Here is tomorrow’s homily, if you are interested…
“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
Right now, it is impossible for us to perceive fully the splendor of the Church of Jesus Christ. Even the holy angels cannot see it all. Only God beholds the Church in Her full beauty.
It is good for us, therefore, to meditate on the Church. Meditation requires ideas, so we have to think about the invisible mysteries of the Church. In doing this, though, we must never lose sight of one essential fact: Even though She is clothed with sublime mystery, the Church is and always will be something simple: She is a group of particular people whom God has brought together by his deeds in history.
It all began when God called Abraham. In spite of the fact that there was no earthly way in which God’s promises could be fulfilled, Abraham believed God anyway and obeyed Him without question.
What Abraham did is a matter of historical fact, not theory. A brilliant philosopher named Soren Kirkegaard began his best book by extolling the courage of Abraham’s faith. Kirkegaard revered Abraham as the first “existentialist,” the first man willing to reach out into the dark and trust.
Certainly, Abraham did reach out into the dark and trust. There is a difference, however, between admiring Abraham the courageous existentialist, on the one hand, and holding the faith of Abraham, on the other.
What makes Abraham our father is not that he was courageous enough to believe, even though what he was promised seemed crazy. Abraham is our father because He believed exactly what God promised, and because God fulfilled the promises. In other words, Abraham is not an abstract ideal. He is the real man with whom the history of our salvation began.
God promised Abraham many descendants and a beautiful land to live in. The difficulty God faced in fulfilling the promises is not what made Abraham believe. God might have promised: “Abraham, tomorrow you will definitely have to go to the bathroom.” If that is what God had promised him, Abraham would have believed that, no more or less than he believed the promises about descendants and land.
So we can and should meditate on the Church, but we need to remember that we are not dealing with theories or ideas; we are not dealing with philosophy. We do not believe in abstract ideas. What we believe is that particular events have occurred which have brought God’s people together, including us.
We do not believe in the Papacy as an abstract concept; we believe that Benedict XVI is the Pope. We believe not just that Christ instituted the sacred priesthood, but also that He has, by the ministry of His Apostolic Church, made Fr. William Foley the pastor here, and me the unworthy parochial vicar. Christ erected this parish of St. Mary of the Assumption by the workings of Providence, and everyone baptized in water and the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who lives in Upper Marlboro is a member of our parish, no matter what ideas they have or do not have in their heads.
Now, please don’t get me wrong about ideas. The Church of Christ loves ideas. We love expressing them, discussing them, refining them by careful debate. Our faith binds us to seek the truth constantly, no matter what it takes. But when everything is said and done, our ideas are not what will get us home to the Promised Land in heaven. What will get us to heaven is believing the Scriptures and preserving communion with the Pope.
Ideas are wonderful; they can lead us to God. But they can also be a trap. You or I could latch onto an idea and then insist that everyone else must agree. If you don’t agree, then maybe you’re not really Catholic. Before long, I could work myself up into the paranoid fear that I am surrounded in this parish by heretics and apostates because not everyone agrees with me.
Now, it is highly unlikely that you or I would actually find ourselves surrounded in this church by apostates or crypto-pagans. It is possible, of course—the Lord never promised to preserve the church of Upper Marlboro from error. I am ready and willing to listen to anyone who wants to make an argument that he or she is in fact surrounded by grievous error.
But the Lord has given us a very helpful limit in this regard. If you or I ever think that we are completely alone in holding fast to the truth of the faith, we are certainly wrong. The only person on earth who could conceivably be right in thinking such a thing is the Pope. For all the rest of us, there is always at least one person in the Church besides me—the Pope. It is never just me.
G.K. Chesterton said that the Catholic Church is: “Here comes everybody.” Let us hope and pray that this is true. May God raise up children to Abraham from every little corner of the world–all the wonderful particular people he has made.