James Joyce is reported to have said, ‘Catholic means here comes everybody!’ It is one of my favourite go-to quotes.
The Catholic family is large and diverse. One of our many points of diversity is our range of connection with the church community. Some of us are intimately connected and involved. Some of us have little or no connection and involvement. The key point is that all of us who are baptised Catholic belong to the family.
I am one of those Catholics who have a lot of involvement and connection with the church community. I am part of the worshipping community who regularly participates in the celebration of Sunday Mass. The worshipping community is not the church. It is only a very small percentage of the church. But I often find myself and others using language that would make you think that the worshipping community is the church, and that worship or liturgy is all there is to the church. How often do you hear, ‘we need to get people back to church’ by which they mean, ‘we need to get people back to Mass.’
I think differently. I long for us to be more like the risen Lord who meets people where they are. I have found the Gospel readings on the last two Sundays both consoling and challenging.
On the Second Sunday of Easter we heard the story of the disciples locked in a room for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood amongst them with his message of peace, his gift of the Holy Spirit and his command to forgive. Jesus met the disciples where they were, locked away in fear.
Then last Sunday we heard the story of the disciples fishing in the Sea of Tiberias. They didn’t catch anything until they encountered Jesus and then their nets were full to overflowing. Following a meal Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ Only after his triple, ‘Yes Lord you know I love you’ is he commanded to feed and look after Jesus’ sheep and to follow Jesus. Following and pastoral ministry are motivated by nothing less than love.
The church is the Body of Christ. We are the Body of Christ, called to meet people where they are: locked away in fear, covered in doubt, needing to see, struggling in the darkness with little to show, naked, longing to be fed, full of love and hope …
Of course, the truth is that Christ is already present with everybody before we arrive. Our ministry of love and forgiveness, of peace and hope is about helping people to open their eyes and hearts to discern the presence of Christ with them. Then, when they are ready, we might invite them to pray in the way that is meaningful and relevant to them. The huge Catholic treasury of prayer and liturgy has plenty to offer. Let’s use all of it.
Over the last week or so many people have been involved in drafting our diocesan report for the upcoming Synod on Synodality. One of the many things we discussed was the blessings and challenges of our Catholic culture. Alas we can be so focused on Mass and getting people to Mass that we miss the mission of following Jesus who is with people where they are.
Here's to hanging about in locked rooms, by the sea, in fishing boats, by charcoal fires and BBQs … In meeting people where they are we have the opportunity to help them to know and love Jesus, then to lead them into the Catholic family and parish community, and finally to the table of Word and Sacrament.
The 24/7 of life is the matter of liturgy.
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