Today we celebrate the birthday of the Holy Catholic Church! By my math it was on this day 1,984 years ago that Jesus started the Church to which you and I belong. Praise God! I don’t know–sometimes I think we hear that word “church” and we think about a building, or some institution, some place. But the Church, before all else, is a family….it is you and me, as brothers and sisters, in Christ.
There’s a man named Fred Craddok, he is a wonderful preacher from some Protestant group. He spoke once about an experience he had in Appalachia that changed the way he understood church. There, at Easter time, he was part of an Easter celebration in this tiny little village. He described this ritual:
At Easter evening, at sundown, it was time for the new people to be baptized. They were outside, but some water and a fire. A longtime member introduced the new people–their names, where they were from, their work. Meanwhile, everyone in this small church stood around in a circle. And they went around. “My name is____, and if you ever need someone to chop wood.” “My name is _____, and if you ever need someone to babysit.” “My name is _____, and if you ever need anybody to repair your house.” “My name is _____ and if you ever need a car to go to town.” Then they ate, had a squaredance, and sometime later it was late. Craddock said, these people–they had a name for that. They call it church.
And that is church! I’ve had quite an experience of church this past week. I went and bought a new truck! Well, it isn’t new. It is an old F150. Looks like it’s been in a tornado! It was a steal! Now I’m no car expert, so I took Greg. He helped me make sure it was a good deal. He said the engine sounded great, good clutch, so on. Now the first problem I had was that the brakes didn’t work. So I couldn’t drive the thing away. Made some calls and Alejandro, a wonderful man of the church came and fixed up the brakes in no time. Then I drove it and discovered the speedometer didn’t work. That didn’t bother me too much as I rarely have use for that. But then the gas gauge didn’t work. So made some more calls and Omar, a good friend and member of the parish said he could fix it no trouble. So many people have given me rides and have helped out doing this or that part. And the first person I had as a passenger was a man I met who was destitute at a gas station. That is church! We help one another out.
I also sensed this in the new [place where I am going in Shelbyville. I’ve spoken with priests nearby this week, who called me up to welcome me to the neighborhood and let me know they are there to help me if I ever need anything. I in turn have been in touch with Fr. Tony, who will be coming here…I wanted to welcome him. We priests do this, and I think we do okay at that here. But sometimes I do worry. I worry we are not hospitable enough. That people come in and go unwelcomed. that cannot be! Sometimes we can be a little too comfortable at our table, or in our pew. We need to do something more. WE can never underestimate the power of a “Welcome! My name is and if you ever need somebody to_______.”
We are about to have a beautiful experience of church with the festival. With the festival, everyone pitches in. It is a family affair. We need people to work the elephant ears, the curly fries, etc.
St. Paul says that the Church is like a body–we are all one, but each has something unique to offer for the larger thing. That is church. And it is a beautiful family to be a part of.