3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

     Recently, after finishing an ethics consult at one of our local hospitals, the elderly patient’s son stopped me and said “Father I used be a Catholic, but then in college I found the bible and was born again” Ugh. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy that He is following Jesus, but I knew where this conversation was going. He went on to say “I’m just so much happier that I have found a good Bible based Church to attend.” I wanted to scream “and the Catholic Church isn’t a Bible based Church?” But instead I asked Him if all a Christian needed was the Bible and they were good. Since he said yes, I went on to ask, “then why do you even need to go to a Bible based Church? Why not just have your faith be between you and God, you know, why not just be spiritual but not religious?” Of course he had no response to that question.

     Look, while the Bible lies at the heart of our Christian faith, Christianity has a more primary foundation and that is the Church. The bible is certainly at the heart of the Faith, but “the Bible is not a handbook devised for the dissemination of an ideology. It is a word from someone addressed to someone, a word that cannot be separated from him who pronounces it.”[1] You see, Jesus founded the Church, but He didn’t write the New Testament, rather He left that job to the apostles. In other words, the Bible came from the Church, the Church did not grow out of the Bible. All the fundamentals of our Catholic faith, including the Mass, were already in existence decades before even the first book of the New Testament was written. In fact, the primary means that for the Bible to be transmitted has always been in the context of the Mass.

     History shows that the Bible received its authority from the Catholic Church. The different books of the Bible were composed over thousands of years by many different and divinely inspired authors, but it was not officially compiled until the year 382 AD when Pope Damasus I called the bishops of the world to meet in Rome to discern which books should be included in the Bible and commissioned St. Jerome to produce a reliable and consistent text. So, “there is no such thing as God’s Word floating around outside the Church – rather, it is always transmitted in the Church and through her.”[2] The Bible is a product of the Catholic Church and has its authority as the Word of God, because the Catholic Church discerned that these books were truly divinely inspired. It is simply illogical to believe in the Bible and ignore the teachings of the Church, because if one doubts the authority of the Church, they doubt the authority on which the Bible rests.

     Said another way, the Bible only makes sense in the life of the Body of Christ, the Church, and the Mass is the setting where the Body of Christ, the Church gathers and the Scriptures come to life for us. Ultimately then it makes utterly no sense to claim to be Christian apart from the living in the Church.  As the Bible makes clear being a Christian can never be just about me and Jesus. Our relationship with Christ can only truly blossom if we take time out of our busy week to gather here with the Church to be nourished. It is here at the Mass that Jesus brings glad tidings to the poor, proclaims liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, lets the oppressed go free, and proclaims a year acceptable to the Lord.

     So did you hear St. Paul in today’s second reading? We are all united into one body, but each of us are individual parts. Being a Christian means that our lives are intimately connected to each other. God promises always to give us the grace we need to face any situation, but so often we refuse His grace because we refuse the means by which He wills to give us that grace. God so often strengthens us through each other. How many members of our parish family do you not yet know? How many of them does God want to use in order to bear His grace to you?

     Look, I know I’m preaching to the choir, after all, we are all here as a part of the community, but when others are not with us, we are all affected. Each of us then has an obligation to reach out to our family and friends to invite them to be active members of the Body of Christ. For when one member of our body is missing we all suffer. When is the last time you invited someone to attend Mass with you? When is the last time you went out of your way to introduce yourself to someone after Mass or to introduce one of your friends to someone else in our community?

     Ultimately our faith must be lived out in the Church and it’s simply impossible for us to take our bibles, create our own Church, and keep our faith as just a me and Jesus thing. Perhaps we are the ones in need of God’s action in our lives or perhaps at this moment God wants to use us to act in someone else’s life, but either way we have to show up. So if you are showing up thank you, we are stronger because of you, but we need you to bring others with you and if you aren’t showing up regularly, we are happy you are here with us today, but we miss you weekly and need you.

[1] Vanhoe, Cardinal Albert. Our Priest is Christ. (1969). Pg 14.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg 23

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