On the weekend of January 23rd and 24th, the second reading at Mass is from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul offers a wonderful analogy, comparing the Church—the body of Christ—to a human body. He explains that a “body is not a single part, but many.” Each part has its own important function, and all the parts work together to produce a single, unified, healthy body.
Even though some parts of the body are more prominent than others—the head compared to the feet, for example—all the parts have an important role to play. It’s the same, Paul teaches, within the body of Christ. Each believer has been given a job by God, some much more prominent than others, but all very important.
Paul’s lesson is crystal clear: if all the parts of the body of Christ do not step forward and perform their assigned functions, the entire body, the Church itself, will not be unified and healthy.
In recent generations the Catholic Church in America has not followed Paul’s lesson very well. We had a small group of highly trained ordained clergy doing all the work, and the rest of us, the vast laity, pretty much sat in the pews like lumps. According to the old saying, our only functions as lay people were to “pray, pay, and obey.”
But in this present generation, we cannot do that anymore. It’s no secret that there are simply not enough priests to go around. It’s time for the laity to stop being lumps in the pews and get up off our ample posteriors and help out.
All the various individual functions within the Church are geared toward the primary function of the Church, which is to spread the Good News of the Gospel. But there’s one slight problem: most lay Catholics are not quite sure what the Gospel message is.
Professor Peter Kreeft describes this disturbing lack of knowledge in his book, Fundamentals of the Faith: “Well over three-quarters of all the ‘educated’ Catholic college students I have taught do not know, after twelve years of catechism classes, how to get to heaven! Their answer to that question is usually something like ‘be sincere’ or ‘try your best’ or ‘don’t hurt people’ or ‘work for peace’ or ‘have a nice day’ or some such trumpet blast. They rarely even mention Jesus when asked that question. Why should they? Warm fuzzies are not stronger than death.”
The solution to this “lack of knowledge” situation can be found in this week’s Scripture readings. All three readings describe a similar setting: a group of believers listen as a speaker encourages them to greater faith through the reading of the Word. This is the key: the Word, the Holy Bible. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
Many Catholic parishes now host Bible study classes (although we do a fairly lousy job of publicizing that fact). Start attending your parish’s Bible Study group. If your parish doesn’t offer one, then pull your dusty Bible off the shelf and start reading on your own. Begin with shortest gospel, Mark. Then read John’s gospel. Then then move on to the Acts of the Apostles. If you finish that, send me an email and I’ll suggest what to read next.
The Church is in crisis today. Too many parts of the body of Christ are sitting back expecting other parts to do all the work. Each of us has to do our duty. The first step is to learn and understand the Good News of the Gospel. We do this by studying Scripture.
Oh, and by the way, at the Final Judgment, there WILL be a test on this material.