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Friday, February 12, 2010

The Church I Love

This past week I preached a mission at St. Isabel parish on Sanibel Island in Florida. Even after my first Mass there on Saturday I sensed a special spirit in the people there. What it came from was the fact that in August of 2004 the Church there and many of the homes of the parishioners were devastated by hurricane Charlie, the first of several to sweep across Florida that year. Parishioners, many of whom were facing severe damage to their own homes, banded together and saw to it that a new Church was built on the foundation of the old one. As I heard the story of how that happened I realized that more than a building was put up during this time. What happened is that a Church was renewed, a Church made not of stones but of living flesh and blood people.

It is easy to think of Church as institution, as buildings, as bishops, priests and the Pope. So often I hear people raising the question, “Why is the Catholic Church doing such and such?” or “I’ve had enough of the Church being out of touch, etc.” I too often raise such questions, but they need to be directed at the leaders, not at the Church, because the hierarchy, while vitally important to the life of the Church, is not the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ in the world today. It is a living, breathing community of people, united by their Christ, who suffer, struggle and also rejoice together. They come together to rebuild churches, be it in well off Sanibel Island or in extremely poor Haiti. They stand with each other in tragedy and rejoice with each other in good times.

The church is people who have faith, but whose faith is tested when an eleven year old son dies in a car accident, or a young mother dies of cancer. They are hurt by priests who are arrogant, rude and unavailable and by bishops who are more interested in protecting the institution, than in cherishing the mystery of the living Church, because they forget that the institution, though necessary, is there only to serve that mystery.
And where is that Church? It is alive and well. I have seen it over and over again in the over 330 parishes in the US and Canada where I have preached missions. These parishes are rich and poor, urban, rural and suburban. They are made up of English and Spanish speaking, as well has Haitians, Vietnamese and others. This is the Church that I love, the Church that sustains me, and to which I gladly give my life.

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