The Confessions of St. Augustine make for some interesting reading. His plea as a young man — “Lord, make me pure [sexually chaste], only not yet!” — is emblematic of his struggle to find his true path, to live an authentic life. How is God to answer such a prayer?

Augustine’s wayward prayer also reveals to us the challenge of our Church in every age: holy by conception and vocation, yet clearly not bringing to bear all she is called to be.

If we are not always honest enough to notice that, be it noted, the world is watching. More often than not, we will be judged by what we practice rather than what we preach.

It is the apostolic mission to preach the Good News, to make Christ’s presence felt in the world (cf. Mk 16:15). Mary, mother of the Church, exemplifies our commission. Almost at the very moment her fiat enables the virginal conception, she is impelled to bear the newly incarnate “Good News” himself to her cousin Elizabeth, journeying “in haste” into the hill country (Lk 1:39).

The Good News is not only a word, but also an action. When Mary encounters Elizabeth, what is the immediate effect of her greeting? The infant (John the Baptist) leaps in Elizabeth’s womb — and, immediately, Elizabeth begins herself to bear witness and prophesy (cf. Lk 1:42-45). God’s living Word — his real presence — changes lives!

The humility of the mother of God fills her with Gospel joy that propels her to proclaim it. She then (or, rather, the Lord she bears) inspires Elizabeth to celebrate her own calling.

Elizabeth, in turn, affirms Mary as the mother of the Church yet-to-be: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:35).

To be Church — effectively — that, too, must be our belief.

This is a message we need to hear now more than ever. We are called as Church to be what Mary was to Elizabeth and to the whole world.

Not only does Mary’s faith contrast with that of Zechariah, who hesitated at the angel’s announcement that he and Elizabeth were to be parents (of John the Baptist) at an “impossible” old age, but Mary is also counted among “those who believed” after the Resurrection (Acts 1:14). She never doubts the Lord’s presence within her, or her role to bring that presence to the world for all time.

Mary is holy: that is, filled with the presence of God. So also the Church is holy by mission, and called to be holy, in action.

Through the Church, the mystical body of the risen Christ, modeled by Mary, God is definitively present to and in the world, though not of it. We are called to live the holiness of our ecclesial vocation.

Elizabeth foresaw this. Mary brought Jesus to her and, in this sense, Elizabeth’s profession prophesies the Church. Mary’s visit sanctifies the household of Elizabeth, because the Lord is with her.

This Sunday, June 10, we will complete our week-long celebration of Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, with a time-honored procession throughout the environs of our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, which is dedicated to  Mary, the Immaculate Conception.

How fitting to make this prayerful walk that carries the real presence of Christ beyond the sanctuary of our liturgical home into the world into which it is our Christ-given mission to bear his presence.

Recalling the visitation of Mary, we pray to the mother of the Church that we may trust that Jesus is really with us, his Church, wherever we go and, through us, in the world. We invoke the intercession of Mary, that we may make our procession with the deepest humility, conscious and repentant of our many sins and failings — both as a Church and as members of the Body of Christ.

We confess that we have sinned, often gravely, throughout the centuries in marring the face of the compassionate mercy of the most humble — and humiliated — of all, our crucified Savior. Dare we also pray that, throughout whatever humiliation we might face along our journey of life in the world, we may bear the gentleness of our Lord and the faithfulness of Mary?

It was not easy for Mary to make her trip into the hill country, which foreshadowed her journey up the hill to Calvary. In our daily walk of life in the world in which we are blessed to live, Mary accompanies us in bearing the presence of our living Lord to all whom we encounter.

Our eucharistic processions are extraordinary celebrations of our everyday mission. They are not occasions to flaunt Catholic identity, for that would be to focus on our own lives and not the Lord who alone is our Life. Nor are they to be co-opted as demonstrations of power or protest against the world’s errancies, especially when we have enough of our own, individually and communally, to ask forgiveness for each day — from God and from one another (see the “Our Father”).

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17). That is the message that Mary’s journey conveys to us: to be a Church not of condemnation, but of salvation, because the Lord is with us and Jesus changes lives.

We go into the world to bring this Good News not as our personal or institutional triumph, but as the victory of virtue over vice, of life over death and of holiness (why not?) over sinful habits.

“Lord, make us holy…the sooner, the better!”

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)