Once in a while I reflect, “Why I am a Christian?” Or, “Why am I Catholic?”
The answer almost always takes me back to the Gospel and the impact of the Gospel in my life.
Now, I have to clarify that we are not just talking about the four books at the beginning of the New Testament in the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We need to understand what Saint Paul meant by “Gospel” in his letters. When Paul wrote his letters in the 50’s or 60’s in the first generation of the church, these four books we now call “Gospels” did not exist. These books were written much later, perhaps even in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
When the first apostles spoke of the gospel, we should recall that they were talking about something totally new, good news, the best news.
Paul and the apostles were talking to a world that did not expect life beyond death. Eternal life with God was not expected. Their world was a world without Christ, without hope; a world of melancholy due to a lack of hope. There was only the hope that we can have and experience in this earthly life, in this human body. Nothing existed after death. Death always won. Some cultures spoke of the world of the dead, but no one ever came back. Death was permanent.
Into this world the apostles preached the “Good News”. St. Paul preached to the Corinthians and wrote to them,
I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
of the gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, ….
If there were no New Testament books that today we call “Gospels”, then what did St. Paul and the early apostles preach?
They preached what had to be the most important truth, the good news that nobody had heard before. As St. Paul wrote,
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, Christ appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once, ….
Christ rose again from the dead! Christ lives! He is still alive! Yes, Jesus died on the Cross. Jesus Christ conquered death! Death lost its power. And if we follow Him, we, too, can win over death and live with Him forever. That’s why I’m Christian! That is why we are baptized and confirmed. This gospel offers us forgiveness of our sins and eternal salvation.
But we have to follow Jesus Christ. We have to be members of the Church that Jesus founded. Jesus commanded the Apostles to go out to the world to spread his church and to save men from eternal death, to live with Him in His Kingdom of Heaven.
When St. Peter understood this truth, at first he experienced fear, and said to Jesus,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” …
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
The impact on them was immediate in their response. Then they brought their boats to shore, left everything and followed him.
I want to follow Jesus Christ. I want to live in his fishing net. I must live on the boat with Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in the Church. I do not desire another choice! This boat is our Church that will save us from the traps and tragedies of this world. In this boat we learn how to be the best we can be, children of God.
Membership in the Church is spiritual and physical. The Sacraments of Initiation bring us into full communion with the Lord Jesus and the Saints Peter and Paul and full membership in the Church. Membership requires Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. Confirmation completes the grace of Baptism by a special outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We received our sacraments through the Catholic Church built on Saint Peter. We mature in our faith through the Church. We find Jesus through the Church. We are saved in the Church.
Physically, we all belong to a particular church, a parish. Pope Francis belongs to the parish known as the Vatican. I am proud to be a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish. Physically and spiritually, I belong to this Church. This is my parish! I belong here. You can count on me!
In our parish we go out into the world to build the Kingdom of God and seek more men for God. In the book of Isaiah we hear Isaiah say,
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? “
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”
Send me! Being a parishioner comes from deep within your heart. I am hungry for God. I need to be in my parish WITH YOU! Here I feed on faith. I meet my obligations to God in my church. I serve God and my Church through my parish church.
As we grow in faith, we mature in membership. We say to God, “Here I am, Lord. You can count on me!”
As parishioners we cannot be secret, invisible. As we grow in faith, our spirits shout, “Hallelujah!” And pray to God together in our church, our family of faith. Together as a family, in our parish, we learn of God in His Word. In our parish we receive His Son in His Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament. We find forgiveness of our sins in our parish.
A parishioner is a fully initiated member in the Church who says to his community and to God, “Here I am. Here I serve. You can count on me! “