never in charge, but we are always responsible for using the gift of New Life in Christ properly, creatively, and lovingly. For this to happen, we must have the “mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:16) 

When we have this mind, Christ is living and working through us, and the Church is being and doing what it is meant to.  We stop being concerned with “saving the Church,” and start thinking about how we—the Church—live out the Gospel. We want to do this well, to please Our Lord. We want to do this creatively and with joy. We need a clear way to think about this, because there are so many complexities, so many grey areas in life.

Perhaps one of the best ways to determine if we truly have the mind of Christ is found in the words of Jesus in Luke 6:38. Christ tells us that we are to be judged by the measure of our own generosity. If we give of ourselves deeply on all levels—our love, our concern, our time, as well as our finances and other resources—then we are following Christ, who gave everything “for the life of the world” (John 6:51) so that we might share in His life eternally. 

We need to look at the practical side of our life, such as our daily and weekly schedules, to see what they say about us. Are we being generous with God in time spent in prayer, study, and service? Do we hurry back home and close the doors of our life to everything and everyone except an electronic screen? What measure of our life are we sharing with others—for by that measure we are and will be judged, and by the measure of its members is the Church judged in each era. It is not in some consumer “product” or easily-calculated form of “success” that the Church is measured, but in the reality of its communion in God’s active, creative love.

No one else may decide this matter for us. We all must look deeply within ourselves in prayer to see the truth. Even if we find there a certain lack or a shallowness of spirit, the good news is that God is awaiting the moment when we turn to him in humble simplicity and say: “Fill up the emptiness, Lord!” The Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism will direct us to live lives of balance, wholeness, and mercy in such a way that we acquire the mind of Christ, living with both exterior generosity and inner simplicity. It is never too late to seek this help and guidance. It is the one true power we possess: to open or close the gates of our heart.

The Church knows times when it is stronger or weaker on earth; it experiences seasons when it is more or less faithful in its institutional life. There are moments when the observable Church shines with a radiance pointing directly to Christ, and other moments when, sadly, it seems largely to point to the brokenness of humans. In those weak moments, we are tempted to think we must “save” the Church…but thinking this way only points more emphatically to the wrong thing. 

Each day every true Christian recommits to this simple and mysterious fact: Christ is Lord, and through our cooperation, he is saving the Church eternally 
for its beautiful and holy work. By acquiring Christ’s mind, by living generous lives and walking consciously and humbly in the presence of God, we share what we have received—and the Church is “saved” once more by God being “all in all.”

Now: live this way each day, and all concerns for the Church will disappear!

1 comment:

  1. An astounding and faithful testament, old friend. Thank you. Think we'll save for stewardship this coming Fall.