22 years ago I joined the Roman Catholic Church. Recently, one of my United Church friends remarked that I must love the “Church and liturgy”, because, as he put it, “the theology of our two churches is so similar”. I have pondered that comment and realized that I do love my “Catholic Church” and I do love liturgy, but I love something far more. What brought me to the Catholic Church was the focus on prayer and personal relationship with Christ.
Fr. John F. Kavanaugh reminds us that Jesus’ parable about the vineyard with the wicked tenants, is speaking about the church that Christ has planted. Fr. Kavanaugh stresses that we live and work in the vineyard, but it is not the vineyard we seek. It is “the one who planted the vineyard” whom we seek. The Church must never become more important to us than the Lord who gives it meaning. In the same way neither religious legalism, church ministry, nor fasting or sacrifice should overshadow our desire to transform our hearts and to conform our lives to following in the path of Jesus. In all things we must remember the words of Jesus when he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.(Matt. 7:21)
What is the will of the Father? It is not always easy to tell if we are doing God’s will. However, Pope Francis reminded us, in proclaiming the Jubilee of Mercy last year, that compassion and mercy for “the least of our brothers and sisters” ought to be the thing for which we constantly strive. Jesus’ life was devoted to those who were “least”, and that ought to be our path, too. After all, Jesus said “follow me” many times, and never once said, “worship me”. In pondering my friend’s comment, I have come to realize that I love Christ more than the Church or liturgy – though these ought to help me follow Jesus more closely. I think his path must be my focus now, and I will look to the Church and liturgy to give me the strength to do so. I am so glad I had that conversation with my friend.