24 March 2010

Anglicanorum continues ...

Stepping back a bit from the considerations I have discussed in the last two days, I suggest that there are fundamental questions of ecclesiology involved.

Take the idea that the Church does well to be involved in Community affairs, and that this manifests the Incarnation of the Lord whose Body the Church. I don't feel that this is so much wrong as important but decidedly secondary. Surely, it is historically a working-out of the consequences of the Constantinian revolution, when the Church emerged (metaphorically) from the catacombs of persecution and walked straight out into Government favour and the possibility of changing Society for the better. It owes a great deal to conditions in late Antiquity, when ecclesiastical institutions to some degree occupied a partial vacuum left by the collapse of some imperial structures. But it does not form part of core ecclesiology. The Lord, after all, did not go around giving advice on the structures of secular life and how to improve the economy. He talked about the Kingdom and does not appear to have taught a Marxian Kingdom of this world.

I do not much believe in the notion that the Church is the only institution which exists for those who are not members - august though the proponent of the idea may have been - because I do not believe that the Church exists, primarily and in the last resort, to do good deeds in the world. With all due respect to Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, I notice that the New Testament invitations to fraternal benevolence relate primarily to the redeemed society itself ... "do good unto all men but especially to those who are of the household of the Faith". The heart of Christian ethics in the New Testament epistles is the relationship between those who are fellow members of Christ. Read Philemon, in which, notoriously, S Paul does not discuss the institution of Slavery and appears to have no awareness of the Rights of Man, but bases his entire casuistry on the transforming fact that this slave and this owner are both en Christoi.

I admire (and find myself judged by) those great Saints who, down the centuries, have displayed the unbounded love of Christ to men and women far beyond the visible boundaries of His Body. But fundamentally it is the Church which matters; and the purpose of the Church is to be Christ's one Body and to offer in all places from East to West one pure Oblation. It is of the essence that this Body should be one, as Christ is in the Father and the Father in Him.

That is why I feel so strongly the imperative to Unity. In an imperfect world, discipleship can indeed mean starting in the place where we were placed; it can mean joining with others in the discernment of the way ahead; it can mean making prudential judgements about timescales. But I need to be able to give a straight and honest answer to the Lord's question "Are you walking towards the oneness of My Body, or are you walking away from it?"


zadra.dario said...

My only qualification to this would be that I think there is a difference between the vocation and thus responsabilities of the clergy and those of the laity. If the laity are not in the world and doing battle with it and for it (a sort of proto-evengelium), then Christians will become a sect like the Amish.

zadra.dario said...

typo: evangelium

johnreuben said...

Have you been reading Joseph Ratzinger's book, Christian Brotherhood, Father? He argues a very similiar case ... but that's no surprise on this blog!

GOR said...

Food for thought, Father. When the Church “came out of the catacombs” during the time of Constantine, as you noted, the effects were good and bad. Good, in the sense that there was now freedom of religion for Christians. Bad, in the sense that as the ‘official Church of the Empire’ - so to speak - it led to an untoward mingling of Church and State, resulting in the progressive absorption of the Church in worldly and material matters until relatively recent times (the demise of the Papal States in the 19th century).

However, it is difficult to square a primacy of internal concern - ‘the household of the Faith’- with Our Lord’s words to “teach all nations”, the Sermon on the Mount or the parable of the Good Samaritan. All are called to be part of the Body of Christ, the Church – even if some don’t know it. And if they don’t know it yet, it is up to us to inform them so they can reap the benefits we already enjoy.

And one way to demonstrate those benefits to them is through our unity and faithfulness to Our Lord’s teaching. The scandal of disunity lies in the fact that we are not showing Our Lord’s example to the rest of the world. He called us to be One, in Him and the Father. We do not demonstrate that one-ness. The disputes and divisions in the Christian Family are a scandal and a stumbling-block to those not of the Faith – and they are of our making, for which we all will have to render an account.

It was said of the early Christians: “See how they love one another!” I would add: “See how that love was open to all!” Can that be said of us today? Outstanding Christians such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and St. Francis of Assisi demonstrated the truth of the Gospel by their actions. It was St. Francis who said: “Preach the Gospel always – sometimes, even using words.” I think we sometimes get bogged down in the words and forget the actions. Leadership by example is usually the more effective.

Fr. David said...

In the United States, the Church has abdicated its responsibility to the Federal government. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, etc. are all done by government through taxing. The Church encourages government to do what is its responsibility and command from God to do. While trying to achieve through legislation what should be done by the Church for the sake of charity, the Church is fast becoming a secular institution. Under the banner of "Social Justice" the Church is fast loosing its Christianity. We fail to preach about Salvation and sin.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

"In the United States, the Church has abdicated its responsibility to the Federal government."

I have to disagree with this statement. While it is certainly true that the Federal and State governments provide assistance to the poor, it needs to be kept in mind that the Catholic Church is only 1/4 of the population of the U.S., and fully 1/2 of that number rarely darken then doorway of a church.

In Massachusetts where I live, self-identified Catholics form about 40% of the population. Of this number (roughly 2.5 million), only about 370,000 come to church regularly. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is the second largest provider of assistance to the poor, and that doesn't even count efforts of Catholics in organizations and group not under the direct control of the hierarchy, such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In the Boston Archdiocese, that group includes roughly 2000 members in some 150 conferences.

Yes, many of the clergy do fail to preach the Gospel of salvation; but in my reading of history, U.S. Catholic preaching has often tended to be of the moral persuasion variety. Yet I know of many priests who are preaching much more meaty sermons than "God loves us, so let's do good works to show we love too". (True as that is...we just don't need to hear it 52 weeks/year).

David said...

Father David, I live in Canada where the social safety net is more comprehensive than it is in the United States and thatnk God for this as there is simply no way that the Church could ever provide all the services which the government provides.

Nevertheless I can assure you that even so there is still plenty left for the Church to do in feeding the poor, running hospitals, teaching and any number of other things.

In our parish we regularly provide meals in a a warm friendly atmosphere for the poor. It is good for the parish, especially those of us directly involved, to do this but it would be colossally wrong to suggest that these people should be deprived of assistance from the state in order that they may be the objects of our charity.

Anonymous said...

Ministerial priesthood - sanctification of the Church; baptismal priesthood, sanctification of the world.

At least, that's roughly what I remember as being roughly the case.