Today’s liturgy reminds us that we must persevere in the practice of our Catholic faith. Our perseverance creates a bond of love, uniting us in the family of the Church. Despite what some people think, love is not a private thing between God and ourselves, rather it demands that we love one another. So also, sin is not just a private concern, when we sin we weaken the whole body of Christ.
What sorts of things uplift and impress you? Is it a glorious sunrise? Is it music, live theatre or art? Is it perhaps the story of some war hero, or the inspired charity of a saint? We admire certain people because we see in them a generosity and a self-sacrifice that we find so very hard to imitate. And yet this self-sacrifice, this dying to the self, is what the following of Christ is all about. In fact, it is the truest expression of love and was precisely what Our Lord foresaw would be the most impressive form of witness to the non-believer. Our Lord tells his followers: by this love you have for one another; everyone will know that you are my disciples.
During this Easter season, we should be deeply conscious of the life of grace won for us by Christ. We now possess this life of grace as members of the Church. But this life was won for us by over 30 years of criticism, rejection and eventual crucifixion. How can we claim that our hearts have been inspired and uplifted by Christ’s life, unless we too are driven to share in his self-sacrifice? Our lives must be a real effort to overcome our selfishness and our pride, and place ourselves at the service of Christ and his people.
Isn’t it a shame that our failure to live this life of love and concern for others is so often a blemish on the splendour of the Catholic Church? People are not impressed when they see our failure. And yet the Church is a thing of unsurpassed beauty because it is Christ’s Church, the presence of Christ in the world today. Saint John says to us in the second reading: You see this city? Here God lives among men. This is the Church, the New Jerusalem. And despite her spots and wrinkles caused by human frailty, this is the Church that Christ died for, the Church he himself established, and he has made her his spotless bride.
For this reason alone, each of us must develop a deep affection for the Church. In days gone by it was common to refer to the Church as ‘Our Mother’. The Church like a mother nurtures us and keeps us safe from harm. And we think here not just of the official hierarchy and the Magisterium of the Church, but rather the whole Church which is made up of all of us, believing, hoping, praying, working and suffering together; the Church in which we have learned to know Christ by hearing the Gospel preached to us; the Church in which we have met Christ face-to-face in the Sacraments.
The failings of the few have opened the Church to ridicule and criticism from the people with whom we share our lives. Any institution which doesn’t live up to what it preaches is fair game for the ravenous media. And yet as Catholics, as children of the Church, we need to be on our guard about the niggling criticisms we make of the Church. We need to remember that the Church is made up of human beings, and human beings are prone to fall and fail; but the Church herself remains spotless and we must see beyond the failure of the few to the faithfulness and to the holiness of the vast majority. In these times of rapid technological change and progress, the Church too has been called upon to renew herself and we are aware of the effects that this has had upon the life of the Church over the last 50 years or so. Quite rightly, we will each form our opinions about what we think is best, but we should always be guided by a sincerity which recognizes that, in the words of Pope Saint John XXIII: “everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.”
For two thousand years the Church has experienced many hardships. We have only to note the extract from the Acts of the Apostles today to be reminded of that. And yet Paul and Barnabas used these hardships as the occasion for putting fresh heart into their disciples. This is a simple lesson for all of us. Problems, sacrifices, even our own failings are often the opportunities and the springboards we need to draw from our hearts the love of Christ. By our perseverance through difficulty, we proclaim to the world the splendour and the beauty of the Church. A splendour and beauty found, not so much in magnificent buildings and monuments, but in the hearts of its faithful children: of you and me.