Where is the Catholic Church?
Missionaries of the Daughters of St. Anne deliver food packs to families in the peripheries of Bacolod, Lanao del Norte on April 16, 2020. PHOTO FROM THE DAUGHTERS OF ST. ANNE
Fr. Elias L. Ayuban, Jr., CMF
April 18, 2020
This is a frequently-asked question in times of crisis. An interrogative that sounds more like a sarcasm than a query seeking for a candid answer.
But let me try to reflect on where the Church is now without any intention to engage with the skeptics (for no answer will suffice them), but to strengthen the faith of the believers.
The Church are the baptized businessmen and women, artists, actors and actresses, honest government officials, parish leaders and members of church organizations, lay volunteers and private citizens going out of their way to feed the hungry. They count among the chosen ones because they respond to God’s call: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” (Mt. 25:35).
The Church are the religious sisters who climb over fences to distribute food packs to informal settlers on rooftops. They are also the nuns who interrupt their rigorous daily schedule of prayer in their cloisters to produce face masks for people in the frontlines. They are not in the news because they take the Lord’s advice: “When you give something to the needy, do not let your right hand what your left hand is doing” (Mt. 6:3).
The Church are the priests blessing the sick and the dying, at times walking along deserted alleys with the Blessed Sacrament in their hands or hearing confessions on roadsides. Like the faithful, they also look forward to celebrating masses with the people when this lockdown is over. They leave the comforts of their rectories because their vocation is to be “shepherds living the smell of the sheep” (Pope Francis).
The Church are the parishes and Catholic institutions providing temporary shelters for the medical practitioners when the latter have very limited options left. Their names are written in heaven because they observe the Lord’s commandment: “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Mt. 25:35).
The Church are the Catholic frontliners in the hospitals, risking their lives to save lives, the men in uniform manning the checkpoints, the vendors in market places, the workers in grocery stores, the security guards, the garbage collectors and street sweepers, among many others. They are the Church people deployed for a mission and their heroism will be remembered for a long, long time.
The Church is the Holy Father praying for us day after day, even on that rainy and dark Friday evening (Italian time) when he gave us the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing. They are also the bishops who minister to their flock and break their bread with those who have less without fanfare. “For where there is a bishop, there is also the Catholic Church” (St. Ignatius of Antioch).
The Church are also the families praying together in their houses. When this pandemic is gone, may we rediscover that our homes and religious communities are indeed the “domestic churches” and when we pray together, we will become a stronger Church that “even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:17).
Above all, the Church are those who are hungry, thirsty, persecuted, mourning and deprived of what is due them. They are called “blessed” and the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them (Mt. 5:3-10).
So, where is the Catholic Church? It is in any place where love is shared because, after all, the Church are all us sharing the same baptism, faith and hope in the resurrection.
We are the Catholic Church!
Fr. Elias L. Ayuban, Jr., CMF, JCD, is currently the Provincial Superior of the Claretian Missionaries of the Philippine Province. He used to be an official at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in the Vatican until his election as Provincial last year.