Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Only God Can Make the Church: Day 7 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"Not to frighten us with your immensity / you come to us / first unthreatening / as water, bread and wine"
"He knows I will make mistakes. It is his perfection that will win out, not mine."
 — Ronda De Sola Chervin, Becoming a Handmaid of the Lord

One day last week at Mass, while I was waiting to receive the Eucharist, I suddenly realized something more clearly and deeply than I had before: that being a Christian is in every way about saying yes, just like Mary—the first and greatest model of what it means to accept Jesus—said yes to the angel when he announced to her that God wanted her to be the mother of his son. "Be it done unto me according to your word," she replied, after a moment of wonder over how in the world this could possibly happen. This is also what I have been saying for several years now when I am offered the Body and Blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. After many years of questioning how in the world this could possibly happen, I now say, "Be it done unto me according to your word"—and that word is, "Take and eat, this is my body" (Matthew 26:26).

I also grasped in a new way that day that, in addition to being an actual gift of himself to me, the Eucharist is also, each and every time I receive it, a reminder that everything I am offered through Christ's Church is what God has done and continues to do for me. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).

These thoughts returned to my mind today when I read the transcript of Pope Benedict XVI's opening address to the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, which is currently under way in Rome. What God has done for us and given to us, and continues to give to us, is not only what the Church offers; it is also the Church itself.
"We cannot make the Church, we can only announce what [God] has done. The Church does not begin with our 'making,' but with the 'making' and 'speaking' of God.... The Apostles did not say, after a few meetings: now we want to make a church, and that by means of a constituent assembly they were going to draft a constitution. No, they prayed and in prayer they waited, because they knew that only God himself can create his Church, that God is the first agent: if God does not act, our things are only ours and are insufficient, and only God can testify that it is he who speaks and has spoken.... God is not only a past, because it is a true past that always carries in itself the present and the future. God has spoken means, 'He speaks.' ...At that time it was only on God's initiative that the Church could be born, that the Gospel could be known ... in the same way today only God can begin, we can only cooperate...."
The reason for evangelization, and for "the New Evangelization" for which the Pope calls, is to tell the world that
"God has power, God gives joy, he opens the doors of exile; after the long night of exile, his light appears and provides the possibility of returning to his people, he renews the story of good, the story of his love.... Tepidness really discredits Christianity. Faith must become in us the flame of love, flame that really ignites my being, becomes the great passion of my being, and so ignites my neighbor...."
So, as the Church (and we are made so by God and not by ourselves) we must proclaim, "The LORD has done great things for us; oh, how happy we are!" (Psalm 126:3). And as one who gratefully said, and continues to say, yes to the invitation, I must and do sing (with the Mother of my Redeemer), "The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name" (Luke 1:49).

 Why? Not because he has made my life easier, or even always more joyful (in fact, he has made it safe for me to feel my great sorrow), but because he has restored my faith in him, and nurtured it into more than I ever imagined it could be.

Amen.

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