What is in a name? When you hear the word “church” what is it that comes to mind? A beautiful sandstone building with stained glass windows; a steeple stretched high into the heavens; or do you picture the aisle leading to the altar with the tabernacle at the centre of the building and statues of saints decorating the peripheries? Is this the rebuilding that Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the temple that he would raise up in three-days? (John 2:19).
So often we speak of the church as referring to the building however, as we know, the Church is the ‘people of God’, the ones who live out Jesus’ mission in the world. The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia, meaning assembly or community of believers.
In saying ‘the Church’, who exactly are we referring to?
Often, we hear people refer to ‘the Church’ as something separate from themselves. Referencing the Church in this way can separate us from the community and of any accountability that we might have to the Church. In saying ‘the Church’, who exactly are we referring to? The priest; the parish staff; the people who clean the church on a roster or read during Mass? As Christians, we don’t just ‘go to church’, we are the Church.
Recently, I was at the grocery store purchasing a large quantity of food to cook for an Alpha evening. The cashier commented that I must be having a party of some sort. I informed her that I was cooking a meal for a parish event called Alpha and invited her to come along. She asked why I was doing that and remarked that when her parish had events the church provided the food. I asked her if it was her priest that cooked all the food. She said that it wasn’t, but it was the Church. I responded by letting her know that I am the Church and that the people who were providing food for her events were just like her and I, ordinary individuals who together make up the Church and contribute with a servant heart.
When we speak of the Church it can be easy to diminish our own responsibility and place more of an onus on others, such as clergy, to take care of things that need to be done. Rather, each baptised person is part of God’s family which together makes up the Church. Each person is called to be an active, participating member of Christ’s Church.
If you are the Church, what does this mean to you?
How do you respond to this? Paul tells us “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body…the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor 12:12-14). This one body is the Body of Christ, the Church, and is made up of all those who are baptised through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This Spirit with which we are baptised, gives each person unique gifts and charisms. These gifts and charisms are given so that collectively as the People of God we are able to participate in Christ’s mission and the building of the kingdom of God on earth.
Mother Teresa is known to have said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things”. This is the truth when it comes to the role we play in the Church. “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of service” (1 Cor 12:4) and each person has their individual gifts and abilities which when used together can do great things.
If we look to the domestic church we are able gain an insight and better understand of our role within the Church.
A family may consist of a mother, father, children, or grandparents. Each member is an individual but collectively are a family. When one member is not using their gifts and contributing to the family, the spirit and dynamic of the family changes. Each person is a valued member, and for the family to be whole, each member contributes in their own unique way to make the family unit function the way it was intended. This is the same for the Church.
The gifts we have been given have been given to us not to lie dormant, but to be used in the mission of the Church. We need to be mindful not to become complacent, relying on others to take the lead to care for things that need to be done because they have chosen it as their vocation or because we believe they have more time. When we distance ourselves from the Church in this way and abdicate our responsibilities we are cheating ourselves and the Church of what we have to offer, as we are not living out the potential we have been gifted.
Being entrusted with our own unique gifts we have a responsibility, as we “are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor 12:27). If we do not use our gifts, the body is left lacking and unable to function the way it was intended. Each baptised person is a valued member of the Church and has a role to play in building up the Body of Christ, the Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, doing what needs to be done and going into the world to carry out the mission we have been given; to meet people and proclaim the Good News.
As a member of the Body of Christ how are you using your gifts, daily, to build the Church which Christ entrusted to you?
It is interesting to note that this article was written in February. It was written in a time where the mere idea of no public Masses or access to the Eucharist was unbelievable and, quite frankly, absurd.
The situation the Church finds itself in today strongly affirms the context of this article; that our Church is not a church of bricks and mortar, but a Church made up of individuals who collectively are the Church.
Though the church doors were closed for a time, our Church did not stop serving and ministering. The Church continues to live, strengthened by the Spirit, going out and serving those in our parish communities and beyond. We continue to use our gifts to reach out in new and creative ways, until we can gather fully again to celebrate the Eucharist with one another. Until then, we continue to serve and be united to one another in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit!
Tania Rimac is the Resource Coordinator, Catholic Life & Faith Formation, in the Diocese of Broken Bay.
Reproduced with permission from Issue 205 (June 2020) of Broken Bay News, the official publication of the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay.