by Father Andrew Strobl
One of my first assignments as a priest was as chaplain at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park.
As a new priest trying desperately to be hip and relevant, I would say silly things like, “Let’s pray that God will rock our faces off!” I should have known to be more careful.
Late this summer, I felt a persistent tingle on the side of my tongue. (I blamed that on some old cupcakes I had eaten.) Then my mouth and left eye stopped responding properly. After a visit to the emergency room, I was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy. The left side of my face was temporarily paralyzed — my face had indeed been rocked!
My paralysis was very minor and temporary compared to many types of paralysis, but it was noticeable. I could no longer take my smile for granted. As Catholics, we should not take for granted what the church looks like either.
The four “marks” of the church are, in a way, what she looks like: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. However, they can sometimes be difficult to appreciate — especially the mark of holiness.
The church is full of sinners. Even Pope Francis takes ownership of his personal sinfulness. And yet, the church is holy by her nature.
In order to better recognize the holiness of the church, we may need to consider another feature. Pope Benedict XVI once claimed that “the church’s holiness and missionary character are two sides of the same coin.”
While not one of the four marks of the church, the missionary character of the church is part of what makes her the church of Jesus Christ.
Jesus called the apostles by name to share in the mission of proclaiming the good news. The second paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Strengthened by this mission, the apostles ‘went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it’” (Mk 16:20).
The church looks like something in the world. One of her main features is her mission. It is not enough to just ponder the mission of the church though. We must all live it.
As the catechism notes, the apostles were strengthened by the mission and not just for the mission. There will always be the temptation to wait for the perfect time to share the Gospel or to be better prepared. But if we have been called by name in the sacraments, we have what it takes to be strengthened by living the mission of the church. If we wait to live the mission, we risk spiritual paralysis.
The church does not look like the church without evangelization.