When I was a high school chaplain I had a set of parents fix an appointment to see me. They turned up on time. Dad was a moderately successful business man. Mom was well turned out. Just proper. Nice and tidy neat and together suburban Protestant couple who had chosen to sent their tenth grader to Catholic school.
The kid had got himself into a spot of trouble the year before and they thought it would do him some good to change schools and mix with “better” kids. He was having problems fitting in and they wanted to see what I could do to help.
But they had another problem. Johnny decided he wasn’t going to church anymore.
“Father” said the disapproving mother, “I don’t really know how to approach him. He said he doesn’t want to go to church anymore.”
“Does he give you any reasons?”
“He says he loves Jesus, but you don’t have to go to church to love Jesus. You can just stay at home and read the Bible and pray.”
“I see. Can I ask you a question?”
Dad says, “Sure.”
“Do you go to church every week?”
Dad squirms a bit. “We go when we can, but sometimes things are real busy.”
“Right. So you don’t think church going is absolutely essential then?”
“I guess not.” says Dad.
“Then why are you surprised that Johnny has drawn the same conclusion?”
Mom pipes up, “But what should I say to him about going to church? He really should go with us shouldn’t he?”
“Why?” I ask.
“Why should he go to church?”
No answer. Dad squirms.
“Can I give you the Catholic answer?”
“Well, we believe, as the Bible teaches, that the church is the Body of Christ–not just the symbol of Christ or the sign of the Body of Christ, but the Body of Christ. It’s like he is still alive on earth–but his body is now in the form of his body the Church. Furthermore, it is in the Body of Christ the church that we receive the Body of Christ which is the bread and wine transformed into the Body of Christ. See what I mean?”
Dad: “I think so.”
“So you can’t really love Christ unless you meet Christ and you can’t meet Christ if you don’t meet with his Body on earth which is the church and you can’t receive the Body of Christ in communion unless you go to church. You can’t do that yourself. You have to have a priest and the liturgy and all the stuff you can only get in church. That’s why it’s not good enough to say you can stay home and pray and love Jesus by reading the Bible, and that’s why Catholics think it’s a sin not to go go church because Jesus is there in his Body and Blood and why would you stay away if he is there waiting for you? Not to go to church is not to meet Jesus. On purpose. See what I mean?”
Dad: ” I like that. That’s pretty smart. I really like that!”
Now Mom starts squirming.