6 Aug 2017
“Jesus said to [His disciples], ‘[The crowds] need not go away…’” (Matth 14:16) (+)
A friend of mine shared with me an article from the New York Times that ran this past week (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/opinion/drive-in-church-florida.html). It was about a drive-in church in Florida. As people drove up to the entrance, a man shared with them the bulletin, a tiny cup filled with wine and a tiny piece of bread. Then the people each found a space to park their car and tuned in on their radios to listen to the Service. At the appropriate time, they all sipped their wine and consumed the bread in their own cars. At the end of the Service their combined “Amen” was everyone honking their car horns. Then they drove away, in their own separate cars, to their own separate homes. And this leads me to ask the open-ended question: what is church supposed to be? We may all have different answers to this question, but our answer is going to have an effect on how we relate or react to church. So what is church?
For some people church is only ritual and regimen and they don’t see any need for it in their relationship with God. They can do it all on their own. For others church is an obligation. It is one of the religious practices that has to be followed so that you don’t end up in hell. For still others church is so holy that it is separated from most of the rest of life. I know a lot of people joke around saying, “If I went into church, the ceiling would collapse,” but behind that joke may be the idea that I don’t belong in there, that it’s too other for me. Still others may think of church as a place of poinsettias and lilies, caskets and brides, and no idea of what’s in between. There must also be people, thank God, who come to church to feel closer to Jesus. And there are probably many more ways that I haven’t even thought of to answer the question of what is church.
But all of these answers that I have offered, maybe not the ones you whispered to yourselves, but the ones I just listed all lack one important part of the answer. The idea of church goes back to the idea of synagogue. Synagogues existed at the same time as the Jewish Temple. The Jews believed that God resided in a special and extravagant way in the Temple. It was the unique place in the world where heaven and earth touched. However, Jews lived everywhere and they simply could not always gather at the Temple every Sabbath or Holy Day and so they came together wherever they were. But they didn’t just come together on their own, they believed that they were called together by God, and that’s the definition of synagogue. The reason for synagogues was that God wanted His people to gather together. The definition of church is almost the same. Church is the community called together by God in Christ. What’s present in this definition of church that was absent in the ones I mentioned above, and that seemed to be absent at the drive-in church, is the necessity of community, of coming together. To belong to a church in some essential fashion means belonging to a called community.
Church is not only repeating the same words. It’s not a get out of hell free card. It’s not so holy as to be strange or strange because we only visit a couple times a year. And surprisingly it’s not only about Jesus. Church has to include the idea of community or as we tend to say, congregation. It may sound trivial, but whatever activities we do to help build community helps to build church. The most important congregation is Mass, but when we congregate for even thinks like the upcoming Barbecue, or when the YMSofR families get together for a weekend cook-out like we will Friday, or when the young people go off to Retreat or stay after Mass for School of Christian Living, all of these gatherings help to build a stronger church. Don’t ever think of coffee hour as unimportant. Don’t imagine that work projects are only to get things done around the church building. All of these gatherings are making church stronger.
Today’s Gospel is the familiar one of the feeding of the 5,000. I don’t have to talk about it much because we’re going to spend another hour discussing it tomorrow at Bible study, so why not come together again tomorrow evening and make church even stronger. But there’s an underlying message in that story beyond a lot of bread and fish, the message may be that Jesus brought-out the community among all those people. Maybe He was able to get them to share what they had so that everyone had something. Maybe a group of strangers became a community on that mountainside, and when that happened everything changed.
What a powerful miracle this is, this bringing people together. It’s one of the most important blessings Jesus offers us. Separation, on the other hand, is an evil. Think about the consequences when community disintegrates. It’s not good what’s happening with us and Russia, with the North Koreans, with us and each other as Americans. Our national motto used to be e pluribus unum, out of the many one. Maybe that’s a message we need to reinstate. It’s great that in God we trust, but we’ve got to work with Him too. We need to work at building community, ending separation. There can be miracle involved with this, but there’s also work. And what a great place this is to start, to start building community in God’s house, among God’s people, as God’s church, His congregation. May Jesus help us to also discover the miracle of what’s possible when separation folds before the power of community. For this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo