On this day, 3 Jul 2012, when we honour St Thomas, Apostle of Jesus, Prince and foundation stone of the Church (Rev 21:14), it is good to reflect upon the place of the Church in our lives. St Thomas and all the other Apostles are at the throne of God right now interceding for the Church and for each member in it. As the feast days of the Apostles come around each year they remind us that the Christian life is not just ‘me and Jesus.’
Most Tuesdays, since we live on the ‘Pacific Rim’, my son and I sit down and watch an episode of The Journey Home from EWTN. This TV programme gives a testimony about how someone came into the Catholic Church. In recent weeks some of the guests have been talking about how the ‘just me and God’ relationship has the outcome of making the church community an optional extra. Almost everywhere you turn preachers are inviting people into a personal relationship with Jesus. Granted, seeing the life of someone with an active relationship with Jesus is the major reason why people think to themselves, ‘I want what he’s got, ‘I want what she’s got’, and this then becomes the gateway to become open to accepting the saving role of Jesus in their lives. As an evangelistic method, it works brilliantly. However this whole notion that only my personal relationship with Jesus matters isn’t how God sees it, and it isn’t how the Church through the centuries has seen it.
To be saved you have to belong to the People of God. He doesn’t save us as individuals but as a people. Our salvation rests upon the covenant with God, the ancient form of which is ‘I will be your God, and you shall be My people.’ Never in holy Scripture do you find ‘I will be your God, you shall be My person.’ That is why Baptism is so important, because it incorporates us into Jesus and into His Body, and gives us membership of the People of God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (169) : ‘Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: ‘We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.’ Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.’
The Covenant that God offers His people is something more than marriage, although marriage tends to be the best analogy we have to work with. Eph 5:25 ‘Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed Himself for her to make her holy.’ Take hold of that notion ‘Christ loved the Church’ ; it is not Christ loved the Individual. And as those who are married will attest, when you get married you don’t only marry your spouse, in a very real sense you marry his or her whole family as well. It is not possible to make a true commitment to Jesus unless you make a commitment to His whole body, the Church, as well. Can you see how very far this is from ‘me and Jesus’?
The problem is that this ‘me and Jesus’ paradigm takes the Church completely out of the equation. It means that a person will go church hopping ( or church shopping) until they find one that will assist and support their relationship with Jesus. With a mind set like that a person is unlikely to see service to the other members as an essential part of the Christian life. You see, other people are supposed to help them improve their own private personal relationship with Jesus. You might get them to help tell other people about Jesus, but they will be unlikely to help put out the chairs, serve on a committee or help with fundraising. Someone infected with ‘me and Jesus’ is not going to be capable of making a long term commitment to a parish community or denomination, and it takes a mighty lot of work to get them to see beyond ‘me and Jesus’.
If you love Jesus truly, you will love His Church. The welfare of the other members of the Body of Christ for whom He has shed His Precious Blood will be of major importance to you. When we stand up on Sundays and profess our faith together, we say ‘I believe’ not just personally but collectively. Now I’m not knocking the importance of working on a personal relationship with God, but it can’t only be that, we also have to work on our relationships within the Communion of Saints – on earth, in heaven and in purgatory.
As has been said many times before, Catholicism is a ‘both / and’ religion : faith and good works ; pray and work ; fully human and fully divine ; saved and hope to be saved ; virgin and mother; etc. I’m sure you could recall many more. It is our Protestant brothers and sisters who often have an ‘either / or’ outlook on matters. This ‘me and Jesus’ stuff comes from the ‘either / or’ side of the camp. For us the Communion of Saints is a reality so essential we remind ourselves of it in the Creed on a frequent and regular basis, it’s not an optional fellowship extra.
May the good Lord get us back on track, so that when people see us they will want not only a personal relationship with Jesus, but also a vibrant relationship with each member of His Body the Church.
St Thomas, and all holy Apostles, pray for us, and please keep praying for the needs and welfare of holy Mother Church. Amen.