Message: We are called to a glorious community though not an easy one. It is, however, the only one Jesus offers.
We are near the conclusion of our summer series: strengthening marriages and families for spiritual warfare. I'd like to address one of our biggest challenges: community. This follows from what we saw last week about ingathering - the great harvest of God. That's the ultimate community. The alternative is the anti-community: isolation from God and all others.
I'm not speaking here about community in a broad sense, like sharing a conviction or identity. For example, I could say I belong to the pro-life community because I cherish human life from its earliest moment. I have something in common with people who share that vision. That broad community has a place but it can become tribalistic like much of modern culture with our "identity politics" based on gender, orientation and so on.
Rather than identity groups, I want to focus on a deeper, more tangible community: those people I interact with face to face, on whom I can count and who count on me for something. For me that would be brother priests in the archdiocese, members of my physical family and of course you who belong to St. Mary of the Valley. Those communities provide support, consolation and joy - and they cover a spectrum of "identities."
At the same time I want to be honest - to avoid idealizing those face-to-face communities. Let me say it plainly: my brother priests, my physical family and, yes, my parish often represent a burden.
That burden can cause a person to pull back or even flee. A priest with whom I shared responsibility for a parish took a walk on a Saturday morning to go over his weekend homily. It came over him that he could not do it any more. Calling the parish administrator, he told her he would not be at the Masses that weekend and would not come back to the parish. When the administrator told me, I called him. I pleaded with him to come back, at least to say goodbye. He never returned.
What that priest did upset me. At the same time I understood. Community is a burden, often enough a heavy burden. Priests get weary and discouraged. The same applies to parishioners. They sometimes slip away, maybe quietly, maybe angrily. One day they are with us, next day not. It happens in all Christian communities, not just parishes. It happens in physical families. Community is a burden.
A Christian writer observed, "We must accept the burden of community if we are going to experience the freedom of the Gospel." There is no other way.
Community faces particular challenges today. Modern blessings can become a curse. Email enables us to communicate instantaneously yet how many relationships have gone up in flames when emails escalate out of control? Then we have Facebook. Don't get me wrong. I use and like it. It helps me learn names and faces, as well some things that matter to parishioners and others. Of course Facebook has dangers. It can foster a false sense of community, not to mention snap judgement and addictive distractions.*
With so much false and superficial community, how can person know if he is building true solid community? Let me make a comparison: When I first came to St. Mary of the Valley, a parishioner gave me a Bowflex home gym. He explained the basic principle of muscle building - no pain, no gain. How did I do? Let me put it this way. From a glance at my biceps you can guess the Bowflex hasn't caused me much pain!
No pain, no gain. That principle applies to true community. To build community always costs. We'll hear more next Sunday.
In our Gospel today we see Jesus founding the ultimate community. "Upon this rock," he say, "I will build my church." Jesus comes for that reason - to found his Church. It has various names: New Israel, Bride of Christ, Living Temple, the Flock He Shepherds. These images make clear Jesus does not so much save us as individuals but as a community.
This does not exclude a personal relationship with Jesus. What it excludes is a private relationship. A personal relationship is essential; a private relationship with Jesus is a contradiction in terms. We are saved as members of his community, the Church. Not an idealized church, not a "spiritual" invisible Church. No, a visible, human, flesh and blood community. For that reason we have to accept the burden of community if we hope to experience the freedom Jesus offers us.
Jesus invites humanity to his Church. "I will build my church," he says. And he gives a pretty good assurance: the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it. To the Church - in the person of Peter and his successors - he entrusts the power of keys to loose and to bind. We are called to a glorious community though not an easy one. It is, however, the only one Jesus offers, "I will build my church." Amen.
*As Pope Francis observes: "Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature." (Laudato Si #47)
From Archives (for Twenty-First Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
SMART Goals (updated July 21, 2017)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru