LOS ANGELES – Jesus and the Catholic Church are one – “a package deal” that a disturbingly increasing number of people seem to ignore even as they profess to be religious, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York told a crowd of more than 1,500 people Sept. 21 at the sixth annual Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

“Our number one pastoral problem today is that too many people don’t see the intrinsic connection between Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church,” he said to those gathered on the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels’ plaza in downtown Los Angeles.

The breakfast followed an early morning rosary and Mass, concelebrated by Archbishop Dolan, Los Angeles Coadjutor Archbishop Jose H. Gomez and the archdiocese’s auxiliary bishops. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony presided.

Archbishop Dolan cited the conversion story of St. Paul to illustrate the connection, noting that “Jesus did not ask, ‘Saul, why do you persecute my people?’ or ‘Why do you persecute my church?’ Jesus asked, ‘Why do you persecute me?'”

He invited his audience to consider those words carefully as he noted that, once converted, Saul/Paul “seeks out the church, the united followers of Jesus. He sought out the church in order to find Jesus, so that he could be united in the disciples’ work of evangelization.”

Yet, the archbishop said, that connection seems to be lost on many of today’s people, including many lapsed, inactive and fallen-away Catholics – some of whom have renounced and rejected the Catholic faith.

“We are living in an era where people believe in Christ, but not in his church,” said Archbishop Dolan. “They want the king, but not the kingdom; they want to believe without belonging; they want the faith, but not the faithful. But for the committed Catholic, the answer to that is, ‘no can do.’ Jesus and the church are one.”

Not that all is negative, the archbishop said, noting that last year more than 3,000 people in the Archdiocese of New York entered the church. “And thanks to immigration, the church still grows, and the vast majority of Catholics are faithful,” he said. “But for committed Catholics, the great challenge for us today is addressing those who believe, ‘We can have Christ without his church.”

What can be done to address this issue? Archbishop Dolan offered three suggestions:

  • Begin to concentrate on a new model of the church: “the church as our spiritual family.” Just as in any family, where there are disagreements and people get mad and angry, “so, too, do we get mad and angry at our church. And yet, like our family, we still love our church, because it is our home, and the older we get the more we appreciate it.”
  • Rediscover apologetics — “not the combative, in-your-face clashes” that many associate with apologetics, but the ability to “credibly, convincingly and compellingly articulate our Catholic faith” to counter an often-hostile culture outside the church, as well as educate those within the church.
  • Show the world your wounds, or, in the archbishop’s words, “‘Fess up to the sinful side of the church.” The number of people identifying themselves as ex-Catholics has grown from the sex abuse scandal of the past decade, he noted, and the church, “in her human side, can be sloppy, awkward and even corrupt.” And yet, he said, as St. Paul said in his Letter to the Romans: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”

During the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, “Pope John Paul II apologized 55 times for the sins of the church,” said Archbishop Dolan, who also cited the words of Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser: “The church is always Christ hanging between two thieves.”

“The first time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, he showed the disciples his wounds,” the archbishop pointed out. “The church is on a cross, and the church is at its best when we show our wounds to others. For by Christ’s wounds we are healed.”

The church, he concluded, “is the bride of Christ. What would I ever know of him without her?”