Saturday, May 5, 2012

Easter 5

Maybe it is just a phenomenon of middle age,
but I sometimes find myself walking into a room
and having to stop and ask, “what was it that I come in here for?
What was it that I was going to do?”
More significantly, and this too might be a phenomenon of middle age,
I sometimes find myself stopping in the midst of my daily life,
in the middle of some part of my job or some family chore,
and asking myself, “why am I doing this?
What is the larger context that made this activity make sense?”
I think it's what they call a mid-life crisis.
But whatever our age, I suspect all of us have those moments
when we pause in the middle of our everyday tasks
and ask, “why am I doing this?”

I find this is no less true in the life of the Church.
It is possible to find ourselves pausing 
in the routine activities
associated with this thing we call “Church”
and asking “why am I doing this?
What was it that I come in here for?”
Maybe you are someone whose participation in the Church
is focused mainly on coming to Mass 
and trying to live a Christian life.
Or maybe you are one of those more “activist” parishioners,
who volunteers to help with all sort of parish activities.
Or maybe you are even what might be called 
a “professional” Catholic,
someone who works for the Church
or devotes most of your time to Church-related activities.
Whatever the nature and level 
of your connection to the Church,
I suspect all of us have those moments
when we pause and ask, 
“What was it that I came in here for?
What was it I was going to do?”

Whether your involvement is on the level
of being a “professional” Church person
or an “activist” parishioner
or even of simply coming to Mass
I think we can all lose sight of the larger reality
that helps us understand 
why we are doing what we are doing;
we can all lose the broader context
that makes this whole Church thing make sense.
And when this happens, we can become discouraged.
We focus on all the imperfections and disappointments
that go along with Church life.
If your contact with the Church is mainly coming to Mass
it might be changes in the translation of the liturgy 
that you stumble over
or silly and annoying homilies
or political stands taken by the Church 
that you disagree with.
If you are an “activist” parishioner
it might be a sense of being under-appreciated
or of frustration that there are not more people
who share your level of commitment.
If you are a “professional” Catholic
it might be anger at clueless or even bullying superiors
or what you perceive as the lack of response 
among those you serve.
Whether we are correct 
in our feelings about these things or not,
whether the things that irk us 
are truly irksome or not,
if we make them the focus of our attention,
without keeping in mind the larger context,
this is a recipe for discouragement 
and disappointment
that will end either in a perpetual state 
of low-level bitterness
or even an eventual abandonment 
of the Church entirely.
It is only if we keep in mind the larger context
of all the myriad activities 
that go into this thing called Church
that we will find the Church life-giving.

But what is this larger context?
Today’s gospel puts it very simply:
“I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.”
If we forget that the Church
is really about our unity in and with Jesus Christ
then we will be overwhelmed 
by the Church’s human imperfections,
which is really a matter of being overwhelmed 
by our own imperfections.
If we lose a sense of the Church
as the reality of our being joined together in Jesus Christ
through the sacraments and the scriptures 
and our love for one another,
then disappointment and disillusion are inevitable.
If we cannot see the Church first and foremost
as that which connects us to each other
and to the one without who we can do nothing,
then it is just one more sphere of petty politics.

So when we find ourselves asking 
concerning our life in the Church
“what was it that I come in here for?”
perhaps we need to step back and look for the reality
of the vine onto which we have been grafted as branches,
the vine that unites us to one another,
the vine without which we can do nothing,
the vine that is the risen and living Jesus Christ. 

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