On the wall of the parish hall at Our Lady of Fatima, the parish my family belonged to before moving to the Twin Cities, is a banner that reads, “We are the Church.” Those are words I find myself repeating with some frequency in recent times.
The other day, I listened to a reflection given by one of the Benedictine sisters during noon prayer at the chapel at St. Benedict’s Monastery. The sister giving the talk referred to a homily by St. John Chrysostom, in which he talked about the fact that that there is one Church. The Church is many parts, but one body.
As I listened to her words, it struck me that the phrase “We are the Church” can convey two very different messages, depending on how it is spoken. One can say “We are the Church,” in the way that children say “My dad is stronger than your dad,” or “My muscles are bigger than your muscles,” that is, in a way that suggests we – not you or not someone else – are the church. The alternative is to convey by “we are the Church” the sentiment that all of us – the Vatican, priests, nuns, lay persons, all of us, whether we are labeled “traditionalist Catholics,” “progressive Cathlics” or any other names – are together part of one Church.
If we are going to be true to the message of the Gospel, we must mean the latter. We are the Church must mean that, however different we are, however much we may disagree among ourselves from time to time, however much we may not even like each other, we are one. We are one Body in Christ. And if we are going to claim to be part of one Church, then we are all part of that one Church and no one gets excluded. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “the Church does not exist because those who are gathered in her are divided, but in order that all those who have parted company may be reunited.” And if we are going to claim to be part of one Church then we are all responsible for all because we are all part of the same body.