The Word Embodied
The Difference It Makes
“As the Father sent me, so I sent you.” (John 20:21)
Does being a Christian make any difference? Being a Catholic? On Pentecost we are supposed to celebrate the church, but what is the church?
It is expected that we cherish our faith, that we value it enough to pass it on. But is it worth it?
Is our church really all that much a cause for celebration? Has our faith been worth receiving? Is it worth giving?
These days, I guess, we are not supposed to be too proud of our traditions and our identity. After all, diversity is king. One faith, we are told, is as good as another. There are many paths to the mountain top. Why should we be so arrogant as to assume that ours is the best?
But if we believe that, why would it make much sense to want to proclaim it to anyone else? In fact, if our faith is not all that special, why should we even be grateful for having it?
If we have nothing wonderful to give to the world, why would our children want to possess it? If we are so pluralistic as to think that any way to God suffices, why should the way of the Lord Jesus be considered a gift to our young?
It is no secret that many of us elders wonder why so many of our youth seem not to take our church as seriously as we once did (or as seriously as we think we once did). We can say that the homilies are boring, that we should be as entertaining as MTV or the new supermarket cathedrals.
We can blame the music, the irritating improvisations, the lack of reverence, the loss of chant, the irrelevance of sermons, the carping about money, the exclusive language, the inclusive language, and an almost infinite number of deficits.
But whatever it is, we lack the fire.
It was fire that the Spirit bequeathed to our ancient brothers and sisters. They were so much on fire, they wanted to proclaim it to the world. They spoke of something that made a difference in their lives, something or someone they loved.
St. Paul tells us that the something they experienced was enough to make them feel like one vibrant body, unified in a common good and goal. They cherished differences, but only because of the different ways they revealed the one splendor of the gift they shared.
So what is our something, the common gift we share as Catholics? Certainly it is the gift held in common with all Christians: our Gospels, our Lord, our one faith, baptism, and communion. But for Catholics it is more.
The “catholic” dimension is holistic, organic, and integral. We come from a people whose encounter with Jesus Christ is inclusive and capacious.
He may speak different tongues to us, but the same truth. He shines in different gifts, but as one giver. He is our one body, our unity, but he thrives through different members.
Thus, Catholicism resists any move that reduces Christ to only one facet or moment of experience.
We find him in the holy word. But we know this is a scripture given to us by a community, our community. We see him in community, but we know our community was born of Christ and our memory of him. We pass the word on, but it is the word that made us who we are and brought us together.
As a people, we meet Christ in structures of law, magisterium, and tradition. We see him in those shining lights we call our saints, those leaders we call our hierarchy, those scholars we call our theologians.
We encounter him in the passages of our lives: our birthing and maturing, our failing and healing, our commitments and loves, our feeding and our dying. Thus sacraments, bestowed by Christ and sustained by the church, are signs of his presence holding together the warp and weft of our lives.
We find him in the movements of our hearts: our great pieties and devotions that remind us of the mysteries of his life. We find him in the discernment of spirits, the weighing of forces for joy and sadness. We hear him in the cry of the poor and read him in the signs of the times.
Christ is not confined to any one of these. He is not in our sanctuaries alone. He is not in the law alone. He is not in sacraments alone. He is not in scripture alone. He is not in the magisterium alone. He is not in our devotions, our saints, or our poor alone.
He lives in and through them all. And through them all he blesses and calls us. No one of them is supreme. Only he is supreme. And only in him do we find the spirit of God that vivifies all his parts.
Such a faith, ultimately faith in a person, deserves our zeal as much as our consent.
I once asked a group of university students if they thought their faith was worth sharing, even preaching to others? The wisest answer was this: If you love someone or something enough, you want to share it.
If you are in love, you can't wait to tell someone else. If you love what it means to be a Catholic, it makes all the difference in the world that you give this gift to the ones you love.
Ah, but do we love our faith enough? And do we love the world enough to impart our faith to it?
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University