There is a line from the Book of Hebrews that says this: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25). The teaching is clear, we must come together each week for Mass and learn to live in deep communion with one another. We are not meant to make this journey alone. We need encouragement and exhortation, food for the journey, company and protection.
In the days of Jesus its was almost unthinkable for a person to make a lengthy journey alone. Once a person left the relative safety of the town the journey got dangerous. There were robbers lying in wait along the roads just looking for vulnerable targets. For this reason people almost always made journeys in groups.
This is a good image for the spiritual journey we must all make. Alone we are easy targets. We are vulnerable and without help when spiritual demons attack.
The Bible says: Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:11) Belonging to the Church and faithfully attending and being formed by her in a deep and meaningful way, has a powerful and protective influence.
There are many dangerous influences lying in wait for us on our journey. Frankly, without the teaching of the the Church and her Scriptures I would have made some pretty dumb mistakes and been mightily confused. As it is, I have communion not only with the current members of the Church, but I make the journey mystically with billions who have gone before, with Apostles, saints, and preachers and teachers of old who have handed on a glorious and wise Tradition, the Scriptures, and teaching; the cumulative and God-given wisdom of centuries and millennia. I do not walk alone, I walk with those who have made this journey before me and know the pitfalls as well as the good paths, the true and the good from the false and fraudulent.
The Words of an old hymn speaking of the Church come to mind:
Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.
And I also make this walk in deep communion with those here present. Yes, in my twenty-three years as a priest I have taught the people of God the Word of God, but I have learned far more from them than I ever taught them. Yes, I have learned from the people I serve what it means to have faith, to persevere. I have experienced correction when necessary, and encouragement in the struggle. And I will say that it is impossible to fully recount how my membership in the Church has blessed me. I could not begin to count the ways. I know my parishioners have prayed for me and that their prayer and example has put a hedge of protection around me. I pray for them too, and who knows what power my prayers have been for them?
Ah, but what of the sins of the Church? Even here I will say we have learned from our failures and struggles. Yes, in the Church, if we are faithful, we learn not only from good example, but even from the difficulties that inevitably arise in any community. We learn to be more patient and forgiving. We learn from the mistakes others make as well as from their gifts.
Don’t journey alone, it is dangerous. Find a parish, get involved and live in real communion with others who can lift you up if you fall, encourage you when you are faint of heart, instruct you when you wonder, and complete in you what is lacking. Alone, I am lacking, but together and with the Lord, we have all the gifts we need to get to the Promised Land of Heaven: Companionship for the Journey! And what a companionship: those here present, and mystically but very truly, those who have gone on before, all one in Christ Jesus.