Last fall, I saw the Church show up in a downtown bar to listen to a talk and grow in community. Last month, I saw the Church show up in an expected place (a church building) but in an unexpected way.
The Knights of Columbus organized a pilgrimage with the heart relic of St. John Vianney. I attended a crowded noon Mass and then waited to venerate the relic. Ever the romantic, I was waiting for the church to clear out and for the chance to approach the relic with ample time to pray. I imagined the crowds would soon dissipate and people would return to work.
That did not happen.
As time passed, the crowds did disperse, but people kept trickling in, causing the line to remain stretched down most of the center aisle. People came after work or on a break or once they picked their kids up from school. For nearly the entire afternoon, the line stretched down the aisle and about three-quarters of the way toward the back of the church.
The few hundred people who showed up at noon Mass surprised me, but the consistent flow of people throughout the afternoon surprised me more. It was a striking response to the distressing news that keeps being unearthed in diocese after diocese around the nation and world. The day before, our bishop released a letter listing priests who have abused minors in our diocese. Hours later, the Church showed up as hundreds of lay faithful and priests were falling on their knees before the incorrupt heart of a priest.
Our prayers were urgent and heartfelt. We need priests who have priestly hearts, mirrored after the heart of St. John Vianney but even more so after the High Priest Jesus Christ. Scandal within the Church simply highlights even more the great need that we have for holiness in the Body of Christ. Acknowledging the fragility of humanity, we interceded for the men whose consecrated hands confect the Eucharist, whose words extend absolution, and whose presence is sought from birth until death–and some of the most significant moments in between.
It is not enough to know the truth or to like the truth or to preach the truth. The truth, to be what it ought, must be lived. Instead of a list of truths or a manual for questions, Jesus Christ revealed to His followers the life one ought to live if in relationship with Him. G.K. Chesterton said, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” When we live our faith as an authentic relationship, we necessarily pursue the truth of Jesus and the truth about ourselves.
The Church needs priests and lay people to be radically in love with Jesus Christ, not simply people who can speak eloquently or make the Church look good. She needs priests with hearts like St. John Vianney who, although tempted to run away, desire holiness for those around them more than their own comfort. And married couples like St. Louis and Zelie Martin who long for Heaven more than worldly success for their children. In every stage of life and in every place, the Church needs holiness to be lived and embraced as radically as Christ embraced His cross.
Let us intercede for one another in the Body of Christ. As we intercede, let us also pray for the truth to be revealed, that Christ may bind up what is broken and heal what has been wounded. That, my friends, is one of the most beautiful ways the Church can show up right now.
St. John Vianney, pray for us.