At the beginning of the Sunday liturgy, I caught the eye of my friend who was part of this morning’s ‘milestone celebration’ and I felt a wave of joy go through me. It was not just a happy feeling because we were sharing the event with these friends, but it was the joy of celebrating with our entire community. I felt joy because there was a great connection even though I did not know everyone who was in the church. I could not help but think of what it will be like in Heaven some day when we are celebrating God’s love and the joy of being with Him forever: we will be in connection with the entire community in a deeper, fuller way. I know our Church and its people are not perfect and I know as much as I enjoyed it, the liturgy we were celebrating was not perfect. I especially know that I am not perfect, not by a long shot. However, this is our community, our parish family, and it is part of the larger Body of Christ. Therefore, the Church is made holy by the love which holds us together, namely the presence of Jesus Christ. This love is what we celebrated at Easter and it is what we continue to celebrate throughout our lives.
Every time we come together at Mass or any service in which two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, we are being given a foretaste of what is to come. But because we are human and all is imperfect, we can lose sight of this. For example, it is easy to become distracted by a banner on the wall because it is hanging a bit crooked or to detect a small ‘glitch’ that took place in the ritual. But in fact, that is part of why we are there: not to get stuck in our thoughts, but to realize that we are not perfect yet, and therefore we need this worship and we need this community in order to pray each other into the Kingdom. We are not there to simply receive the Word or Eucharist in some sort of vacuum. Rather we are there to celebrate the wonder of God’s unfathomable love and mercy, all while recognizing that it is because we are so imperfect that we need to come and be fed. It is not merely out of obligation that we come. Yes, it is our ‘Sunday obligation,’ but we are there because we love God and are grateful for all He gives us; we are there because we are in awe of the depth of His love and mercy; we are there because we need the wisdom and grace given in Word and Sacrament; we are there because we need our brothers and sisters such that we pray not only together, but for one another, and especially for those in the wider community and in the world; we are there because it inspiring to be with other people who are also working to grow in sanctity. We go to worship precisely because we need it to grow and thrive as Christians, inviting others into the community because we share the gift we have received. Besides, it is the one place we can go where nothing is asked of us. Rather, we give freely as we are receiving freely.
In the Gospel for this week Jesus tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches. He is the source of our life and all the gifts we have to share, but we are the ones who must bear fruit. The vine sustains the branches, but it is the branches that do the bearing of fruit. Without our connection to one another we would be like a lopsided tree: one branch bearing fruit while the rest of the tree languishes. If that were to happen, the tree would not be very healthy and the one branch bearing fruit would be so stressed it might not survive. Therefore, as disciples we need to help each branch bear fruit. In other words, we need one another in order to grow and in order to build the Kingdom. Our attempts at working and worshipping as a community are no less messy than those of the early church, but if we try to work together, exercising the gifts of mercy, forgiveness, and compassion, we can help one another to sanctity and also work at healing that which is broken in the world.
©Michele L. Catanese
*What I mean by 'milestone celebrations' are events which are steps taken in the one's life which are sacramental or service oriented. The events for which we were present were a first Holy Communion and the recognition of a commissioning for a friend who is becoming a deacon.
All the photos are mine. The first was taken in Nova Scotia, Canada. The second is of some stained glass in a church in LeMans, France.
Following the two photos is a painting, Appearance While the Apostles Are At Table by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1260-1318) You can find more on this painting at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Appearance_While_the_Apostles_are_at_Table_-_WGA06738.jpg
Next is another of my photos. This plant with the castle in the background was taken in Sicily just outside Noto.
Last is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Christ Emmanuel Flowering Cross. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/35-christ-emmanuel-flowering-cross