By Frank Wessling
Don’t laugh, but there’s a serious claim going around that the Catholic Church is all about equality. Our own bishop, Martin Amos, said so in public.
If you thought the pope in Rome or a procession of mitered bishops best represent who we are and what we are about, you will want to think again. If we focus clearly on who and what we are, we should see Jesus following the First Commandment, the call to love. We should see him listening to the poor, healing wounds and curing sickness, feeding the hungry and sharing meals with folks shunned by polite society. Even raising the dead.
What should stand out in our vision are those activities of Jesus, his habit of serving human need, showing the reign of God at its emergence: signs of springtime for Earth and promise of eternal life.
The people who imitate that life of Jesus are most clearly representing the essence of our Church, and they are any of us. There is a place for each of us in the procession of holiness. That’s what Bishop Amos pointed out to people preparing to enter the Church at Easter.
“You are to become fellow citizens with the saints,” he said in his homily during the Rite of Election at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City, a recently renewed tradition of the Church celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent.
Every Catholic is equal to every other Catholic in the way that counts: the call to holiness, the invitation to be the presence of God for others according to the pattern of Jesus. When looking for evidence of who ranks highest in the reign of God, we should notice the woman sitting with a sick neighbor or the man giving work to an ex-con or the student who looks out for slow members of the class and helps raise their performance.
Jesus left us with an action plan. He said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news.” No one ever thought he meant march around and talk a lot. From the beginning, those who saw new light and life in Jesus understood “the good news” to mean the living presence of love.
They went into the needs of the world and served the sick, the poor, the outcasts. We think of heroes as the folks who run to danger when there’s a need to rescue others, like those New York firefighters who braved the World Trade Center chaos of 9/11. Our religious heroes are that group known as saints. They looked — and still look — ordinary in the ways of the world but they stand out in the ways of God.
This is our leadership group. You will know them by their love, not their dress, and membership is open to every one of us.
That’s the equality of Catholicism, the most relevant, most important thing about us.