Surveys reveal that a high percentage of Americans believe in God, but many prefer not to belong to a specific religion. This is an unfortunate result of the American penchant for individualism. People don’t think they need to worship with others. Who needs a church when one can go directly to God? Who needs to go to confession when one can get forgiveness directly from God?
The Catholic Church provides an antidote to this by celebrating community in a sacramental way. At Mass, the whole body of Christ celebrates: head and members. We are not performing empty ritual for our own satisfaction. We are actually joining with God: joining our sacrifices to Christ’s, communing with him by the power of the Holy Spirit, and eating and drinking of divine life so that we become sharers in it.
While our private, personal prayer build our relationship with God, it must also be built by praying communally. The community transforms us by pulling us out of our self-centered world and joining us to the body of Christ. There is no communion with Christ without communing with his body.
Sin alienates us from God and from one another. Sacramental reconciliation heals both. We confess to both and we get forgiveness from both. It is a sacramental recognition that there is no such thing as a private sin that does not affect others. It also acknowledges that both God and the community desire reconciliation. Jesus claimed the power to forgive sin (Matthew 9:6) and he gave that power to the Church (Matthew 16:19).
Love and forgiveness come from God and participate in God. By telling the story of the unjust steward who gives away his master’s money as if it were his own (Luke 16:1-8), Jesus is telling us that God wants us to give away divine love and mercy as if they were our own. The forgiveness that we extend to one another is God’s own forgiveness.
~ Fr. Frank Coady