Those growing up in youth sports learn that there is no “I” in “team.” We become part of something bigger because we have each other. In baptism we become part of a community of faith, part of Christ’s team. Catholics are taught that we don’t get to heaven on our own but get there with one another. We will receive the crown of victory based on how we treat each other and recognize Christ among us. Even our most personal, private, intimate religious moment—as we receive the Holy Eucharist, Christ into our body and soul—is called “communion” for it reflects the common union we share in Him and one another.
During the fourth century Council of Nicaea, cardinals and bishops nearly came to blows over the letter “I” (“iota” in Greek). In what has come to be known as The Arian Heresy, a bishop by that name tried to convince others that Jesus was similar to God in substance (“homoiousios”), whereas they eventually determined that Jesus is one with God in substance (“homoousios”). It sparked a huge controversy over the letter “I” but some contend that it doesn’t make one iota of a difference, much as some contend that the focus of baptism is not whether “I” or “we” was said by the one baptizing.
“Iota,” the alphabet’s smallest letter, implies an infinitesimal amount. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, and all is accomplished, not an iota will pass from the law.” In other words, the law will always be the law; God’s law of love will reign forever. Father Ronald Knox once commented on what occurs when Catholics make the Sign of the Cross upon themselves with two hand gestures. The first motion is a vertical line or “I” from forehead to abdomen; the second is a horizontal motion from shoulder to shoulder, that crosses over the first line as though to cancel it out. His observation is that we are essentially stating that “I am not the focus,” that Catholics give themselves to the Lord and His mission as part of His team, that there is no “I” for followers of Jesus.
Many Catholics tell me that they are barely hanging on to the church by a thread, especially when they hear statements from ecclesial officials that insult people or invalidate their sacramental union with Christ, or when they label others as intrinsically evil or inherently inferior, or when they degrade some for being illicitly married, or announce that some sacraments are invalidly performed because of a misspoken phrase, word, or even the smallest letter. It would be great if Catholics who are barely hanging on could feel the firm grasp of a church that loves them, accepts them (warts and all), welcomes their family and others they care about regardless of invalid, illicit, intrinsic, or inherent inferiorities.
Every age is called to reform, reinvigorate, and revitalize our church, our faith, our religion, and to make it better as so many saints have shown us through the centuries. Maybe this age will do so by strengthening the thread through the firm and loving grip of a team of followers dedicated to Christ and His mission.