Talking to a friend whose son no longer assembles with the community for Mass or baptizes his children — but claims to love Jesus — I just realized how “unchurched” Catholics can believe they “accept Jesus” when they do not accept the Church. We were never taught the real mystery of the risen Jesus. We thought Jesus rose as an individual, and that we can relate to him as an individual. That is ten percent right and ninety percent wrong.
Yes, Jesus came out of the tomb in the body he got from Mary; the body that hung on the cross became alive again — but not the way Lazarus did (John 11:1-45), by just “coming back to life.” The body that rose “glorified” was the body of the “whole Christ,” head and members. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6; see Colossians 2:12, 3:1). If we accept Jesus risen from the dead, we have to accept all who rose with him. If we do not want to associate with the risen body of Christ, the Church, we can't associate with Jesus.
Jesus’ condemnation of those who do not recognize him in the poor and needy apply also to those who do not recognize him in the Church: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” He is also saying, “If you reject the least member of my body, you reject me.” To reject the members of the body is to reject the head.
Jesus says today, “If you cannot accept me in my ugly body — in my body on earth wounded by sin and sometimes stinking with its infection — you cannot accept me.”
Think about it. Why did Jesus insist so much on mutual forgiveness (Matthew 6:15, 18:21-35; Luke 6:37)? Why did John say so strongly that love of others is the proof we are living by the life of God (read all of 1John)? “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.’” Those who cannot love Jesus visible in the Church (although “covered with sores” and sinfulness Luke 16:20), are kidding themselves if they think they love Jesus.
We are deluded if we think we can have a real relationship with the “man from Galilee” — the Jesus of the Gospels who spoke inspiring words, healed the sick and died for us with incomprehensible love — without entering into real relationship with the risen Jesus, Jesus living today: Jesus speaking and acting in the members of his body, the Church. If we think we can “follow Jesus” without assembling with his body on earth, we don’t understand the mystery of the resurrection. Jesus only walks in the company of his disciples — good ones and bad ones.
The great teacher of the Christian mystery is Paul. He never met the historical Jesus. The Jesus he met on the road to
Paul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Paul understood. From that moment on, the core of everything Paul preached was “the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
The “hope” of glory. We will not see the Church in all her beauty until we see her “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband... holy and without blemish” (Revelation 21:2; Ephesians 5:27). But if we don’t accept her now in her imperfection, we never will see her in her perfection.
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