Editor’s Reflections: The Church: Becoming What We Are

Authored by Dr. James Pauley in Issue #8.2 of Catechetical Review

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“About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”[1]

These are the striking words of St. Joan of Arc, boldly spoken as she stood trial. “They’re just one thing” because Jesus himself described his relationship to the nascent Church as the relationship of vines united to a single branch (cf. Jn 15:1–5). In other words, while distinctions are not difficult to find between Christ and the Christians who make up the Church, at root (forgive my pun), they are one living thing.

We live in a time of heightened divisiveness and loneliness. Online social connections are, as we all know, meager substitutes for real connection and friendship. Perhaps you share with me the conviction that the Church is the needed antidote. The Church is—and at the same time is meant to become—a remarkable communion. The sacraments bring us into communion with the Blessed Trinity, and being in this communion means that we are also intimately united with everyone who is in this remarkable relationship with God: the angels, the saints, all those in Purgatory, and every baptized person on the planet. If Baptism makes us adopted sons and daughters of the Father, then it also makes us truly brother and sister to one another. This extraordinary truth arises out of what the sacraments accomplish.

Pope Benedict XVI described an important effect of Baptism with these words: “Through Baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death ... This group of friends, this family of God, into which the child is now admitted, will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life’s dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light.”[2]

Yet, there is a problem today, and it is a significant one. While these new relationships are given to us, often our experience of them does not align with their spiritual reality. Our churches on Sundays are frequently populated by people who don’t know each other, preferring instead vague collective anonymity. Our Catholic schools, in which there are such strong possibilities for genuine friendship and community, can be dominated by meanness and pettiness that can drive young people away. The relationships that exist in our parishes and schools can be nearly indistinguishable from their secular counterparts, which is a devastating failure when we consider the evangelical witness the world needs today.

I’m reminded here of challenging words from St. John Paul II in his resplendent document on the Christian family, Familiaris Consortio. After describing the grace and exalted dignity of the Christian family, he famously wrote: “families, become what you are!”[3] In other words, recognize what you have become in Christ, cooperate with his saving initiative within your day-to-day living, and become visibly what you are invisibly. And do this for the sake of others.

It seems to me that this is the exact challenge that confronts us today when it comes to the life and relationships within our Catholic communities. How can we take steps forward?

Several years ago, one of my closest friends renovated a backyard shed, turning it into what he calls “St. Peter’s Pub,” located as it is on St. Peter’s Street. He describes the pub’s purpose in this way: “A private pub for family, friends, and neighbors. A place to visit when you want to feel loved.” As a believing Catholic, he and his wife have dedicated much of their life to an apostolate of friendship, bringing people together to pray and to enjoy one another’s company.[4]

We catechists play an irreplaceable role in helping to build authentic Catholic community. We have the chance to teach the supernatural nature of our relationships with one another and then to help create a culture where real friendships can emerge and flourish. In the first decades of Christianity, the pagans noticed the Christians on this account. “See how they love one another,” they would say of the followers of Jesus. May the same be said of us, and of our institutions, in these days of great need.

Dr. James Pauley is Professor of Theology and Catechetics and author of two books focused on the renewal of catechesis: An Evangelizing Catechesis: Teaching from Your Encounter with Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2020), and the newly published revised edition of Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century: A School of Discipleship (Liturgy Training Publications, 2022).


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 795, quoting Acts of the Trial of Joan of Arc.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily (Jan 8, 2006).

[3] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (1981), no. 17.

[4] Two notable articles were published in the last issue of this journal, focused on how to build community in a parish (Andrew and Coreen Wagenbach) and in a Catholic school (Deborah Nearmyer). These are worth reading from the online archives at https://review.catechetics.com.

This article originally appeared on page 6 in the print edition.

This article is from The Sower and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of Maryvale Institute. Contact sower@maryvale.ac.uk

© Catechetical Review 2022

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