One of the challenges of talking about Church, or Sacraments, or even faith more broadly is that there is a depth at the heart of them that is True without being seen. There is a depth that is a fathomless reality that we attempt to plumb and discern with words that are insufficient to the task.
The challenge of the Church now seems not so much one of growth but one of depth. We have the readily apparent markers of finances and attendance by which we measure Church health. I am not one of these who considers these irrelevant or shallow markers – they are important and critical benchmarks of our communities’ overall connection to our people and to the ecosystems of evangelism, service, and faith within which we are situated.
In many communities, there is an understandable urgency around these markers of vitality. Yet I am wondering how we might look to the deeper essence of the Church to find our locus of identity.
Churches are buildings, communities, and systems built around the Eucharist. We are a people whose first and primary task together is sharing in the Presence of Christ – doing this in Remembrance. On the surface we have programs, attendance, committees, and more that are readily apparent on the surface but beneath all of this is the drawing near to the Altar in faith, hope, and love.
In many places, we are placing a high emphasis on the externals of Church while downplaying the very real call to be first in Communion with one another. I had a conversation with a priest who was giving me the many reasons that they did not have a weekday mass. The primary reason, of course, was that people did not come. My very simple question was, “Do you invite them?”
We invite people to all manner of things in our churches (sometimes) and yet we are often neglecting inviting them to the things that will make them deeper Christians – that will make our churches deeper churches.
All of the stuff we build around churches is really for one great purpose – the transformation of men and women of the world into men and women of the Eucharist. Not just men and women of the Eucharist but men and women formed in its patterns of adoration, self-offering, sharing, mutual feeding, healing, and sacrifice – men and women given grace for holy living. This is not to remove them from the world but to reveal the essence of their potential in the same way that common elements like bread and wine become Bread and Wine.
Of course, there are those ecclesial communities and denominations that do not celebrate the Lord’s Supper with much regularity or even at all. It seems difficult to me for a church to be the Church with an emphasis either only on the emotional or the rational without resting in the mystical. It is only the Church that offers the utterly and truly transcendent reality of new life – of taking in the Holy and becoming moreso.
There are other ecstatic experiences to be had. There are intellectual puzzles to be wrestled with all around us. There are diversions and distractions aplenty. Yet, ultimately, they are rooted in overdosing on the popular experiences of the day – in the immersion in superficiality until the self is diluted and defined by the market.
The call of the Church is to consume, to receive, to accept, and to adore the Holy to become Holy. It is by diving deeper into the mysteries of the Eucharist that we dive more deeply into our very selves. It is by adoring Christ that we are broken of our addiction to being adored. It is be seeing him broken that we are healed. It is by holding him in our palm that we know we are held in his.
The Church offers a Sacramental way of being that is the return to the source of life. We are grounded by its Essence – the Presence of Christ – in such a way that we too become a rock. We too become a pillar. We too become a source of strength that holds it in place so that others may find shelter within her walls and courage at her Altars.
In a culture that offers alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and believing we must become that much more courageous about offering that one thing that makes us truly and radically different , a genuine invitation to be whole and holy, to be set aside for God’s use – to be people of the Eucharist.