It is very interesting to know that when I ask non-American cultures why they are Catholics, many of them responded right away: “Because my parents and family are Catholics.” While this could carry a sense of cultural Catholicism, to be Catholics, whether by name or because of the culture, contains a beautiful and respectful sense of continuity. In a very individualistic culture, it is often sad to see that people try too hard to make a name for themselves, yet always locked up in their own self-created loneliness, cynicism, and sentimentalisms that are attached to it. In the midst of many things that try to pull us apart and lock each and every one of us within our own self-centered worries and reservations, the Church is present to us as the family of faith. She is the reminder that we are not alone, and we are called to walk with one another in this mysterious (but grace-filled) journey of faith together.
Even though individualism is appealing because of its emphasis on freedom and rights, it becomes straining for the individuals because it creates much sadness and loneliness for the participants in the long run. Those who live with individualistic ideas can feel good when he or she is able to get what is desired, but lack connection, intimacy, and nourishing roots for what is truly sustaining and life-giving. If the body is not connected to the life source that sustains it, all the supplements received will not make it healthy. Therefore, if we, soul and body, are not connected and receiving life from Jesus Christ who nourishes us, no matter how much worldly things we try to intake, none of that will ever give us joy or true joy. We are all guilty of this, we let ourselves become restless with too many things going on around us — what we need to do — that we lose focus on our spiritual nourishment and relationship with the Lord that gives us life from within. If we feel ourselves tired, worried, losing focus, always questioning what is next, our spirit is probably telling us that we have too much on our plate and we need to find time to rest in Him.
Therefore, the first and foremost reason for our faith needs to be the One who gives us life. The Gospels remind us of this important reality when the evangelists chose to write down over and over again that we need to abide by Him. This is the utmost and fundamental understanding of reality, that we cannot do anything without Christ Jesus. (cf. John 15:5) He is the true vine that gives us life and we are the branches that receive the necessary life-giving nourishment from Him. We can separate ourselves from Him and attach ourselves to other things or people, but those alternatives only give an initial burst of a short-lived, temporary, or shallow sense of satisfaction. Those pleasurable alternatives will run dry and leave us empty, and we will have to spend our lives chasing after one after another, tired, angry, frustrated, and restless until we realize that the only life-giving option is to graft ourselves back to the true vine of Christ Jesus who gives us eternal and everlasting joy and nourishment.
Once we recognize that the Lord is the vine and who we are as branches, we also recognize that we are not alone, for He has tilted, planted, cared, and given us a family of faith. This is the Church, a family of different people from different backgrounds, cultures, mindsets, and walks of life coming together to find nourishment in Him who died to give us life. This life is no longer about me, my own needs, or my personal benefits, for true rights and freedom come with duties and responsibilities so that we care for one another without hoarding and taking more than we should. We are all in it together, and we have to learn to be content with what is given to us through grace pouring out of His infinite and merciful love for mankind. We have both a personal and communal identity and responsibility to embrace what had been given to us in order to continue the Christocentric mission for those who are around and will come after us.
True communion is one that embraces the personal relationship with God and the communal relationship with other people who are made in His image and likeness, saved by the Blood of His Son, and are united together as one through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Just as our God is a loving and interpersonal communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Church is the communion of persons through the Holy Spirit, knowing that they are loved by Christ Jesus who gave His life to redeem them, as to give themselves in love to each other and to Him who loves us into being. This ecclesiastical communion is nourished not by earthly institutional bureaucracy but one of mission and purpose to sanctify, love, and help one another to seek holiness. We are the Mystical Body of Christ, connected to one another, receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit as love each other as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
Our faith is both personal and communal. We are one family of faith with many different members from different walks of life. However, we are called to a deeper sense of communion, to truly care, serve, and pray for one another, even if it means to will to love each other when times get tough and challenging. True Christian friendship is possible and nurtured by our communal faith as the Church because it is drawn, nourished, and sought by those who want to embrace some quality of holiness or virtue with and for one another. As friends, brothers, and sisters in Christ, we are called to go through life, encouraging each other in holiness, fraternally correcting in love, and respect one another’s company. We are called to live not in a nostalgic past of what the Church used to be or should be, treating her like an institutional part of life but has no real connection to her mission or purpose. We need to be intentional missionaries and witnesses by embracing the Church‘s call to conversion, invigorating and more believing in the need of communion and care for one another. We can no longer choose to just let ourselves be drifted away from the faith, even if we never been a part of the local church’s mission and life, yet wanting our childhood parishes and local faith communities to stay open at all costs. Faith requires real action and commitment from each and every one of us!
We are the Church that has both a mission and identity. That means we are not just a gathering place or a social, bureaucratic institution. We are called to be disciples, receiving what has been handed on to us and discern how to evangelize and make known the Gospel message here and how. We do this through a committed and deepened habit of prayer and adoration, honoring the struggles of those who gone before us to help us have the freedom of worship here and now, avoiding entitlement and privilege, and truly embrace the personal love of the truth and holiness. We are strong when we are focused and trust in one another, else we lose sight of our true mission and communion with one another, hence divided and weak because we are too worried about our particular likings or agendas. We are the Church because we have been saved and redeemed by Jesus Christ, called together to love and help one another achieve holiness by loving another and the Lord through acts of genuine, reciprocal sacrifice and service.
When we reach out to care, embrace, and serve one another, we in turn receive and encounter the Lord who is present in each encounter. Charity has to the power to open the gates to heaven because it is a living act of faith, that what we have received that the Eucharistic altar is shared and given in every day, intentional, and willing acts of service. This is what makes us the Church, the sacramental living of faith so that what we have received at Mass and the sacraments is shared and enlivened. Despite our differences, the challenges of this world, our flaws and failures, our friendship and care for one another sanctify our imperfections and give us the foretaste of heaven by learning how to embrace each other in Christ-centered peace.
We change the world by making our Church and families, especially our relationships and communion with one another counter-cultural through the intentional acts of self-giving love and sacrificial willingness to embrace the good of the others. In the midst of many things that try to pull us apart and lock each and every one of us within our own self-centered worries and reservations, the Church is present to us as a family of faith. She is a reminder that we are not alone, and we are called to walk with one another in this mysterious (but grace-filled) journey of faith together. Therefore, let us will and desire to give ourselves in being the Church to be one of intentional discipleship, as well as faith-centered, community-oriented, and service-motivated love so that we can truly be called His disciples in loving Him through our care of one another.