Finding the Perfect Church
How do you find the Church? Can you find the Church? Many Christians who say they believe in the Church and even claim to be members of it, also claim that the Church is “invisible.” They think of the Church as an idea or an intangible body made up of all those who “accept Jesus into their hearts.” The Scripture gives us a very different image of the Church.
It’s clear from our first reading, that the Church is in fact very visible. When Paul and Barnabas go to a town they either find the Church there or they establish it there. It’s a physical, tangible, group of people. More than that, Paul and Barnabas appoint men to be leaders, “presbyters”, from where we get the word “priest.” The Scriptural accounts of the Church show that it is clearly something that you can seek out and find. It’s marked by authentic teaching, the practice of the sacraments, devotion to the saints, an officially appointed clergy, etc. All of these things help one to identify the Church.
However, our Gospel today gives us perhaps the most important way to identify the followers of Jesus. St. John tells us that all will know we are Christians by the way we love one another. If someone walked into our church today, would they be able to tell we are members of Christ’s Church by the way we love one another? What about in our daily lives?
Perhaps the reason non-Catholics came up with the idea of an “invisible” Church was because we often do a rather poor job of showing ourselves to be members of this Church. The officially appointed hierarchy, a gift from Jesus, often fails miserably (just ask St. Peter). How well do we actually show that great love for one another we’re supposed to? Often we are countersigns to the holiness the Church is supposed to have. One can see how it would be more attractive to pretend that the Church is “invisible” rather than admit that we sorry bunch of sinners are actually it.
Yet, this is the truth. The Church is made up of sinners. From the Pope right down to every adult that ever darkens the door of a church. The Church on earth is not perfect. If you do find the perfect church, for heaven’s sake don’t join it…you’ll wreck it!
The Church may not be perfect on earth, but St. John gives us a beautiful vision of the Church perfected in heaven in our 2nd reading. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. The Church will be beautiful as the Holy City coming down from Heaven, as a bride prepared for her bridegroom. Yes, that day is coming. Let’s all do our part to make the Church on earth more like the heavenly image. As St. John himself would tell us, let us love one another and the rest will all follow.