Thursday, January 19, 2012

If We Are the Body…

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is in vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1: 26-27

There’s a lot of people who say that you can have Jesus without the Church. They say that Jesus did not come to start a religion, but to bring us salvation by offering us a chance to have a personal relationship with Him and as long as we have that, everything else is extra, man-invented and often negative. But is this true? This is an important question.

Is it possible to believe in Jesus without the need for anyone else—either organized or unorganized? Is it possible to learn about Christ and come to know Him all by ourselves? Is it possible to know how to imitate Him and live our lives according to His teachings more than 2,000 years after He left the earth without anyone or anything to tell us everything He actually taught?

I don’t think so.

Even people who don’t believe in the Church or who see religion as extemporaneous will cling to the Bible as the Word of God—and as ALL they need. And yet the Church came before the Bible and in fact the Bible came out of the Church. Jesus never wrote ANYTHING. His followers did. And they were organized and preaching and doing missionary work and spreading the Good News LONG before the books of the Bible were fixed into place by the Church. The Apostles were even convening and praying and deciding things (like choosing a successor to Judas the Betrayer) before they starting going all over the world telling people about Jesus. Before most books of the Bible were written, leaders were being chosen and ordained (presbyters or priests) and deacons were being assigned to the tasks of the community. A structure, a Church, dare I say, a religion was in full force from Pentecost onward. Jesus even promised us in the Gospel of John that He would send the Holy Spirit to the Church in order to teach and remind us of all that He told us (John 14: 26).

St. Peter was made the leader of the Church when he confessed the Divinity of Jesus in Matthew 16 and in the same breath Jesus gave Peter the same authority that the Father had given Him. And upon this rock (Peter), Jesus said that He would build His Church. Finally, in Ephesians 1 St. Paul reminds us that Christ is the head of the Church and that the Church is His body. Jesus never wanted us to have a relationship with Him apart from the Church. He wants us to have a relationship with Him IN the Church. To become part of His BODY, a member of His body, not dismembered.

Are the people (you and me perhaps) in the Body, the Church, imperfect? Yes. Are we sinful? Yes. Are we at times the greatest hindrance for someone looking to find Jesus? Yes. Have horrible things been done throughout history in the name of religion? Yes. And should each of us in the Church seek the grace of Jesus each day and beg Him to help us be better members of His body—to be more loving, more merciful, less judgmental and more sincere and authentic? Absolutely. But Jesus knew that there would be weeds among the wheat of His people. And He promised that at the end the weeds would be separated and sent into the fire. He did not predict this to give us an excuse to be mediocre in our Faith, but to reassure us that He did come to build a Church and to establish teachings and moral commandments that would comprise a new and everlasting religion. The Church is holy because Jesus is holy and the Church is His body. It is THROUGH the Body that the Head teaches, sanctifies, forgives, nurtures, dispenses, evangelizes, admonishes and inspires us to greatness. Let us be thankful that He didn’t leave us on our own to try to figure everything out.

Dear Jesus, thank You for leaving us with the Church imbued with Your authority. Help me to be a holy member of Your Body so that I may be an authentic witness of Your love and mercy and not a stumbling block for others. Amen.

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