“There is no salvation outside of the Church.” This statement is famous, delivered in the third century by Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, and is not always correctly interpreted.
Many Christians in the past have made the mistake of identifying the kingdom of God with the ecclesial institution to which they belonged. They flaunted arrogant certainties, cultivated prejudices against other religions and called the others impure and far. In the most abhorrent cases they also resorted to force to coerce others to conversion and baptism.
Church and Kingdom of God do not match. There are gray areas in the church that exclude themselves from the kingdom of God, because sin thrive in them and there are huge margins beyond the confines of the church that can be included in the kingdom of God, for the Spirit acts there.
“Practitioner” is not equivalent to “inserted into the Body of Christ.” “Believer” is not one who limits himself to religious practices: mass, sacraments, prayers, devotions, but one who, in imitation of Christ, practices justice, brotherhood, sharing of goods, hospitality, loyalty, sincerity, the rejection of violence, forgiveness of enemies, commitment to peace.
The line of demarcation between one who belongs and one who does not belong to Christ does not pass in the domain of the sacred, but in that of love to persons and “in all nations he listens to everyone who fears God and does good” (Acts 10:35).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Wherever love, joy, peace and forgiveness sprout, the Spirit of the Risen Lord is present there.”
No wonder that, even in times of religious crisis, the majority of people continue to believe in God. However, in verifying the identity of this God, we often notice that he is quite different from the one Jesus revealed. He is a God who adapts to the justice of man. He rewards and punishes according to merits, welcomes the worship, bestows blessings to his devotees, forbids adultery. He approves the accumulation of assets and their free management. In fact, at times, he becomes a business associate. He is a God who allows killing in self-defense and, above all, he is infinitely great, all-powerful, able to gain respect.
This reasonable God found shelter also in some Catholic catechisms and is easy to accept.
But one day, in Jesus, the true God has made himself known to people completely different. He was in company with sinners and stayed with the excluded. He allowed people to spit in his face without reacting. He loved those who nailed him to a cross; he was neither omnipotent nor infinite. In the face of this weak, unable to defend themselves God, the faith of all staggered. Peter, when he vowed not knowing him (Mk 14:71), spoke—I think—in the name of the great majority of Christians.
Believing in a God like this is so difficult: it means to pin one’s glory on making oneself humble or small for love.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “I’ll have to go through dark valleys, but I do not fear. I trust the shepherd who guides me.”
We contemplate the birds of the air and the lilies of the field but the sweet feeling we experience will soon be enveloped by sadness and reminds us of the fate that unites us to these beautiful creatures. Even man is “like a flower which blooms and withers” (Job 14:2) and his days are like grass (Ps 103:15). The grain of wheat dies to be reborn and the tree “if cut down it will sprout again, its new shoots will still appear” (Job 14:7). What will be the culmination of a dramatic duel between life and death in which the man is involved?
No doubt: the last word is up to death. In billions of years, life will be extinguished in the universe.
So, will our passage on this earth have meaning or will it be a meteor that will leave no trace? Are we to face a total mockery of all things? We feel like prisoners, chained in a world destined for death from which there is no escape.
This is the great unsolved riddle to which people have always desperately tried to give an answer.
The light of Easter dissolved forever the darkness and the shadow of death: this world is not a tomb, but the womb in which to grow and prepare for life without limits, without boundaries. Creation will result in a new heaven and a new earth (2 P 3:13).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “God will look at our hands and our feet to see the wounds of love.”
According to the Bible, man is made of earth. He is linked to the land, plants, animals, and this is a good thing. He is not imprisoned in a body, as the Greek philosophy claimed, but rejoices in being a body capable of self-awareness, freedom and love. Composed of matter, he feels a deep need to get in touch, concretely and tangibly, even with spiritual realities. To this need, the liturgy responds with the sacraments, consisting of signs and symbols that can be seen and touched.
Asking the man a disembodied faith is to demand the impossible; but it is also a mistake to claim, as Thomas, to check what cannot be perceived by the senses.
The condition in which Jesus entered his resurrection, though more real than reality itself on which today our eyes and our hands are laid on, defies verification. As the baby contemplates the face of his mother after he was born, man will see the Risen One only when he will have left this world. Even now, though, concrete signs of the invisible realities in which he believes and hopes are offered.
If on earth a completely new society appears, if a community in which the great become small, the rich make themselves poor, the enemy is loved like a brother and the one who commands considers himself a servant, then we are faced with an unequivocal signs: Jesus is alive and his Spirit works in the world.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “From your church, Lord, the world is waiting for signs that you’re resurrected.”