Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fr. Andersen: Rebuilding the Church

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, Oregon

March 17th, 2013

Dominica V Quadragesimae, Anno C.

One day when (Saint) Francis went out to meditate in the fields, he walked beside the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray. Prostrate before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with no little consolation as he prayed. While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times: “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling completely into ruin” (St. Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis. ch. 2). St. Francis immediately thought of the physical church of San Damiano but he quickly discovered that God meant the Church “which Christ purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28)” (ibid).

We know that St. Francis took this mandate from the Lord very seriously. He abandoned all worldly honors and riches and lived the life of a poor man, but he was rich in all the things of God. We have a new pope who has taken the name of Francis. We can imagine God saying to this man: “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling completely into ruin.” What will this new Pope bring to the Church? We can only speculate at this point. Most importantly we can pray for him and for the Church.

In today’s gospel, we see an allegory for the Church. The Early Church Fathers loved to read the scriptures allegorically. On the literal level, we learn from today’s gospel about sin and justice and mercy. On the allegorical level, we see much more. The woman caught in adultery is an allegory for the Church. The Early Church Fathers saw the Church as having been in existence from the beginning of creation. God created her in the beginning, but He did not take the Church as His spotless bride until He presented it to Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom. In today’s gospel we have a betrothal of sorts. The woman caught in adultery is brought to the feet of our Lord. She represents the people of the old covenant who had been unfaithful. We know from the Old Testament books of the Kings, that many kings were unfaithful which led to the people being unfaithful. The kings of Judah, for instance, were the descendants of King David. They had married foreign women and worshipped their foreign pagan gods. They had desecrated the Temple with paganism and had fallen into idolatry. Holy Scripture equates idolatry with adultery. Idolatry is considered to be infidelity towards the One God who deserves our worship.

The Church is brought before the Lord by men who accuse her. She humbles herself and waits for the verdict. But our Lord has created her for Himself. He does not condemn her, but rather purifies her and takes her to Himself as His Bride. Jesus always takes the Church to Himself. Through Him, the Church is always perfect because He is perfect.

We, the members of the Church, are not perfect, but when we unite ourselves to the one Church, the Father sees only our perfection because He sees us in His Son. By His Son, we are made to be as perfect in the sight of God. That is something for us all to remember. The Church finds her identity only in Christ, never apart from Him. It is the same with us. We find our identity in Christ and nowhere else. Whatever sins we have committed in life, we are not identified or defined by our sins. We are defined by Christ as beloved sons and daughters of His Heavenly Father. Therefore, in Christ, we are reborn, we die and rise with him, and we become adopted children of the Father. In that way, God sees us through His perfect Son and we are presented to the Father as perfect.

Does that mean that our work is done? No. Our work is only beginning. Let us Join Pope Francis as he works to rebuild the Church. Every age must continue to rebuild because the Church is always reforming, as the saying goes, “Semper reformanda.” Let us look to the simplicity and joy of St. Francis as we seek to honor the Vicar of Christ on earth, Pope Francis. Let us pray for our new Pope and wait to see what special gifts we will bring to the Church in our day. 

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