Friday, September 5, 2014

Why I Love the Church

The Call of Peter--"Depart from Me Lord for I am a Sinful Man"
Sometimes people think that priests stand by the Church because that's their job.  They kind of have to protect the company, no matter what.  Not for me.  Look, people in the Church (of whom I am one) do all manner of sinful, stupid, and sometimes downright mean things.  But, the reason I love the Church is not because it gives me the big paycheck.  I love the Church because Christ reaches me and touches me through the Church.

It's an interesting thing being a 43 old priest assigned to work at a University.  I spend all day with people who are mostly half my age.  It would be kind of natural to presume that in this situation, I would not have anything to gain from the people whom I serve.  I could see how someone might think that since I'm the 43 year old priest, it's all about me teaching them.  But, that presumption would be wrong.

When I think about my relationship with the Church, I always think that Christ is putting me in the place where I am going to be sanctified.  In other words, the Church is FOR me.  I NEED to grow.  I need to be made holy.  I need to experience a constant increase in Faith, Hope, and Charity.  I need to be instructed.  I need to hear the voice of Christ, to be touched by His healing Presence, to be drawn into His embrace.  I love the Church not because of company loyalty.  I love the Church because Christ embraces me with the hands of His Body, the Church.  

Today, I'm mindful of various ways in which Christ has used His Body, the Church to help me and to encourage me.  Some of this may make no sense to anybody, but some of it will.

* How beautiful it is when a young person asks, "Father, do you have time for a confession?"
*Seeing a chapel filled with young people for daily Mass.
*Witnessing a person who drives 1 1/2 hours to and from work three times a week and who never stops working for the young people at our Newman House.  She shops, irons, does the books, cooks, cleans, welcomes visitors, hounds the chaplain to get things done, and treats everyone with love.
* Young people who have graduated from the University but who volunteer for one or two years to serve the Catholic Center.
* When people showed up for the Catholic Center Barbecue after all the food was gone and one of the students scrounged together whatever he could find to welcome them and feed them.
* The kid who took the trash bag out of my hand and who said, "I'll get it."  He does stuff like that all of the time.
*The people who cleaned up after the Barbecue tonight.
* Yesterday when young people who had something else to do went upstairs to the chapel to pray with a new person who happened to stop by and who asked, "Is there some sort of Evening Prayer now?"
*When I walk into the chapel and find a young person there praying.
* The text message from a young man who asks me what time we're going to do our Holy Hour tomorrow.
*The young people at the Catholic Center who do so many good things in secret.
*The friends I've made along the way who donate to the Boston University Catholic Center.
*Making fun of my Boston Accent.
*Saying Mass at the seminary the other day and seeing the beautiful things that Christ is doing in these young men.  And, seeing the goodness of the priests who shepherd them.
* After the Final Blessing at Mass each day, seeing these young people kneel down and offer a prayer of Thanksgiving.
* The joyful experience of being educated in the Christian life by people younger than me.
*Praying together.
* Hearing Confessions.
*Talking about vocational discernment with young people.
*Meeting a group of exchange students who want to live the Catholic life while they are here.
* Meeting new Undergrad and Grad students who have been formed well by their families, parishes, and priests.
*Dinner with families and friends
* Receiving funny text messages.
*The calls I receive from people about their sufferings and burdens.

I've worked with parishioners, seminarians, and college students.  Honestly, I'm not good enough or holy enough to do this kind of work simply out of some magnanimous gesture.  What keeps me attached to the Church is that Christ touches me through these people.  He reaches me through them.  In some ways, it is a humbling thing to acknowledge that Christ didn't put me among these young people because I'm some sort of spiritual genius.  Instead, he puts me with them so that we can mutually help each other.  They help me to be sanctified and I hope that I help them to be sanctified.  These young people draw me to a deeper prayer life and to a deeper life of charity.  Don't get me wrong.  Some of them-ahem, ahem, --and they know who they are--are real pains.  But, they're the pains that Christ has given to me.

The reason that I love the Church is because Christ embraces me through the Church.  And, through the life of the Church, he uses me to embrace others.  I love the Church because it is through the Church that I experience the Love of Christ.  I am compelled to encourage others to strengthen their attachment to the Church because the Church has given me everything that I have. 

I can't defend everything that has ever been said or done by some dopey Catholic in some particular place at some particular time.  But, I can testify that I encounter daily young men and women who help me to follow Christ.  Their example fills me with gratitude and wonder.  Through them--and through the example of so many faithful Catholics--I encounter the person and love of Jesus Christ.  

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