“Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and your religious act like religious.”

Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen made that observation to members of the Knights of Columbus in 1972. There are good reasons why this is correct. First of all, the Church is Christ, the saints, and all of the baptized, not just the ordained or religiously professed. Baptism makes us members of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. Canon 96 of the Code of Canon Law specifically says this, and all rights and duties proper to Christians flow from this, but it is firmly grounded in Scripture (see Matthew 28). And that is the second reason why the observation is sound. It is not our Church, really, but HIS Church. Our membership and participation give us a certain ownership, to be sure, but it is only by God’s design. God made us to be the Church, together with Christ and one another.

In the great epistle to the Ephesians, after describing Christ’s cosmological supremacy over all creation, visible and invisible, and over all powers, natural and supernatural, St. Paul sums up the first chapter with an astounding statement about Christ and us. The “God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Paul proclaims, “put all things beneath his (Christ’s) feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way” (Eph 1:22-23).e need to reflect on this whenever we hear talk about “The Church” as if “it” were somehow different from or separate from each and every one of the baptized, or “The Hierarchy,” as if somehow were detached from or above the communio — the Communion of Saints — of which every disciple is a part.

Recall that in the reflection of which I wrote last week on “The Sense of our Faith,” I was proposing that our faith addresses our most fundamental issues as human beings, our very identity. I cited examples from personal accounts of people who were seeking something they longed for at the depths of their being — mercy and forgiveness, the “Bread of Life” for their spiritual hunger, truth about who they are and what their destiny is —and how they come to find this in the Church community.

My current title, “Prayer isn’t Everything,” is merely an attempt to say that the Church is more than a group of people who pray all the time. Of course, it is that — a people who give thanks and pray always, as Jesus himself commands — but it is also about the salvation of the whole person, body and soul, the incarnate spirit that each of us is. And it is profoundly inter-personal, built up on relationships that give and sustain life in all of its dimensions, physical, emotional and spiritual.

How could it be any different? If Christ is the head or cornerstone and we are its members (Paul) or living stones (Peter), who each of us is and what each of us does affects the other, starting with who Jesus himself is and what he does. His identity as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity means that if he is in us and among us, then so are the Father and the Holy Spirit. The “indwelling” of the Holy Trinity is the power and energy that unites and impels us. It is what should give us confidence in all we do as Church.

I had mentioned that the experience of receiving God’s mercy and being forgiven is a fundamental experience of being a part of a truly Christian community. It is certainly what those drawn to the faith seek. In fact, it is the second thing, besides prayer, that defines what our Eucharistic communion is all about.

We always pause for a few moments at the start of the Mass to recall our sins and to ask forgiveness of God and one another. This makes sense because the fact that we are sinners is perhaps the most honest way that we can speak of our identity — aside from the even more fundamental reality that we are beloved children of God, created in God’s image and likeness. Recall that Pope Francis himself, when asked shortly after his ­election to the papacy to define who he is as a person, Jorge Bergoglio, responded to a reporter that saying “I am a sinner” was the most honest way to describe himself.

Of all places, the Church is where we can find that forgiveness and since we need to be forgiven all the time, every day, then it follows that forgiving one another is something that, besides praying always, we must always be doing. Once again, that means not just some of us, but all of us. Sacramental penance is the unique way in which forgiveness and reconciliation are celebrated and ensured. A penitential attitude and a constant disposition to forgive, “to let go and let God,” are an identity mark of a Christian, almost like a spiritual tattoo, every day.

If there is one more mark etched into the soul of a disciple of Christ, a member of his mystical body, it is that of a listener, one who is always constitutionally ready to hear the other. For the communio really to work, there must be time and space to receive, into one’s own mind and heart, the heart and mind of the other. This should be as obvious as it is logical. If “communio” means, literally, to be “one with,” does it not imply mutual respect? This, along with the ever-ready forgiveness and pardon, is the reason why all forms of classism — whether implied by race, age, sex, ethnicity or any other caste-like manner of branding persons — are alien to Christian community and a sacrilege to the Body of Christ.

The logic of this radical openness to the other in penitential listening brings us right back to authentic prayer. This “trinity” of listening, forgiveness and prayer are the rhythm of God’s relationship with each and every one of us in Christ, the man for sinners, who suffered and died to save every person who would accept this gift of himself. This is what it means to say a disciple aspires to be “Christiform.”

Just as when we pray to God we hope and expect that God would be forgiving and hear and answer our prayer, so also we would look for that same experience in the communio that is Body of Christ, the gift the Father gave to his Son as “the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” It is precisely this that makes of prayer something more than words or just another wish. The Word becomes flesh. We live by the Body and Blood of Christ and become what we consume. So if you want to save the Church, then be the Church! Listen, forgive, pray. In that way we might even say that prayer is not in time; time is in prayer. And so, after all, prayer isn’t everything. It is the only thing.

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