Last week I reminded you of our mission statement as a parish: To live and share Christ’s call to holiness. I told you that each week we would take a closer look at one of our five core values as a parish. Last week we spoke of being deeply rooted in a reverent sacramental life, as our primary means of union with Christ.
Our second core value is this: “We are one strong family united in Christ: young and old, married and single, we are forming lifelong friendships, supporting one another and spurring one another on toward holiness.”
This core value expresses the truth that we are connected to one another in our striving for holiness. Each of us is in some way responsible for helping the other to become a saint. As St. Paul describes it in his letters to the Romans and Corinthians, we are all different parts of one body, building itself up in love.
Christ the Head
Our body as a parish is only healthy when we remember that Christ is our head. Our readings today remind us of our age-old tendency to try to be our own “head” and our need for continual conversion of heart. In our Old Testament reading, Jonah is sent to Nineveh to tell the inhabitants of that city that if they don’t reject sin and turn toward God, they will be destroyed. After just one day of preaching, the people of Nineveh repented of their sins and turned to the Lord as their head.
In our Gospel, we see Jesus beginning his public ministry. John the Baptist has prepared the way, preaching repentance from sin, and now Jesus proclaims, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” [Mk 1: 15] We will hear the echo of these words on Ash Wednesday, less than a month from now. They invite us, again and again, to turn to the Lord and to follow Jesus Christ.
Allowing God to Forge Us
With Christ as our head, our second core principle is much more than coffee, donuts, and dinner parties (as great as those are)! These things are important but they aren’t the heart of what it means to be a strong family united in Christ. This week we celebrated the anniversary of the death of the founder of Pro Ecclesia Sancta, Fr. Pablo Menor, SJ. He was a man who understood what it means to be a real family. He spent his life bringing others to the joy of knowing Christ. He inspired and continues to inspire thousands of men and women to want to become saints. With deep happiness, he abandoned himself completely to God and encouraged everyone he knew to do the same. Of his own journey toward holiness he wrote, “O Lord, without my realizing it, yet like iron in a forge, like glass in a furnace, like unformed clay in the hands of a potter, you forged me, you formed me, you molded me…”
Can we really call ourselves a strong family as a parish if we are content to be brothers and sisters to each other on the level of the body, but not on the level of the soul? This is where real friendship lies and real happiness is found. Unique times call for unique methods. I’ve seen mentor couples and engaged couples going for a walk together or getting to know each other over a Sunday afternoon Zoom call. I’ve seen young adults gathering in small groups, with masks but also with laughter and friendship that spurs on toward holiness. I’ve seen long-time parishioners who don’t let the pandemic stop them from encouraging one another with phone calls or little acts of kindness.
Our psalmist today prays, “Teach me your ways, O Lord!” When we turn to the Lord as our head, he will form us in his image, so that we can shine with the light of Christ and lead others to God’s goodness and mercy. He wants to make you a saint, and through you, to bring many others to the joy of holiness. This is what is means to be “one strong family united in Christ.”