Catholics are a community. A body made up of many different people, united by a common bond of love. Because of the enduring strength of this bond, and the life-long commitment it implies, one of the best ways of describing the Catholic Church is that it is like a family. This may come as a surprise to many people associate different images with the Catholic Church: organisation, government, moral watchdog.
Yet, really, at its heart, the Church is a community of people travelling together through life. Like every human family, we have our ups and downs, our good times and bad. We have a heritage from which our values and behaviour codes have come. We cooperate through a variety of roles and functions. We have our special times of celebration, as well as the mundane activities of day to day life. What is different about this family-like bond, however, is that it is not based on race or blood but on a spiritual bond of faith.
How we began...
Catholics believe in a God who is love, a God who has created us out of love, and who envelops each moment of our existence. Catholics believe this loving presence of God has been communicated to the world in an extraordinarily tangible way through the person of Jesus Christ, a man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago in Palestine and whose whole life was animated by the Spirit of God. During his short life (for he only lived to about 33 years of age) Jesus preached a bold message of love, of freedom from fear, a promise of life. People experienced him as a person of extraordinary love, bringing healing, hope and forgiveness of sins to those who knew him. So great was his impact among the people of his day, that the religious and political authorities felt threatened. So much so, that Jesus was put to death by crucifixion.
Jesus' followers were devastated by his death. But then something happened beyond their wildest dreams. Jesus was raised from the dead! They experienced his living presence in a whole new way. Their lives were transformed. Their faith in God took a quantum leap. Yes, love is stronger than death! Yes, the promise of eternal life is true! Yes, our God is always with us. The Spirit of God alive in Jesus had taken hold of their lives too. They came to recognise Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ, God-withus. They had felt themselves 'die' with Christ, and now they experienced themselves 'resurrected'. Alive! Free! Hope-filled and open to the promise of life - in this life and in the next.
In their excitement, Jesus' followers gathered in a little community. Together they lived a new vision for their lives. Their joy of knowing Christ and living in his Spirit was all consuming. They felt his presence in the depths of their humanity. In fact, so much so, that they came to understand themselves as 'the body of Christ', the people in whom the Spirit of God dwelt. Their bond of love attracted others. Their stories of how God had touched their lives raised hope, questions, curiosity amongst those who would listen. Their community grew and spread to all parts of the world.
Despite times of great persecution and difficulty, this experience of faith continued to be transmitted through the ages; passed down through word of mouth, through sacred writings, through the traditions and practices of the community, enlivening the hearts of each new generation of Christians.
The Scripture story
'The whole community of believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed any of their possessions as his own; but rather they shared all things in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and they were living in a time of grace.' (Acts 4.32-33)
Putting It Simply
We Catholics are a body of people, a community, a family with a story, a history, a purpose who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We share a common vision for life, seek to live in a spirit of love, not just a social club, not just a group of likeminded people, not just a welfare agency, or a spiritual fill-up station, but a life-long love relationship, alive in the Spirit of Christ, a people with a mission to proclaim Jesus to the world, share our life with others, so that the world may believe and share our joy.
Jesus said... 'This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this, to give one's life for his friends.' (John 15:12-13)
image: St Kieran's Parish Pastoral Council, Yallourn Heights, Victoria 3825, was the winner of the CathNews on Facebook inaugural annual Parish Selfie Competition in 2014.