Monday, March 19, 2018

To the many Elect who are going to be a part of the Body of Christ this Easter – welcome to the imperfect Church.

Each year on Easter Saturday night and on Easter Sunday itself, thousands all over the world become baptized Catholics after their journey in the RCIA process (Rite of Christian Initiation).  Every person has his or her own personal story of their journey into faith, and some have even taken to the social media to really put it ‘out there’, loud and proud, that they are so happy that they have taken that step to respond to the grace that called them to conversion and baptism. The primacy of Grace ensures that no one person really takes the first step to conversion, as it is always the Grace of God that starts the process of conversion.  Otherwise, it could give one the false notion that one’s own motivations and goodwill is sufficient for our ultimate union with God in heaven.   Baptism is a very special moment in any person’s life, because it is a public testimony that his or her life had reached a turning point, and they see a great necessity to declare Jesus as their savior and Lord. 

But something is also very commonly experienced in these Neophytes after their baptisms.  Like most marriages, there is the honeymoon phase where one wakes up after the wedding day to a lovely experience and it is so easy to be in love.  While on this blissful vacation period, life is good, largely predicated on the fact that things are done for you.  You don’t lift a finger and your room gets cleaned merely by hanging a “please make up room” when you leave it.  The air is delightful to breathe in and there is no need to work.  Things are going swimmingly well.  The fantasy that money creates seems to be working.

Then the honeymoon ends and reality lands with a thud.  To want the honeymoon all the time is not reality.  To expect that things are going to be this way as you live the challenges of a shared life with someone outside of yourself is a sure way to recoil in the shock that this may not be what you were married for.  The same sentiments can be equally applied to coming into the Church at baptism.

As much as one is baptized into the Body of Christ, one is also baptized into an imperfect and broken Church.  A healthy understanding of the term Body of Christ is essential to all Christians of all denominations, but of supreme importance particularly to the Catholic Church mainly because this term is layered, very nuanced and the appreciation of some of its deep implications often only emerge much later in one’s being a part of it. 

There is no such thing as a private baptism.  To be sure, films have often portrayed baptisms to be private affairs, where one single baby is brought to the font with the adoring eyes of the family members looking on wistfully.  But this actually runs contrary to the reality that this baby is baptized into a community, and that it really does take that proverbial village to raise a child.  The baptism of a group of babies or adults gives a much better sense of the reality that one is entering a community. 

The phrase “Body of Christ” is perhaps best known to be used as a synonym for the Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion in the Catholic Church.  But this is only one of the many ways that this phrase is used by the Church, although supremely so for the Eucharist.  John’s gospel has a very interesting Greek word used and this is the word sarx.  Essentially, sarx is not a perfect, spotless and pristine body that doesn’t get decayed and sick.  There’s another word in Greek that refers to a body that is good and neutral, with nothing pejorative or negative.  That would be soma.

John’s understanding of Community was deep and rich, and the fact that he had Jesus use sarx to describe his body is clear that as long as the Church on earth is still on the way to their heavenly glory, it is always going to be one that isn’t perfect, gritty at times, filled with hypocrites and self-centered folk, with the ability to be injured and who can in turn injure others, make mistakes, have lots of sinners who struggle with holiness, and in a word, pretty messed up.

The RCIA process or journey may not show the church with its flaws and imperfections, though I have known some catechists who do prepare their catechumens to expect a less-than-perfect church.  As much as we are a redeemed Church, we are also a group of pilgrims bound for heaven with some running with the stamina of a Kenyan marathoner, and some dragging their feet and shuffling along. 

My great concern goes out to the Neophytes who will find this out the hard way – when the reality of a flawed church dawns on them, and they feel either hoodwinked, let down, and walk out. 

Remember -  the God who is incarnated is one who has repeatedly said that anyone who says that he or she loves an invisible God in heaven and is unable or unwilling to meet with, encounter and live in community with a visible brother or sister on earth is as good as a liar because no one can love a God who cannot be seen if he or she is unwilling to love a neighbor who can. 

Would that it be that each member of the Body of Christ is to the Body as the Eucharist is – giving wholeness, forgiving, nourishing, sanctifying and life-giving.  This is the quest for holiness that each person making up this Body should be striving for.  It’s probably not a matter of ‘if’ you, dear Neophyte, gets to see the Church and her flaws.  It’s a matter of ‘when’.  But to leave is going to be the worst thing that you can do for yourself because no one gets to heaven alone.

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