Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 13: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

A people, not an organization

Jer 17:5-8; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6; 1 Cor 15:12, 16-20; Lk 6:17, 20-26

In his book reflecting on the impact of the pandemic, “Let Us Dream: A Path to a Better Future,” Pope Francis observes that the church is better understood as a people than as an organization. 

When the bishops of the world gathered at the Second Vatican Council to define the essence of the church, they used the metaphor “the people of God.” In the Bible, the Israelites are acclaimed as “God’s chosen people” and so they remain. Christians, too, are to think of themselves as the people of God.

What does being a people mean? An institution has a purpose, a structure, an organizational chart and membership. You can join or leave an institution. 

Being a people is another kind of reality. Those who belong to a people share a common history, common ideals, common hopes and dreams. A people, the pope notes, has a soul, a common spirit that binds them together at a deep level.

Even though we can rightly think of the church as a people and not simply as an institution or organization, it is still possible for individuals to drift away or be alienated from the church. Similar experiences can happen in families; some incident or circumstance can separate us even from those with whom we share flesh and blood. 

However, no matter how distant we might become from our family, we still belong in some true sense.

These thoughts came to mind as I reflected on the Scripture readings for this Sunday. Both the reading from Jeremiah and responsorial Psalm 1 use a similar metaphor. 

The “one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord” is “like a tree planted beside the waters” whose roots sink deep into nourishing streams. 

In writing to the Corinthians about belief in resurrection, Paul bluntly states that if Christ has not conquered death then “we are the most pitiable people of all” and our Christian faith is in vain.

The Gospel selection is from Luke’s “sermon on the plain.” Before a “great crowd of his disciples and a large number of people” Jesus proclaims the beatitudes. He speaks about vulnerable people who are often ignored or despised as blessed and precious in God’s eyes: “the poor,” “the hungry,” “those who weep,” those “excluded” and “despised.” 

Jesus’ beatitudes are a reminder of God’s enduring love for his people and a mandate for discipleship. They help define our soul as a people of God, as a church. 

We could think of Jesus himself as the embodiment of our soul. In Jesus’ beatitudes and in the abundant examples of his healings, his compassion for the crowds and those in desperate need of forgiveness, in his willingness to lay down his life for us, we see, in the words of Pope Francis, “the human face of the Father’s mercy.”

When all is said and done, this is our soul as a church, as a people. Every other practice and obligation we embrace as a Catholic Church must radiate from that deepest level. 

This, of course, is Jesus’ fundamental teaching: The “greatest commandment” is to “love” the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul … and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

This Sunday we find ourselves still amid the omicron phase of the pandemic, hoping that some relief is on the horizon. In “Let Us Dream,” Pope Francis invites us to reflect on how we will be on the other side of this long and trying experience.

Will we go right back to the way we were or will we dig deep into our minds and hearts and reflect on our soul, renewing the convictions that give us hope and guide us to be truly part of God’s people? Will we remain distant from our church and its soul or come back home?

“Blessed are they who trust in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. They are like trees planted beside the waters. … they fear not the heat when it comes, their leaves stay green; in the year of drought, they show no distress, but still bear fruit.”


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