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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories ~ Our Christian Church: Who Are We?

Who am I? Who are we? These are good and fundamental questions. Often, this search for identity leads to focusing on how we differ from others. We seek to set borders between us and them. Is it possible that our identity could be found in openness? Rather than in seeking how we differ from others, might it be more life-affirming to discover and take on an identity that sees what we all hold in common. As much as this is the case for us as individuals, it is equally true of communities and as a church.

History has not been kind to us as Christians. For the past 1000 years, the Christian church has had to live through the realities of division. The Greek – Latin schism or split resulted in a Christian a church of the East and of the West. Then, about 500 years ago a whole series of divides affected the West, as we now live with a host of denominations of western Christianity. These were not the only breaks that have affected our Christian church, but they were certainly among the most significant. One might say division has been our identity. Does this have to be? Is there more to our Christian church?

Discovering our identity by emphasizing the differences between us and others limits and restricts us. When our differences are made to loom large, they belie the fact that we share much in common. At our core, we share a common humanity and together inhabit the same earth. We might come to recognize our Christian church by directing our attention to our common roots.

God’s dream for our common humanity is that we live in peace, based on compassion and love. John’s Gospel expresses this dream as he relates Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, his friends. He even broadens this prayer to include the whole world. God’s dream, God’s kingdom is extended to all humanity and all creation. John presents the prayer in this way: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…. That they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you love me. (John17:20, 23)”

This unity of God’s vision expressed through Jesus the Christ is a key to our identity as the church or community of Christians. In all our diversity, like humanity, we remain one. Our unity and identity is founded not on doctrines and practices, but on the expression of love for all, that finds its source in God’s love for all.

In Matthew’s Gospel we again hear Jesus speaking to his disciples (Matt 18:15-20). At the end of the piece Jesus says to his friends: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Christian faith is a communal faith. It feeds our spirit, but it does so in the context or setting of a community of believer and doers, moved by the love that God pours out upon us. This is who we are.

Earlier this summer (August 1-6), Pope Francis joined with over 600,000 young people for World Youth Days in Lisbon Portugal. In his opening address to them, Francis referred to the coming Synod in our church and asserted its central theme, that we are to be a Church without borders: In the Church, there is room for everyone. Everyone. In the Church, no one is left out or left over. There is room for everyone. Just the way we are. Everyone.

Our Christian Church: Who are we? This is who we aspire to be, who we can be. It is our identity.

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