When I was a high school chaplain I had a conversation with some nice parents who attended a Protestant church of some sort. They were distressed because their tenth grade son had announced that he no longer wanted to go to church. When they asked him why he said, “I love Jesus in my heart. Why do I need to go to church?”
I asked the parents what their reply was and they rather stammered and stuttered that they didn’t really have an answer. The kid had stumped them.
I like kids like that. See, they were into this “Jesus is a really nice guy” kind of Christianity and for them it was the whole suburban, respectable Christian schtick and their son put a bomb under the whole thing. Stood things on their head if you like.
You see if Jesus is just your Uncle Don then church just becomes an hour a week when you tootle along to hear some nice person tell you some nice things about what Uncle Don thought and taught and maybe you’ll pick up a few pointers on how you can be more like Uncle Don too one day. Then you sing a nice song about gathering all together and feel warm about life for a few minutes, then out the door and back to the real world.
I’m with the tenth grader. Why bother?
Here was my answer to the nice American suburban couple, “Well, we Catholics have a good reason to go to church. See, Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He’s God in human form and he’s at church waiting for us. We’re supposed to be in him and him in us and that means we have to receive him sacramentally at communion and you can’t really do that on your own.”
The Dad was impressed, “I like that!” he said. Mother was not. She was especially not impressed that Dad was impressed. The idea of becoming a Catholic horrified her.
I also like that. I wish my Catholicism horrified more smug Christians.
I wanted to go on and say that there are other reasons for bothering with church too. Like the fact that it is there that I actually receive the supernatural confidence, wisdom and power to try somehow in my own frail and failure way to live the life of Christ in the world. I wanted to explain that without the Eucharist my life would still appear to be real, but I would increasingly be like a mannequin made of dust. I wanted to explain that it was at the Eucharist in church that I plugged into the Divine Power, that it was there that I died and was made alive again. I wanted to explain that it was there that the cosmos opens up to me like a flower unfolding and that it was there that in some inexplicable way that I experienced first hand both the transcendence and the immanence of the Almighty. I wanted to explain that there a window opens, the light comes in, a transaction takes place in which my mortality is transfused with immortality. I wanted to explain that in this ritual my whole world is for a moment transposed into the court of heaven and the threshold of eternity. I wanted to explain that this is why I bother with church, and that of course if their church had none of this then her son was right.