Hungering for the Church

Beginning this month, Masses are gradually resuming in Singapore. All who register will be able to attend one Mass in a parish of their choice. I am sure many are looking forward to celebrating Mass again together in the community.

These past weeks we have been asked to stay away from Church and the sacraments so that we can take the necessary measures to make sure everyone remains safe during this COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, many of us have come to realise how much we hunger to be part of the Church, to celebrate the liturgies, and to receive the sacraments, especially Eucharist.

Our hunger is natural. Humankind hungers for the divine. We need God. We want God. We yearn for nothing else than to be with God. If we are honest, we will admit to those truths. This is why the past months of not being able to come to Church, to celebrate Mass and to receive Communion are a grace: we have grown wiser about who God is in our life and why God matters.

I wonder if we would be this wise if life had carried on as normal without the pandemic. Perhaps not because we would have taken many things about our faith life for granted. One of these is the gift of the Church in our lives. The Church as a community of believers who support each other to grow in Christian life, faith and service. The Church wherein we partake of the Sacraments to nourish our spiritual life and ministry. The Church that teaches us, accompanies, and leads us to God.

Many people with same-sex attraction struggle with the Church and her teachings and ways. Many others do too. The Church, they say, is hypocritical: it preaches love but does not practise it for all. The Church speaks about being holy, yet its priests, religious and laity, especially those in authority, are unholy in word and deed. The Church is to serve all, especially the poor, but many in the Church serve themselves.

I know many faithful have such thoughts and feelings. They do because they have been hurt, disappointed or discriminated by some in the Church. They suffer and mourn; some walk away. And many others and I feel their pain and anguish. We also hear their desire to come home.

Today, I’d like to invite us and all who feel this way about the Church to consider Fr Rob Galea’s reflection “Do Catholics need to go to Church?”. He offers an honest perspective on why we should come to Church, even if the Church is broken and sinful. His sharing is a loving invitation to every Catholic and all who love the Christian faith.

Here are the key points he makes:

  • People say they don’t need to go to Church to be a Christian. They stay away because the Church is hypocritical and broken they say. They argue that they can be Christian on their own. But can we?
  • The Church is the Body of Christ. Everyone makes up this Body, with Christ as Head. We need one another to remain connected to the body of Christ. This connection or relationship helps our faith stay alive. This body or church community nourishes and supports every believer in life and faith, in prayer and acts of charity. Cut off from the community, one’s faith can survive for some time. In the long term, it dies or diminishes. And when it does, so does our relationship with God.
  • Jesus also saw the need for a community. He surrounded himself with disciples. Jesus role-models the importance of community to have a healthy and happy faith life with God.
  • The Church is where believers receive and partake in the Sacraments. The Church provides us the Sacraments to meet our different needs and at different times. The Sacraments are important; they boost us on our Christian journey. Through the Sacraments, God’s grace nourishes and sustains all.
  • The Church serves as a truth safety-net to protect and lead believers to God. The Church’s teaching and tradition support believers to interpret and know God and God’s ways. The Church protects believers from constructing church or faith that is not rooted in or inspired by God but by humankind to meet human needs. The Church protects us from the untruths. It guides us to be believers as God wants us to be.
  • Find a parish community to belong to and who will support you. Stay close to the Sacraments. Stay close to the Truth about God.

Fr Galea’s conclusion should remind us of the importance of having a relationship with God. The Church can — through the community, the Sacraments and the Truth of its teachings and tradition — help us to deepen and grow this relationship we have with God. Even if we are angry with the Church, the Church is always present as God’s gift to help us be in friendship with God.

This week, I am inviting us to consider how you and I relate to the Church. Let us use our life experience of the Church and Fr Galea’s reflection on it as the material for our prayer and reflection. Let us let God show us how he wants us to understand the Church and our relationship with the Church. Here are three points to pray and reflect on:

  1. When you think of Church, what comes to mind as (i) that which gives you joy that uplifts you and (ii) that which pains your heart?
  2. If you could bring your joys and pains about your experience of Church to Jesus, what do you want to share with him and ask him to help you better understand what Church means?
  3. As a person with same-sex attraction, or as a family member or friend who is accompanying persons with same-sex attraction, how would you like Jesus to make the Church a more welcoming place for you? Make a list of how the Church can be more welcoming and accepting of people with same-sex attraction. Bring one of these ways each day as a petition in your daily prayer.

Words to Encourage

“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.”  Let us ask Jesus whose love gathered the people into community to enlighten our minds and open our hearts to the gift of Church. Then, let us beg Jesus to humble us to receive all the goodness God wishes for us and our happiness through the Church.