Life as Participation
In 2008 when I became your Parish Priest, I wrote to you about the importance of belonging – the message was that we all belong to this community. This was both an affirming and challenging message: it reminded us, as St Paul did in his First Letter to the Corinthians, that despite our differences we are all integral parts of the Body of Christ. Our Christian faith is not a solo adventure – it is a life lived in diverse community – a beautiful sum of many parts.
We have spent a year reflecting on the fact that we belong to this community. Now we must move beyond this towards an understanding of what part we play. To use St Paul’s metaphor again, a body does not function correctly unless all of its parts are playing their role. For the next year I want to encourage each and every one of you to reflect on how you participate in our faith community.
The story of humankind’s relationship with God is filled with examples of life as participation. From the very beginning in the creation stories of Genesis, God invited men and women to be co-creators in relationship with him. Throughout the books of the prophets we hear time and time again that God wishes to challenge the people to return to their faith, have concern for the poor and hungry and to love one another. God’s message did not come via express post from the clouds. It was (and still is) always a person who speaks it, people who hear it, and people who take up the challenge and respond to it.
In the same way, before Jesus left his disciples he asked them to continue doing what he had been doing: giving good news to the poor, the hungry, the blind, the lame and inviting more people into an understanding of his remarkable message. He did not give them a detailed list of instructions on how to do so, he simply invited them to participate with him in sharing God’s saving grace with the world through loving one another and all people.
Our tradition has built on this message ever since. Perhaps the most beautiful way it is expressed is in the Catholic mission statement to be a sacrament of salvation. To understand this statement we need to understand the meaning of two words: sacrament and salvation. St Augustine defined a sacrament as a visible sign of invisible grace, and this definition is still used in Catholic theology today. In other words, a sacrament is what we see, feel, hear, taste or touch which allows us to experience God’s grace – this is our first definition.
Sometimes we tend to talk about salvation only in ways that apply after death, but this was only part of Jesus’ message. When we pay careful attention to his life example and his message it becomes clear that for Jesus, as for the Jewish faith of which he was a part, salvation is always understood as a movement from less than human conditions to truly human conditions. We might think of it in these terms: moving away from addiction towards recovery; moving away from depression towards happiness; moving away from sickness towards health; moving away from dependence towards true relationship; moving away from poverty towards fullness; moving away from blindness (physical, spiritual or psychological) towards sight. A quick glance at the evening news, or even a quick glance around the congregation, will reveal that there are many in our community and in our world who desperately need the touch of this salvation.
Based on these definitions, the mission of our Church is to be a visible sign of God’s loving salvation. We belong to a community that is charged with this mission, so how do we participate in it? We know what salvation looks like, so how do we allow others both inside and outside of our community to experience it? How can you be a sacrament of salvation to those around you? Perhaps through something as simple as a listening ear, perhaps by participating in one of the many ministries our parish offers, perhaps through the gift of your time, your skills or your prayers. I encourage you to reflect on this question over the coming year: how can I participate in allowing the world to experience God’s loving salvation?
Fr George Kolodziej SDS