Sunday, April 29, 2018
Fifth Sunday of Easter – B
Good Shepherd Sunday
World Day of Prayer for Vocations
“Jesus Christ – yes. The Church – no.”
This is a chant that we often hear today. Some people want Jesus, but they don’t want His Church. Some may seem more loyal to the sports team they have cheered for since they were a child than they are to the Church in which they were baptized and raised.
This is a great pastoral challenge for us, for we believe that Jesus is one with His Church. The Church is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is the Church.
As Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing.”
Think with me for a moment about Jesus rising from the dead on Easter Sunday and spending the next forty days appearing to His disciples. Then He ascends to heaven and is seated at the right hand of His Father.
What did the disciples do after Jesus ascended to heaven?
We might think that they were tempted to say, “Why stick around? Jesus is gone. I believe in Him, but now I will live my life as I think best.”
But that is not what they did. They spent those ten days together in prayer, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
On Pentecost their prayer was answered. The Holy Spirit came down upon them, and they carried the message of Jesus Christ to the world, and invited others to belong to this Church, to this great family of Jesus Christ.
This is what was happening in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “The Church was at peace. It was being built up and … it grew in numbers.”
The family of the Church was God’s idea from the very beginning. We just responded to that reading from the Acts of the Apostles with a section of Psalm 22 – which is part of the Old Testament. We sang in the Responsorial Psalm: “I will praise you, Lord.” And where does this praise take place? We continued: “in the assembly of your people” – in the family of God, the Church
The disciples believed that they had an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and, because of Him, they had an intimate relationship with each other.
That is why His Church is like a golden band that keeps us connected with Jesus and with each other, and not like a pair of handcuffs that we try to escape from to be on our own.
For Jesus teaches us in the Gospel: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing.”
Now with all of this having been said, do you and I experience a perfect Church right now? No, we don’t, because you and I are members of that Church! Jesus Christ is perfect, and He humbled Himself to share in our humanity so that we could share in His divinity. Right now, though, you and I are still working on our conversions to become even better disciples of Jesus day by day. But are we totally there yet? (Our own experience answers that question!)
One of my favorite people is Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. He is so clever and insightful in what he writes. Here is a snippet of his which is entitled, Looking for the “Perfect” Church:
I really shouldn’t admit it, because it was not a nice thing for me to say, but this couple’s letter bordered on the snobbish. They wrote to inform me that they were leaving the Church because it had become “too embarrassing, too tawdry” for them. All the scandals, all the corruption! It was just too much for their noble souls. They concluded that they were going to find “a better, more perfect Church.”
“Good luck,” I wrote back. “We’ll miss you. And I sure hope you’ll come back home. And by the way, if you do find a better, more perfect Church, you had better not join, because then it won’t be perfect anymore!”
Maybe not the most charitable thing to say, but it’s true.
Other pastors tell me how often they receive these sad letters, so I’m not alone. One day I’ll get a note, “We’re leaving the Church because it is no longer true to the spirit of Vatican II” (which of course means that the Church is not true to what that person thinks she should be). The next day another card comes, “We’re leaving the Church because she’s no longer the pure, unchanging Church I remember as a child in the 1950’s.” (Of course life in the Church was never rigidly “unchanging” or without faults, as even a cursory knowledge of history tells us.)
Does the Church need reform? Yep! She has from the beginning. As the Latin adage goes, “Ecclesia semper reformanda” –“The Church is always in need of reform.”
So what do we do? Let these people leave, I guess, pray that they come back, and keep plodding along as we have for 2,000 years. Because, when all is said and done, it’s not my Church, or our Church, at all. It’s Christ’s Church
“I am the vine,” Jesus says, “you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing.”
“Jesus Christ – yes! And His Church – of course!”
“I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.”
And that, fellow Church members, is what you and I are privileged to do together today.