Dedicated to all those who volunteer at our parish…
In 1972, nearly four and a half decades ago, a young popular German theologian and university professor by the name of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (maybe you’ve heard of him) was invited to write an essay on the topic, “Why I am still in the Church.” His essay is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read, and I think it provides some great food for thought as we seek to unpack these two themes of gratitude and hope.
Pope Benedict XVI’s essay is centered on the image of the moon as a way of understanding the identity and nature of the Church. The moon, as Pope Benedict explains, represents the world of men, the earthly world, the world that receives its identity and fruitfulness from somewhere else: from the sun. The light of the moon is borrowed light. It’s light is not its own, but rather the light of another. When we think of the moon, we think of the bright shining celestial body that lights up the sky and expels the darkness of the night. Because of the reflective light of the moon, we possess sight and thus, direction in the midst of dark times.
Yet, when we have sent various voyagers and probes to the moon, we have discovered that the moon is anything but the bright celestial body that we perceive it to be. In fact, the moon is actually a desolate place. It is composed of stone, desert, sand, and mountains. It is a dark and lifeless place. And yet, when we think of the moon, we do not think of its rough landscape. Rather, we think of the reflective light of the sun. In a way, we could say that the moon is what it is not, and is not what it is. In other words, it’s true identity is not found in what it is composed of, but in what it belongs to: the sun. The moon may consist of dark and rocky terrain, but it’s true identity is the bright shining reflective light of the sun.
Utilizing the image of the moon, Pope Benedict asks, “Is that not a very exact image of the Church? Someone who drives over it and extracts samples with a moon probe can discover only desert, sand, and stone, the all-too-human foibles of man and his history with its deserts, its dust, and its heights. That is hers. And yet, it is not the essential thing about her. The decisive thing is that she, although only sand and stone herself, is still the light that comes from the Lord: what is not hers is what is truly and properly hers; indeed, her nature lies in the fact that she herself does not count, but rather, what counts about her is what she is not.”
Pope Benedict goes on to say that this image of the moon expresses the ultimate reason why he remains in the Church: because the Church is not ours, but His. Although the human beings who make up the Church are very much imperfect and broken, she still belongs to the Lord, and even through her brokenness, she brilliantly reflects the light of the Son of God, Jesus Christ upon the world.
Those of us who work and volunteer for the Church, know its brokenness all too well. We don’t need to send a probe or a voyager to examine the darkness or rockiness of our portion of the moon. We experience its rough terrain every day. Often times, we see our parishioners at their worst: when they are sick and dying, and confused about the meaning of their suffering; when they have lost a loved one and are angry with God; when their marriage has fallen apart and they do not know how to fix it; when things simply don’t go their way and all they want to do is argue with us; when they complain about the way things are done without knowing how much time and energy we have poured into the life of our parish.
In addition, we see our fellow staff members and (dare I say) even our priests when they at their worst - when they are having bad days and struggling to be the faithful disciples that Jesus has called them to be. Yes, being a part of a parish staff exposes us to the sand and stone that composes the moon that we call our parish, our Church.
Yet, those of us who work and volunteer for the Church, also know well that “His Church,” lives behind “our Church.” Even though at times we may see people at their worst, we also see very clearly the light of Jesus Christ - who reveals to us that at her deepest level, she is precisely “His Church.”
Although we experience challenging days in our service to God and His Church, we also experience the joy of seeing lives transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even though we are fragile and broken instruments, we are the Lord’s fragile and broken instruments and He delights in using us to shine His light. God has done amazing things in our parish this year. We should rejoice in His beautiful work.
This is what makes participating in the life of the Church so rewarding: we get to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We get to participate in the mission of Jesus Christ. His mission is our mission. Is this not the meaning of our upcoming solemnity of Pentecost? That the Gospel is not merely a spectator’s sport, but that we get to be players in the game, so to speak.
Although I am sure we have experienced many hardships in promoting the Gospel at our parishes this year, it is through our constant turning toward Christ during these hardships that has provided the fertile soil for the life of Christ to grow in ourselves and in our parishes. Pope Benedict says, “Only by suffering himself and by becoming free of the tyranny of egotism through suffering does man find himself, his truth, his joy, his happiness.” In others words, only when we seek to be like the moon do we discover what it means to be authentically human; only when we die to ourselves so that we might live for another (reflecting the light of another) do we discover the true joy of the Gospel.
This is the joy expressed by St. Paul in our first reading in Acts of the Apostles when he says, “But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem. What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me. Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Paul’s mission was to be the moon, to be the reflective light of the Son of God: to witness the Gospel of God’s grace. Just as Jesus gave everything over to the Father, so too do we (along with St. Paul) have the mission of giving everything over to the Father, through the Son. Jesus lived totally for the Father, and we are invited to do the same.
This is the reason for our gratitude and our hope. Even though the soil of our lives and our parishes is often considered to be “rocky terrain,” God (as our psalmist so beautifully expresses) has “showered us with a bountiful rain.” You, my brothers and sisters, are an essential part of that bountiful rain. Your gift of self allows the light of Christ to shine brilliantly throughout our diocese. Your gift of self warrants our gratitude, and gives us hope that God will continue to provide for us in our time of need. Thank you for your “yes” to Jesus Christ and His Church, and may God bless us with many more disciples willing to take on the identity and mission of the moon.BACK TO LIST