This deliberate choice of words is an attempt to express the reality within which so many of us find ourselves in regards to our religion. To say that I belong to a particular religion is by itself an expression of Faith, but it does not define the reality of my relationship with that religion.
I was born into a Roman Catholic family, and baptized shortly thereafter. I grew up in the Catholic religion by attending Catholic schools, going to Mass on a weekly basis, receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation and Marriage in due order. But that still did not define my religious relationship, which is a complicated journey of a soul versus an institution of which I know very little.
It is disconcerting that I am able to live most of my life calling myself a faithful Catholic, while not even getting close to whatever that means. The word Catholic literally means universal, and we Catholics are very proud of the fact that we can go anywhere in the world and attend the same Mass and receive the same sacraments. But this does not address my particular journey of one seeking to be a Christian.
I suppose that I think of myself as being a Universal Christian, a Catholic Christian, which would mean that I am a member of a universal faith attempting to be a follower of Christ. Unfortunately this resolution brings me no closer to the truth than my original statement.
What is the Catholic Church? What is it about this most human institution that we choose to place our reliance, our Hope in our spiritual salvation?
It has always been the intention of God that all men are saved – to be able to enjoy eternal life with Him. For this we were made. God cemented a friendship with Abraham, so that we become a chosen people. He sent his Son Jesus into the world to save us from our original sin so that we may be His heirs. He gave us his Holy Spirit, so that He could be our personal guide to salvation.
In only three years the revolutionary teaching and example of Jesus living, dying, rising from the dead and ascending into Heaven changed a coterie of otherwise simple men and women into committed followers, prepared to die for the privilege of their relationship with The Christ – our Savior.
The personal and spiritual relationship with Peter, his Apostles and numerous faithful disciples, all most human and vulnerable people, became The Rock on which to build His Church. There was one mandate delivered before his departure “Go and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.” – our duty to evangelize.
Is this rock a word, an idea, or is it something tangible, solid? Is it a foundation or is it the whole accumulation of our human spirituality? What is it about this rock that changed the history of the world? What is it about this spike, driven into the ground, from which we count everything to this very day?
The rock is the Word of God – The Way, initially cast in stone for Moses and manifested in Christ to “Love God and Love our neighbor as ourselves.” The rock is the seat and hierarchy of Rome that has administered our Catholic, Universal Church to stay true to the invitation of Christ for over two thousand years.
The rock is the accumulation of all the saintly faithful that have endeavored to show the face and heart of Jesus throughout every age. The rock is the tangible expression of the Christian Man to glorify God through the countless temples that have been constructed over the years to hold the new tabernacles for the Body and Blood of Christ.
Surely the rock must include every Christian endeavoring to live a life of faith according to the what they perceive to be The Way. But that is like saying because I want, it means that I am, which does not make sense. All the Apostles were faithful followers, but none, save for one were at the cross. To be a full member of the rock one has to be initiated, converted. Jesus would say that we have to be more than a limb or a leaf on the tree, we have to be fruit.
It is expressed this way in 2 Peter 1:5-8:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This should be a moment to pause, because how many of us are only present and not chosen? We are content to be our version of nice, practicing our version of the faith, accepting our version of The Word and wallowing in our version of salvation.
Remember what it was like to be standing there in the crowd on the playground waiting to be chosen? Eyes wide open, stretching the neck, hoping the captain would recognize ME. What a difference it made to be chosen first rather than last, and then look back to see that I was nearly there with … them – the ones who remained.
In all my years sitting in the pew, placing my dollar in the plate, listening to the lesson, checking out that person in the row in front, distracted by any thought, receiving communion and the blessing, I am one who remains.
As soon as the penny drops we shift into another gear. Why was I not told about this before? How is it possible to live most of my life without realizing the truth? Who is responsible? The sad truth is that we are all in the same boat, lucky to be exposed to a liberated clergyman or evangelist who has been converted, charged up, bubbling over with the joy of having Christ in their heart and cannot wait to share their story with us.
For this to happen we have to follow Peter, who was forced to learn the hard way. We have to change our lives; change our thoughts; search for knowledge in truth; control our emotions; endure the suffering; increase our devotion; touch our fellow man; learn to love.
There is another way, not easier, but more simple – Love God. This is the story of the good thief, the one who, at the last minute, took the three step conversion and gained paradise in a day. He recognized who he was in the eyes of God, told God he was sorry and begged God for forgiveness. This simple awareness is transformative. It’s like putting on a new set of clothes, having a new outlook, beginning again. It gives a new meaning to the lyrics in this familiar Hymn:
“Here I am Lord, is it I Lord. I have heard you calling in the dark
I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”
Don’t be surprised if you still need to follow Peter, but this time you will have the wind -God’s breath on your back.