||This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
I greet you all, and hope and pray that your times of preparation for Christmas have been filled with blessings.
The Church continues to challenge us -- a challenge given by our Lord, Himself -- to grow and to change as we prepare once again to renew our welcoming of the Lord into our lives.
In the Gospel of this past Sunday we hear Jesus say, “. . . the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed . . . and blessed is the one who takes no offense at me (MT 11:5-6)!”
Taking offense at Jesus
“Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me!” What would it mean to take offense at Jesus? It would mean to do what the Pharisees and all kinds of ordinary people at that time did.
Those who took offense at Jesus were the ones who said, “Where does he get off saying these things? Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Don’t we know his mother and his relatives? Where does he get all this stuff?”
The fact of Jesus being God became a stumbling block for a lot of people. And instead of being the one to lead them into His Father’s kingdom, they turned Jesus into one who could lead them into sin, by their disbelief.
That’s how clever the devil is and we know it, but it is still startling to consider the way the devil can turn things around. He can get into a person’s head and play on their own broken nature, such that Jesus Himself becomes an occasion of sin!
Taking offense at the Church
Now today, Christ is present to us through His Body, the Church. And we might well say today, “Blessed is the one who does not take offense at the Church!”
There are those in our time who constantly point out, “The Church is so human. Where does the Church get off saying these things?” Indeed, the Church is made up of fallen and broken individuals -- myself included -- but there are too many Catholics today who pride themselves on calling themselves Catholic, and yet who do nothing but take offense at the Church.
They do nothing but find fault with the Church. It’s a way of life for some people, and it goes beyond the need to correct serious problems. Every little thing about every little priest, or every fat bishop, has to become an issue.
There is so much finding fault, so much taking offense at the Church, the Body of Christ, that it can seem overwhelming. And all you have to do is take a peek at the blogosphere and you really want to head for the hills.
If we have been truly offended or hurt by someone in the Church, there are ways for handling that. Our Lord tells us about the method in Matthew 18. And too, we have to admit that there are people in the Church that have hurt people in ways that deserve condemnation and repentance.
But what I am talking about is the constant nitpicking at the Body of Christ and even the claims that the Church cannot be the prophetic voice she is called to be, because of her human membership. The Church is the Body of Christ, divine in its institution, human in its members.
Be patient with the Church
St. Paul himself gives us some advice in this matter in the Second Reading of this past Sunday (JAS 5:7-10). At least three times he says, “Be patient!” And, he adds, “Don’t complain!” Be patient with the Church.
The Church still is the unique vehicle of salvation for the world. Remember the last element of the creed: I believe the Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. How many people mouth those words but unfortunately don’t mean it? “I believe the Church,” it says in Latin, “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” If somebody believes the Church, then it comes naturally to them to be patient. And it comes just as naturally, not to complain.
Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but you and I have to go out and say to people in a nice way, “Do you believe the Church?” When they start to complain, ask, “Do you believe the Church? Who appointed you to be the official griper about the Church?”
If that question comes from you, it will be far more powerful than if it comes from me. Ask and challenge your brothers and sisters, “Do you believe the Church? Are you patient? Do you try not to complain?”
The daily life of the Church has almost become a receptacle of impatience and complaining. St. Paul’s words are as good today as they ever were. Let’s go out and make a difference in the Church, when it comes to patience and not complaining.
Because, if the Church were that way, then the joy that we celebrate in a particular way on “Gaudete Sunday” would be so easy to grasp onto. It would be as real as the air that we breathe.
Let that be our Church for today, and for tomorrow. And let us enter into the coming Christmas season with joy, patience, and love.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Praised be Jesus Christ!