On the eve of the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Henri Nouwen leads us in a reflection on the Church from his book, Bread for the Journey
Loving the Church is our sacred duty. Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace. And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it.
Loving the Church does not require romantic emotions. It requires the will to see the living Christ among his people and to love them as we want to love Christ himself. This is true not only for the "little" people - the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten - but also for the "big" people who exercise authority in the Church.
To love the Church means to be willing to meet Jesus wherever we go in the Church. This love doesn't mean agreeing with or approving of everyone's ideas or behavior. On the contrary, it can call us to confront those who hide Christ from us. But whether we confront or affirm, criticize or praise, we can only become fruitful when our words and actions come from hearts that love the Church.
The Church often wounds us deeply. People with religious authority often wound us by their words, attitudes and demands. Precisely because our religion brings us in touch with the questions of life and death, our religious sensibilities can get hurt most easily. Ministers and priests seldom fully realize how a critical remark, a gesture of rejection, or an act of impatience can be remembered for life by those to whom it is directed.
When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, "I love Jesus, but I hate the Church," we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer forgiveness.
It is important to think of the Church not as "over there" but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.
A little trivia: Which Saint John does the Basilica of Saint John Lateran commemorate, Saint John the Evangelist or Saint John the Baptist?