“What will separate us from the love of Christ?”
With these words, we are brought back to the First Century of Christianity. St. Paul is writing to the nascent community in Rome, a community that is struggling to grow, a community that will shortly see most of its leadership eliminated through the crown of martyrdom. Yet, this is not the source of dismay and despair for the new Church in Rome, rather it is a source of encouragement and power: we have been found worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ! They are able to strip away everything else, yet the Imperial Roman government will never be able to break their relationship with Christ; and in fact, by the persecutions, they only serve to strengthen that relationship!
Yet, where are we today? In many ways, we find ourselves in a very similar situation to the early Roman Church: the culture is hedonistic and hostile to the faith; committed Catholic Christians are being silenced and persecuted for practicing their faith (see the stealing and destruction of the ‘stop planned parenthood’ signs that is happening on the West Side of Cincinnati.) Yet in all of this, it is still very easy to slide along as a Catholic, come to Mass on Sundays, yet not stand up in any bold and dramatic way for what the Church teaches and believes.
Part of the issue that St. Paul is addressing here, and the issue truly is timeless, is the question of how we see our identity in the Church and in the world, because these two dimensions have always been in tension with one another. Obviously, I want to focus on our membership in the Church. I see two fundamental approaches that we can have: Membership in a club or a living member of the Body of Christ.
First, membership in a club approach: This approach is one where we see our status in the Church as something for which I signed up; I pay my dues with my Sunday offering, I support ‘the club’ with my volunteer opportunities, and I may occasionally venture out to another branch if it is more convenient, but if I can’t work Mass in this Sunday, well, it’s no big deal. I mean, really, is God upset if I miss once in a while? To me, this approach leaves something to be desired, as notice this is all something that ‘I’ choose to do, it follows the ego-centrism that is bred in our culture.
The Second option, however, turns this approach around. To be a living member of the Body of Christ instills the obligations found within Catholicism on the very heart and soul of the believer, and he or she becomes a joy filled and exuberant messenger for Christ. Because the believer has been chosen and selected by Christ, all of these things flow naturally in gratitude for the gifts that have been received from Christ. In this approach, we want to go to Mass, we want to give to the parish, we want to share our faith with the world because we have been changed by our encounter with Christ; and I want others to know that they, too, can be changed by this same encounter!
To see yourself as a ‘living member of the Body of Christ,’ down to the very core of your being, guides everything that I say and do in this world; and nothing, neither anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, nor sword could ever take this most precious gift away from me.
As we do this, the parish becomes alive, even more so than it already is. You become more effective and transparent witnesses of Christ out in the world. You become a ‘little evangelist’ just by your presence and joy at coming to know Christ; and it effects and transforms all those around you.
Be convicted in Christ, be a witness for Him. Sure, there will be persecutions and misunderstandings and trials, but nothing in this world will ever be able to separate you from Christ, and, as St. Paul says, I am more than able to conquer anything in my path because of the love of Christ within me.