A curious question indeed. But it is one that we all ask even when we do not realize it. In chapter 6 of John’s Gospel we hear the story of Jesus feeding a great crowd with a few fish and some bread. After this miracle or wonder we hear Jesus in conversation with people who want him to offer another sign that he speaks and acts for God (John 6:24-35). They want another miracle. Jesus’ response is to indicate that it is not in miracles and wonders that God speaks. Rather it is in the kind of loving care and service that he himself has shown them. He is the word that God speaks to them.
In Catholic theology there is a basic teaching that Jesus is the sacrament of God and that the Church is the sacrament of Jesus. In other words, in Jesus Christ the divine has touched and taken on our humanity – God speaks in all Jesus says and does. More than this, we, the People of God, as Church speak and act as the continuing presence of Jesus in our world.
How do each as Church speak Jesus in our world? Pope Francis I has offered some direction on this to us. Perhaps in what Francis expresses we might discover that the language that God speaks is what Jesus has shown us. It is the expressions of love and care that we, Church can real in hospitality and welcome, in care and concern, in service and outreach, particularly to the vulnerable and the wounded. This is the language of mercy and of love.
Francis focuses on those who struggle with the church and no longer find it meaningful and supportive for them. He does not blame the culture or harangue against “relativism”, “consumerism” and other “isms”. He offers a challenge to us as church to look inward, that we might reach outward.
Perhaps the church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions.
We need a church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a church able to dialogue with those disciples who having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointments, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning....
Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles... Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?
(Some Thoughts from Francis I: Who are we as church? From two addresses he made in Brazil July, 2013. He bases himself on the story of the disciples meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-35)