Christianity teaches an amazing truth: God chooses to speak individually and personally with each soul. Individual friendship with the Divine – who could ask for a greater gift! As we begin to listen carefully to His voice, and put Him first in our lives, a problem emerges: How do I distinguish God’s voice from myself? I feel stirrings in my soul, I get little inspirations, I see the hand of God working, I seem to hear His voice… but sometimes those kind of things are really just me deluding myself. It is actually not possible for an individual soul to always know infallibly what is the Voice of God. For this reason, we need more than simply a personal relationship with Christ. We also need a relationship to Him in and through the Church.
Jesus told his disciples, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mat 18:20). He also said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me…” (Luke 10:16). He identifies himself with the work of the Church. This means that the presence of Christ in the world continues through the Body of Christ, the Church. Through the hands of priests, Christ is present. Through the voices of missionaries and catechists, Christ speaks. Through the actions of Christians as they offer mercy and compassion, Christ reaches out to those who struggle.
The Church, the Body of Christ, can reveal the face of Jesus. It can also obscure the face of Jesus. In compassionate and loving priests, people catch a glimpse of the compassionate love of Christ. But a selfish and sinful priest makes the face of Christ harder to see. The same goes for every Christian. How do we reconcile the fact that the Church can be a beautiful place of healing and also capable of hurting so many? This is part of the mystery of Sanctification experienced by every Christian. We are each baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, freed from original sin so that we can live a holy life. But do we live a holy life? Sometimes we do live like Christ; other times we do not. We are still being transformed, still letting go of sin and letting God transform us. Sanctification (becoming-holy) can be a long and often painful process, as we slowly become more like Jesus. In the same way, the Church is holy, but it still continuing to be transformed by the love of God.
I would venture to guess that all of us come from imperfect families. Despite the good people that fill my family, sometimes we hurt each other. Even though my family is not perfect, I love them dearly. I pray for us to become better, I forgive, and I try to be a better son and brother. In the same way, even though the Church is not perfect, she is my family, and I love her dearly. I also pray that She can become ever more holy and a more perfect image of the face of Christ. I take consolation in Jesus’ promise that evil will not win (Mat 16:18). Through the Church, Christ continues to say: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I also send you” (John 21:20). We must learn to love the Church, warts and all, for She is the Bride of Christ, and united with her Lord as one flesh, she becomes his Body, and continues His Incarnation in the world.