The Church – place of grace
Ours is a searching God. St Catherine of Siena spoke of God being pazzo d’amore and ebro d’amore – crazed with love for us, drunk with love for us. She was right. How far has the Lord’s foolish love compelled Him to come in search of us. And at what a cost to Himself does He carry us home.
Look at the Gospels. The worse a person felt about himself or herself, the more likely they saw Jesus as a refuge. In His loving companionship lost souls knew themselves to be more than they had dared to imagine. Jesus brought these people, trapped in their tortured lives, a message of hope – anyone, anyone at any moment can start a new future by the sheer goodness of God.
In God’s grace we grow to love ourselves as He wants – all of ourselves, even the parts we wish were not there, the parts of us we wish God hadn’t made, the parts of us we lament.
“Zacchaeus, come down, I am staying with you today!”
The Church exists to mediate that free, transforming love we call grace. The Church’s primary role is to share the Gospel of God’s grace – that unrestricted gracious love that, when it is accepted with joy, lifts up and changes lives. Such grace comes from beyond, as a gift not an achievement.
Gordon MacDonald wrote: “The world can do almost anything as well or better than the Church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or care for the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”
Philip Yancey, reflecting on his own spiritual journey, said: “I rejected the Church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.”
Francis lived in a time when the Church was shaken by scandals and tensions – far worst than in our own time. However, he was clear that his calling meant remaining firmly within the family of the Church, staying open and available to God’s graious action himself, and working to make the Church more clearly, more effectively a sacred space where the grace of God’s goodness can be experienced by a seeking world.
It is a faith persepective that enables us to stand steadfast.