Homily: Church Defined

September 19, 2019

Readings of the day: 1 Timothy 4:12-16 and Luke 7:36-50

Homily delivered at all-school Mass at Bishop Chatard HS, Indianapolis in 2015:

What do you think of when you hear the word Church?

Our definition of Church tends to evolve as we mature.

My daughter used to teach third grade. I once spoke to her class about being a deacon and answered questions about what happens at Mass.

When they talked about Church, they talked about the building and its contents. They talked about the altar, the prayers, the servers, and the priest.

One little girl kept referring to the priest as the pope – “the pope comes in as we sing” and “then the pope gives out Communion to everyone.”

It was clear that when they talked about church, they only thought of church with a small ‘c’. They only thought of the church as something tangible, something they could see or touch.

The beautiful structures, colorful vestments, sculptures, incense, Gregorian chant, and recited prayers certainly add to the richness and tradition of our faith, but they are not the Church.

As time goes on and we mature in our faith, we discover this (gesturing to the gym space we use as our sanctuary for school Masses) is not the Church.

This (gesturing to all of people) is the Church.

I asked a random sampling of Bishop Chatard students to answer the question, “What do you think of when you think of the word Church?”

Here are a few of the responses:

“I think of church as a group of people worshipping together as a faith community.”

“Church is true brotherhood and community.”

“At Bishop Chatard, when I think of church I think of the whole student body and faculty.”

Finally, if Ann Marie doesn’t mind, I will share her response: “Church to a five-year-old is a place that has free donuts. To a 95-year-old it’s a home. Some overlook the true beauty and presence of Christ in a church, and think of it only as a simple building. A church is a community gathered together in communion, with Christ present. In other words, we are the Church.”

As I said earlier, the definition evolves. It goes from being something we can see and touch to something we interact with and experience.

Ann Marie is correct. We are the Church. So why don’t we all feel comfortable in this role?

Many do not feel a part of the Church; they feel unworthy of being included. They feel that Church is for holy people, so they don’t belong.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus responds to that concern.

First, He tells a parable. A man forgives the debts of two people. Both debtors benefit from this generosity, but who benefits the most? The one who owes the most benefits the most.

So it is with Church. Church is for all, but especially for those who need it the most.

Then, the Gospel goes on to share the story of the woman washing the feet of Jesus with her tears. This woman accomplished three things by this action:

  • She humbled herself, kneeling at Jesus’ feet. The act of washing another’s feet is incredibly humbling.
  • She took a risk. For a woman, and a well-known sinner, to approach a man like Jesus and touch him would certainly have raised some eyebrows.
  • She showed great faith. She believed she could turn to Jesus in her time of need and He would respond.

So it is with Church. Church is for all, but especially for those who need it the most.

So, is Church for holy people? Sure. But Church is especially for broken people like us. It is for broken people who come forward to be nurtured; those who humble themselves and acknowledge that they can’t do it alone.

After all — who needs Church more?

No matter how broken we are, we can be repaired.

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