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Opening the Word: Remain in my love

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The declining religiosity of U.S. citizens seems inevitable. Each time Gallup or Pew releases a poll, there are fewer Catholics and more religious “nones.”

What are we to do as committed Catholics?

The temptation is despair. We can blame the millennials and their boomer and Gen-X parents for the decline. Or we can turn our ire upon American prelates who too often did nothing about the sexual abuse crisis. We can prepare to sell off churches that we will no longer need.

There is another option.

Rather than paralysis before the darkness, we can ask another question: Why am I affiliated? Why do I belong to the Church? Why do I stay?

For me, and I suspect that we each need to answer this question in our own way, it is love.

Not any love, but the love of God poured out through Jesus Christ. The love of God made incarnate in my parish church where the undeserved People of God receive a love beyond all telling.

I stay because of the Epistle of St. John. We hear on this Sixth Sunday of Easter the exhortation to love one another.

In this epistle, to love one another is to be begotten of God. Born of God. Knowing God.

Belonging in Catholicism — and really all Christianity — is not something that we can opt into. To know God is to love the neighbor that we have been given. And we have been given each other.

When we refuse to love one another, to bear with one another, to share a life together, we do not know God.

This is not Tim’s pious thoughts. It is the words of the apostle, “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).

I belong because I need to learn to love. To love the neighbor who has been sent to me from God.

God has chosen an inefficient mode of saving the world. God does not zap us with some heavenly ray that immediately transforms us. We are baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, and then after an outpouring of sacramental grace, we belong. That is salvation. It is belonging and thereby learning to love one another.

Happily, we are not the exclusive initiators of this love. We are not capable of such love by ourselves. The epistle declares to us that it was the God who sent his only Son into the world who first loved us.

God loved first.

This returns me to the question I must answer myself, “Why do I stay in the Church?”

Because it is in this Church, full of sinners and saints that I first learned that God loved me.

Not a hypothetical or sentimental love. It is the love of a God who pitched his tent to dwell among us, to feed us with his Body and Blood, and who condescended to speak loving words to us in the Scriptures.

It is the God who is made present in the community of believers in East Tennessee who provided Christmas dinner when we could not afford it, who taught me to pray, and who treated me as a serious person during adolescence.

It is the community of believers now who help my children pray, who even smile at us when we must drag our screaming daughter out the door during the Eucharistic consecration.

It is the whole communion of saints in the world who fight against racial injustice, for the life of the unborn, not out of an ideological project.

But because God first loved us.

I stay, I remain affiliated, because God first loved me.

Through them.

May 9, 2021 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
1 Jn 4:7-10
Jn 15:9-17

 

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.

 

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