Occasionally, missionaries come to our door. Their denomination is not important for the purposes of this essay. We extend the proper courtesies to them when we remember (and ask forgiveness from God when we forget) the Gospel: “whoever gives a cup of water to a prophet receives a prophet’s reward”, and spend a little time in discussion. Personally, I try to pick their brains for missionary experiences and, specifically, the things people say when these missionaries arrive at their door. Common responses are:
- We don’t want any.
- We have our own religion.
For our purposes, let us look at response 2, for many people that say this either don’t go to church, in which case the statement may be misleading (they may not have a religion at all), or aren’t really that involved in their own. For those people that are very active (spiritually and physically) in their church are frequently very interested in strange people that knock on their doors for two reasons: strangers can be evangelized, and Jesus is the one knocking (whatsoever you do for theseï¿½). I’ve had both experiences. Sometimes missionaries leave our door with new ideas, or at least new questions to think about. Sometimes they are like the folks from the local non-denominational (which is really a small denomination) church who came to our door. They asked us to look at a video about Jesus, which was a fairly good one, and also asked if we were active in a church. When they found out we were Catholic, they seemed to relax into a kind of easy fellowship, although the one asked a few probing Bible questions (about the authorship of Hebrews, it was), to see if what he had heard about Catholics not reading the Bible was true. I would say that all of us at our door had an experience of Jesus. I certainly felt that he was present in our conversation…
To get back to the point, that little encounter at the door was an example of the Church. If we are going to discuss going to church, we had better start with whether you believe in the Church at all. St. Paul makes it clear that we are the body of Christ. If you believe that, what does it mean? A human body doesn’t have a bunch of unrelated cells that just happen to be in a lumpy sort of shape we call “human.” St. Paul didn’t use the analogy of cells, he used hands and eyes and feet, but go with me on this one. What are the attributes of human cells?
- They stick together. I don’t know how, but they do. When they separate, they die. Scientists can do amazing things, and they can make human cells live away from the body for a while. It takes a scientist to spoil a perfectly good analogy. Never mind, let’s talk about how the cells are in a natural state.
- They are specialized. There are skin cells, brain cells, muscle cells. “Each according to their own gifts.”
- They work together. There has to be a point where different kinds of cells join. It may be more correct to say that different kinds of tissues join. Whatever.
- They all have the same basic structure, with some interesting exceptions. Cell wall, nucleus, mitochondria, and DNA.
- Speaking of DNA, they all have the same genetic “plan.” Any cell is recognizable as belonging to a particular body. When we can’t tell, it is because our technology can’t do it, not because a lot of people have the same genetic pattern. Sure, there can be twins, etc… You get the idea. The body is known by its DNA pattern in the cells.
Ideally, all Christians have the same “DNA,” which is the Passion and Resurrection. Through baptism, we replicate. Technically, Christians are the only species to replicate by asexual meiosis. Someone will have to mail any necessary corrections on that… (It is not mitosis, because there is some recombination of the material, since we tend to pick up good things from each otherï¿½)
Jesus said that he would be present “where two or three are gathered in my name.” There may be a reference there to the Jewish “quorum,” where a certain number of people had to be present for some prayers. Fifteen, I think, and perhaps only for kaddish, I’m not sure. Corrections from rabbis are always welcome. When Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, he saved them from isolation, and made them a small Church.
The independent Christian is an oxymoron. All people are dependent on God, and since Jesus taught us that we are his presence in the world, we are dependent on each other. Since we are dependent on each other, we are dependent on the Church, the Body of Christ.
You may wonder why the importance of mutual support, friendship, camaraderie and fellowship have not been emphasized here. Why not mention the important advantages of a large institution to people? What about all of the positive impact a small community can have on the individual?
These things are not put forward here because they can be true for many institutions. There are many fraternal organizations that have positive attributes, clubs for persons of similar interests, political parties for those with a common agenda. None of these is the explicit presence of Jesus Christ in the world, a sign of contradiction, a sign of Love, the “stone of witness.”
We do not become part of the Church for an earthly benefit, but to receive the mercy and holiness that God yearns to rain down on us. We desire to be a fruitful vine in the field which God tills, plants, tends and one day harvests.
Many have died to increase the fertility of that field. Many Christians believe that the Martyrs (indeed, all those now enjoying the Beatific Vision) are no less a part of the Church. To be part of that Church is a glorious thing, and none that fully enter into the Christian Church will ever want to go back to “having their own faith,” again.