Lately I’ve been posting a series of reflections on identity, and self-knowledge. Today what I would like to discuss is what might be considered our second-nature: our habits. St. Thomas Aquinas understands that our habits often generate a type of identity, namely our character. Our behavior tells others who we are, in this regard. The Mission of the Church is the guiding principle in the Church’s Character. We must ask ourselves both individually and as a community what that identity looks like today.
The moral character of the Church is a dynamic reality, it involves saints and sinners. It involves heroic virtue and vicious scandal. When Her members live in heroic virtue, she lives up to the principle of the Church’s Mission. When she does not, be it lukewarmness or grave acts of injustice, these convey to the world a lie about the nature of the Church. We are told to “Let your good works shine before others” (Matthew 5:16) not because we are drawing others to our own merits. Rather it is a reference point to Christ working through the Church. We want people to know the Mission of the Church and we not only do this by stimulating conversation and meditation on doctrine. We do it well also when we accompany it with a good witness.
When we examine the Mission of the Church we find a variety of opinions on this matter, even within the Church. We need to admit of some possible temptations that the evil one will cast upon the Church to derail Her mission. We must understand that as a community we do not determine the Mission but we inherit it. The mission is ultimately Christ’s, and it is passed down from Him, generation to generation to us today.
We are told by Christ that “Man does not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4), but rather on the words that come from the Father’s Mouth. The ultimate hunger for the human person is the Mission. This doesn’t mean we sideline social-justice efforts; rather it means we ensure they are integrated into this vertically focused mission. Alternatively, we cannot genuinely seek to convey the gospel if we neglect the temporal needs of our brothers and sisters. The point is the Church doesn’t emphasize one to the neglect of the other; rather we rightly order them.
We are approaching the Season of Lent, and where I live, and perhaps where you live, it is cold. Especially for the homeless. Might I ask what you are doing to serve the needs of the broader community outside of the Church. A Church on mission is seeking those without faith, it goes-out. We address the needs of others as visible signs of a genuine care for the deepest hungers of others. Please consider this Lent avoiding a self-referential betterment plan. We cannot grow in holiness and the likeness of Christ as an Island. We must do it in communion with Him and Him in others.