Last week we heard Jesus tell the apostles that he will not leave them orphaned and that the Father will send an Advocate. Next week, the feast of Pentecost, the Advocate comes upon them in the form of tongues of fire. Then, they begin to speak in different tongues and go boldly out to proclaim the faith. This week, the feast of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, Jesus tells the Apostles to make disciples of all nations and that he will be with them till the end of time. The Gospel tells us “they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”
Doesn’t that describe us? We see him, we worship, but we doubt?
Several weeks’ ago, as I was driving to the men’s faith sharing meeting, I was listening to Open Line on Sacred Heart Radio. A caller said that several of his closest friends had fallen away from their faith because of controversial teachings of the Church. He wanted to know if there was something that he could say to them to help them return to the faith.
I thought, “I can’t wait to hear the answer, since I too have struggled in this area. I would like to share the joy, excitement, and knowledge that I have on these teachings with others.” The moderator passed the call to Tim Staples, who replied. “I think that the problem that your friends and many others in the church are experiencing is due to the fact that they don’t believe that the Catholic Church is really the body of Christ. Then, he referred to our second reading today which tells us: “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ has put all things beneath Jesus’ feet and gave him as head of all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” Then, Tim said: “So, St Paul tells us here that Jesus is the head of the Church, which is the body of Christ. We must ask those who struggle with these teachings if they were to stand before Jesus himself and hear him proclaim them, would they still disagree with them?” Then, he said: “Jesus’ church, his mystical body on earth, led by the men he himself chose has proclaimed these teachings continuously for the past 2000 years. Is it surprising to us that our culture rejects these teachings? And which are we going to follow, Jesus and his church or our culture?”
That answer really struck home for me. I have discussed these issues with many people, especially over the past few years since I have become a deacon. And I have to admit that my efforts have normally fallen short in trying to eloquently present the relevant facts.
Then, I went to the men’s faith sharing meeting and the topic selected by the person leading the group was: “The Godly man is faithful.” On the video, the speaker began by saying: “The Godly man is faithful to the teachings of Jesus’ church.” He gave a scripture reading from Luke chapter 10: “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Jesus was speaking to the apostles and to their successors, our bishops today, telling them that they were speaking in his name.
Two times in the space of thirty minutes I heard the message to be faithful to the teachings of the Body of Christ, his Church. This was not a coincidence. I really got the message. The body of Christ on earth, the Catholic Church, has since the time of Jesus and will till the end of time speak for Jesus in its teachings on faith and morals.
Why do we find this teaching about the Church as the Body of Christ so hard to believe? Why do we worship Him but continue to have doubts?
We have doubts because we don’t fully embrace and utilize the graces that are available to us. We can receive the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, daily. We can go to the sacrament of Reconciliation on any Saturday and free ourselves from the burden of sin. When we doubt, do we turn to the sacraments to strengthen our faith or do we just turn away?
We also have doubts because most of us have grown up with a natural tendency to question authority. Since the early sixties, we have lived during a time when we have often been let down by our government leaders, our business leaders, and even our church leaders. This has fostered an inherent tendency to question any and all authority. Can we trust that our Church is led by the Holy Spirit when we witness the sins of some Church leaders?
We also have doubts due to the counter-cultural teachings of the Church. It is easier for us to follow the crowd, to go with the flow, to embrace the popular “values” of our culture and not to create waves. In this area, we just have to look at what Jesus did. Jesus certainly didn’t follow his culture and was constantly creating waves. Do we have the courage to follow him today?
And, we have our natural tendency to choose the wrong thing, to pick evil over good. We can relate to St Paul who said: “For I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I do.” And the devil is a master at getting us to choose the wrong thing. Have we formed our conscience? Do we understand what the Church teaches and why it teaches it?
Finally, it is human nature to justify our behavior. Sometimes, even after we find out that something we did was wrong, we still defend our action. Should we trust Jesus’ church or our own instinct?
We all have difficulties. We are all sinners. Some church teachings are complicated and many haven’t been explained well. These are clearly difficult times for men and women of faith. Do not be afraid! Seek the truth! Embrace his mystical body, his Church! Find the peace and joy of following Jesus! Then, someday soon, like Jesus, we will joyously ascend to heaven to meet the Father.