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Thoughts Along the Way

Fr. Matthew O'Leary's Weekly Bulletin Column

September 2, 2018

The Church

In the storm of terrible news about abusive and criminal actions, and spiritual failures by a portion of past and present pastoral leaders of the Church, it is easy to become disheartened, and even so disgusted as to want to give it up.  Some members of the Church, both clergy and laity, are feeling tarnished and soiled by the same brush of guilt.  Victims of abuse also face reliving their horrible experiences.

It is important to keep in the forefront what “the Church” is.  Beginning with the early Christian community, followers of Jesus understood the “the Church” to be the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-27; Col 1:18).  Over time “the Church” came to be described as the Community of Believers, the Mystical Body of Christ, and the People of God.  In other words, “the Church” is all of the believers and followers of Jesus Christ.  The Church cannot ever be simply defined as the hierarchy, or the bishops, or the clergy on their own, but as all of the Body of Christ. 

Our spiritual Church family is a larger version of a nuclear family, whatever that looks like for each of us.  In any family there are different members with different roles.  What we are living through right now is a realization of the failure of some members of the family—some of those in past and present leadership roles, but not a failure of the entire family.  An abusive, unfaithful, or addicted parent does not automatically condemn the whole family as abusers, adulterers, or addicts. So the failures, sins, and heinous crimes of some of our priests and bishops does not mean that all of our clergy are abusers, and certainly cannot suggest that the larger number of faithful members of the Church have in any way sinned or failed.  Some clergy have made historic failures, and they have gone before God; others must atone now.  But the vast majority of us have remained faithful—sinful, yes, because we don’t always love perfectly.

Jesus established the Church to carry on his mission of preaching the Gospel to the ends of the earth, making disciples of all nations, and teaching them to follow all he taught, remembering that he will always be with us  (Mt 28:19-20).  Jesus founded the Church on the truth that he is the Messiah—the Christ, the Son of God—the truth professed by Simon Peter (Mt 16:16).  No force on earth and none from hell can successfully deny Jesus’ truth, and none will prevail against him (Mt 16:18).  Certainly not the sinfulness and wickedness of any of his followers or ministers.

I draw inspiration from the Word of God, as often reflected in the great hymns of the Christian tradition.  “The Church’s One Foundation” comes from the 1860s, written in a time of crisis by Samuel John Stone.  Its words speak of what the Church is and in whose name we praise and serve, and where necessary and possible, seek reconciliation and care for those who have suffered evils against God’s love.

The Church’s one foundation Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her And for her life He died.

Elect from every nation, Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation, One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses, Partakes one Holy Food,
And to one Hope she presses, With every grace endued.

’Mid toil and tribulation, And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious, Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union With God the Three in One,
And with the saints communion With those whose rest is won,
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly, On high may dwell with Thee.

Yours faithfully,
Fr. Matthew O’Leary, Pastor

 

 

 

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