Why do people stop coming to Mass? Lots of reasons of course, but the one I hear most often is that in one way or another they were upset by someone in the Church – and most often that person was the Priest! Alongside this may often be the other thing that upsets them – something the Church has said or taught that they don’t agree with. This means that if we are to get them back to church, we needn’t spend time trying to get them believing in God. No, it’s not God that worries them, it’s the Church. This means that one of our big challenges is to explain how we manage to believe in the Church – despite Father So and So and his silly ways, and despite the Church teaching some things you just don’t agree with.
The first and most important thing to remember here is that if we wait for the perfect priest, and even more the perfect Church, we’ll wait for ever. The Church has always taught, not only that its members (that’s us!) are imperfect, but also that it too is an imperfect organisation ; that we are a pilgrim people on the way to perfection and wholeness which will only finally be achieved at the end of all things when God is all in all. We catch this theme in our 1st reading today (Isaiah 62:1-5).
Isaiah has a vision of Jerusalem (which means for us the Church) in a glory that he cannot be silent about. His vision calls us to work harder and harder to make it come true, because he intends to believe in this future “until” (the key word here) “until her integrity shines out like the dawn and her salvation flames like a torch.”
So this is the vision that makes us active members of the church. Not what the church is, but what it will be – a family of all nations and peoples worshipping one God and sharing his love and peace in every corner of the world. This is something in which we each have a part to play. We can’t just leave it to the Pope and the Bishops and the Priests, because God’s Holy Spirit – see our 2nd Reading (1 Cor 12:4-11) “is working in all sorts of different ways in different people.” The point is that if we believe in Christ, and want the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven, then we have to be part of Christ’s Church, however faulty it is. Here is the place, this is the people, believe it or not, where that kingdom is being constructed out of us its bricks and mortar.
“But”, people may say, “What can I do? How can I change the Church? What difference can I make to those people in Rome or that Archbishop in Birmingham where the power really lies?” Well, as I’ve said already, we mustn’t think that the Church is just Bishops and the like. Here, where we are, God can work in us to make all sorts of things happen to bring light and love and hope to those around us. The Church is us. People find out that we are Catholics, and when we do good, the Church is praised, and when we don’t, they say “Typical of those Catholics!” Yes, some people will say we’re foolish even to try, for our age is an age where everything holy and good is made fun of, and the Catholic Church is an easy target in all this. Mockery however is in some ways a compliment. If they stopped mocking the Church, if we were so quiet they didn’t notice us, then I would really start worrying!
But what about the bigger Church saying or doing things we don’t like? Well, it’s always worth remembering that for every one thing the news picks up that embarrasses us, there are many other things we can be proud of. Think, at the micro end, of the quiet saints and good teachers and carers at work all over the world, and, at the macro end, of the many things the Pope or the Vatican says that do need saying and are good and challenging things the world needs to hear.
But our Gospel today (John 2:1-11) gives us even more encouragement. You see when Jesus turns the water into wine, he doesn’t do it as a kind of conjuring trick, to impress the people at the party. No, it was “the first of the signs”, signs showing the power of God to transform ordinary things, symbolised by water, into glorious things, symbolised by wine. We may think of ourselves as rather dull ordinary water, even pretty muddy water, and we may think of the Church as even muddier in places, but the presence and the power of God can turn water into wine. We pray and live as members of God’s Church always in that hope, and if we look hard we may see more glorious wine around in the Church than at first we realised. So we look for God, we look for goodness and love. We share Isaiah’s vision of the Church, “no longer are you to be named forsaken… but you shall be called “My Delight”… for the Lord delights in you and your land will have its wedding.”