The party was a huge success - over eighty friends, relatives, and crashers enjoyed themselves. I spent hours at the grill, making hot dogs, burgers, and steaks. Our guests laughed, chatted, and enjoyed one another. Old friends were reunited, and new friends were made. The food was delicious and everyone left with a full belly. A few moments after the last guests said goodbye late that night, I once again surveyed my kingdom. It looked like it had been attacked by Huns.
I was tired and irritated. The children were half-helping; you know the scenario - walking like zombies, suddenly needing to go to the bathroom, disappearing for several minutes…I was disgusted. We needed to get things back in order, and no one seemed as concerned about it as me. By the time we were finished cleaning I had managed to anger just about everyone, and we went to bed having accomplished little. Even my beloved said, "You really ticked me off". Oy.
Had I opened my eyes to reality, I would have been open to the joy of having truly seen what the party was all about - memories and stories, friendships and love. The setting, so carefully executed, was only an avenue to facilitate the true focus of the gathering - our love for family and friends. As the party ended I concentrated on the mechanics of it all. I missed the boat.
As I reflect on that day I see it as a metaphor to a larger reality within our own beloved Church. As Catholics I think many of us concentrate on the mechanics and miss the boat. That is not to say the mechanics are unimportant - the Church facilitates relationships, and we need to carefully keep it "clean" to encourage the spiritual journey to salvation. But we must endeavor with care not to lose the sense of love and brotherhood that marks that journey and gives it meaning. The movement that defined Church as "the people" went too far - structure is integral to its success. But the backlash that concentrates on structure suffers the same error. Our concentration in such thinking is suddenly and necessarily void of the fundamental focus of Christianity - love.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the Rome Diocesan Congress, clarified the focus of our Christian life and the role the institutional Church plays in fostering that focus:
"Anyone who knows he is loved is in turn prompted to love. It is the Lord himself, who loved us first, who asks us to place at the center of our lives love for him and for the people he has loved. It is especially adolescents and young people, who feel within them the pressing call to love, who need to be freed from the widespread prejudice that Christianity, with its commandments and prohibitions, sets too many obstacles in the path of the joy of love and, in particular, prevents people from fully enjoying the happiness that men and women find in their love for one another. On the contrary, Christian faith and ethics do not wish to stifle love but to make it healthy, strong and truly free: This is the exact meaning of the Ten Commandments, which are not a series of "no's" but a great "yes" to love and to life. Human love, in fact, needs to be purified, to mature and also to surpass itself if it is to be able to become fully human, to be the beginning of true and lasting joy, to respond, that is, to the question of eternity which it bears within it and which it cannot renounce without betraying itself."
Without the Church our party is out of control. Without the guests the Church has no function. As in all things, there is a balance and a need for moderation. Without it we just "tick each other off".