This week’s readings provide several challenges. WHAT is Church? WHO is the CHURCH? HOW is it decided WHO and WHAT the Church is? And WHERE does Jesus fit into all of this?
Let’s begin with a story… Growing up, my family and I lived with my grandmother. In our neighborhood, we were fortunate enough to have several kids to play with. Many wonderful summer days were spent playing sports and wreaking havoc. Nights were spent playing “capture the flag” or “ghost in the graveyard”. What a fun time! Most of us were from middle and lower middle-class families. One of the kids we played with, however, (let’s call him “Steve”), was not so fortunate. Steve’s family was very poor, struggling just to put food on the table. Most days, Steve would show up to play, already dirty, smelly, and probably hungry. It was hard not to notice Steve’s condition, and I’m ashamed to say we didn’t handle it well. Steve was often the butt of our jokes. We rarely missed an opportunity to make fun of him and call him names. Steve, of course, would fight back, which would only provoke us to lay it on thicker. I don’t know why Steve kept coming around. Perhaps he had no one else to play with. Perhaps his own home wasn’t a place he wanted to be. Whatever the reason, he chose putting up with our abuse over being somewhere else. The way we treated Steve was very wrong. It makes me sad to think about it, even now. Steve really struggled in his life, becoming a teenage father and even spending time in prison before figuring things out and landing on his feet. Today, Steve is a hard-working plumber and a good husband and father. Thanks be to God.
What I, and all of our friends lacked, was Jesus. Sure, we knew who Jesus was. We were all Catholic and had all been through some type of religious education, but we clearly had no idea how to let the light of Jesus’ light shine in and through us.
This weekend’s readings remind us of a few things. First, where the Holy Trinity is found, there is the Church. Second, our God desires that the Good News be proclaimed to, and the gates of the Church be opened to, all the nations. In the first reading we discover that no rule or practice is greater than the will of the Holy Spirit. The apostles and elders, guided by the Spirit, rightly decide that it is better for newly baptized Gentile (not Jewish-born) Christians to be a welcome part of the Church than for them to be burdened by the strict Mosaic practice of circumcision. True authority rests not in laws, but with the Holy Spirit. This sentiment is echoed in the psalm response, “O God, let all the nations praise you!”
In the second reading, John tells of a new Jerusalem where Jesus, the ‘Lamb’, IS the temple and the only needed light. The Jewish tradition, represented by the twelve gates, and the new Christian Church, shown as twelve foundational stones, are represented in this new city. Incidentally, the aforementioned gates face north, south, east, and west, welcoming people coming from any direction. What a wonderful visualization of what heaven is and what Church can be for us!
In the Gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for life without him, reminding them: ‘Whoever loves Me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.’ Keep Jesus’ word and YOU are a temple of God. Awesome! Need a reminder of Jesus’ word? No worries! Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will ‘teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.’
Growing up, my friends and I were a community, but not a Christ-centered community. A Christ-centered community would have looked at Steve with love and accepted him as he was. WE chose to bully him and chide him for the things that made him different from us. How will you choose to live? Take my advice: Make Christ the center and light of your life and let that light shine!