d) The Catholic Church

JC411 IBDI-ICON_Only Artwork_CYMK(AW)The Catholic Church

“a hospital for sinners”

To me, a church filled with only saints is not a church you would ever find on earth. The Orthodox Church, for instance, has a saying that it is “a hospital for sinners”, which I think is an apt description of the Catholic Church as well. Think about it: Do American citizens give up their citizenship and move to a foreign country because of a corrupt Congress or a few bad presidents? Generally speaking, no; why then should Catholics opt to not go to Mass because a priest, who is not a saint but a fallible fallen man just like the rest of us, disappoints us in the worst way?

— Thom Nickels, in the Huffington Post newspaper, June 17th, 2013 ‘Catholic Church Closures in Philadelphia’. (Note: separately, the theme of one homily I heard was “Let’s never forget, never forget: the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.”)

 

The Church’s Fundamental Function

“The Church’s fundamental function in every age
and particularly in ours
is to direct man’s gaze,
to point the awareness and experience of the whole of humanity
toward the mystery of Christ,
to help all men to be familiar with the profundity of the Redemption taking place in Christ Jesus.”

— Pope John-Paul II in Redemptor Hominis, an Encyclical Letter of March 1979

“The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life…. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.”

— CS Lewis, in his book ‘Mere Chrisitianity’ (in the chapter ‘Is Christianity Hard or Easy?’, page 164 of the 1997 edition by Fount Paperbacks, London)

“Companionship for the journey”

“The church is where I go to be educated about my deeper structure and nature, and where I find companionship for the journey towards my destination. The Church fails me most of the time, as I fail myself most of the time, but without it I might be alone in a culture that denies my nature at every turn.”

— John Waters, in ‘Beyond Consolation: or How We Became Too Clever for God… and Our Own Good‘, 2010

Shows the path of true love

“The Church serves human beings and shows them the path of true love, the only path on which they can find the true God.”

— Pope John-Paul II, in ‘The Nature of the Human Person’ in ‘Pope John-Paul II: A Reader’  edited by O’Collins SJ, page 188, published by Paulist Press: Mahwah, New Jersey, 2007.

“mother and teacher”

“The Church who is mother and teacher calls all her members to renew themselves in spirit and to turn once again with determination to God, renouncing pride and selfishness, to live in love.”

— Pope Benedict XVI in his 2nd last weekly Angelus address as Pope to people in St Peter’s Square, 17th February 2013

NOT a “school of religion!”… must bear witness to Jesus Christ

“The Church is fruitful and a mother when she witnesses to Jesus Christ. Instead , when the church closes in on itself , when it thinks of itself as a — so to speak — ‘school of religion’, with so many great ideas, with many beautiful temples, with many fine museums, with many beautiful things, but does not give witness, it becomes sterile. The Christian is the same. The Christian who does not bear witness, is sterile, without giving the life he has received from Jesus Christ.”

— Pope Francis, part of his homily at a morning Mass  (6th May 2014) at Casa Santa Marta as reported by Vatican Radio and published on indcatholicnews.com

Pope Francis I on Membership of The Catholic Church…

 “A Christian is one who is invited. Invited to what? To a shop? To take a walk? The Lord wants to tell us something more: You are invited to join in the feast, to the joy of being saved, to the joy of being redeemed, to the joy of sharing life with Christ. 

 “This is a joy! You are called to a party! A feast is a gathering of people who talk, laugh, celebrate, and are happy together. I have never seen anyone party on their own. That would be boring, no? 
 
“Opening the bottle of wine . . . That’s not a feast, it’s something else. You have to party with others, with family, with friends, with those who’ve been invited, as I was invited. Being Christian means belonging, belonging to this body, to the people that have been invited to the feast: this is Christian belonging. 
 
“The Church is not the Church only for good people. Do we want to describe who belongs to the Church, to this feast? The sinners. All of us sinners are invited. At this point there is a community that has diverse gifts: one has the gift of prophecy, another of ministry, who teaching… We all have qualities and strengths. 
 
“But each of us brings to the feast a common gift. Each of us is called to participate fully in the feast. Christian existence cannot be understood without this participation. ‘I go to the feast, but I don’t go beyond the antechamber, because I want to be only with the three or four people that I am familiar with…’ You can’t do this in the Church! You either participate fully or you remain outside. You can’t pick and choose: the Church is for everyone, beginning with those I’ve already mentioned, the most marginalized. It is everyone’s Church! 
 
“The Lord is very generous. The Lord opens all doors. The Lord also understands those who say to Him, ‘No, Lord, I don’t want to go to you.’ He understands and is waiting for them, because He is merciful. But the Lord does not like those who say ‘yes’ and do the opposite; who pretend to thank Him for all the good things; who have good manners, but go their own way and do not follow the way of the Lord: those who always excuse themselves, those who do not know joy, who don’t experience the joy of belonging. 
 
“Let us ask the Lord for this grace of understanding: how beautiful it is to be invited to the feast, how beautiful it is to take part in it and to share one’s qualities, how beautiful it is to be with Him and how wrong it is to dither between ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ to say ‘yes,’ but to be satisfied merely with being a nominal Christian.” 
— Pope Francis I, speaking during one of his weekday homilies, as reported by Vatican Radio and published on the RomeReports.com website dated 5th November, 2013 under the heading ‘Pope Francis: Christianity is like an invitation to a feast’ (the webpage I’m linking to includes a video excerpt)

Pope Francis I on the Meaning of the Word “Catholic” (abridged)

“What does catholic mean? It comes from the Greek “kath’olon” which means “according to the whole”, the totality. In what sense does this totality apply to the Church? In what sense do we say the Church is catholic? I would say there are three basic meanings.

1. The first. The Church is catholic because she is the space, the home in which the faith is proclaimed to us in its entirety, in which the salvation brought to us by Christ is offered to everyone. The Church enables us to encounter the mercy of God which transforms us, for in her Jesus Christ is present…. In the Church each one of us finds what is needed to believe, to live as Christians, to become holy and to journey to every place and through every age.

To give an example, we can say that it is like family life. In the family, everything that enables us to grow, to mature and to live is given to each of us. We cannot grow up by ourselves, we cannot journey on our own, in isolation; rather, we journey and grow in a community, in a family. And so it is in the Church! In the Church we can listen to the Word of God with the assurance that it is the message that the Lord has given us; in the Church we can encounter the Lord in the Sacraments, which are the open windows through which the light of God is given to us, streams from which we can draw God’s very life; in the Church we learn to live in the communion and love that comes from God. Each one of us can ask himself or herself today: how do I live in the Church? When I go to church, is it as though I were at the stadium, at a football match? Is it as though I were at the cinema? No, it is something else. How do I go to church? How do I receive the gifts that the Church offers me to grow and mature as a Christian? Do I participate in the life of the community or do I go to church and withdraw into my own problems, isolating myself from others? In this first sense, the Church is catholic because she is everyone’s home. Everyone is a child of the Church and in her all find their home.

2. A second meaning: the Church is catholic because she is universal, she is spread abroad through every part of the world and she proclaims the Gospel to every man and to every woman. The Church is not a group of elite; she does not only concern the few. The Church has no limits; she is sent to the totality of people, to the totality of the human race. …. To feel that we are in communion with the whole Church, with all of the Catholic communities of the world great and small! This is beautiful! And then, to feel we are all on mission, great and small communities alike, that we all must open our doors and go out for the sake of the Gospel. Let us ask ourselves then: what do I do in order to communicate to others the joy of encountering the Lord, the joy of belonging to the Church? Proclaiming and bearing witness to the faith is not the work of the few; it also concerns me, you, each one of us!

3. A third and final thought: the Church is catholic, because she is the “home of harmony” where unity and diversity know how to merge in order to become a great source of wealth. Let us think about the image of a symphony, which implies accord, harmony, various instruments playing together. Each one preserves its own unmistakable timbre and the sounds characteristic of each blend together around a common theme. Then there is the one who directs it, the conductor, and as the symphony is performed all play together in “harmony”, but the timbre of each individual instrument is never eliminated; indeed, the uniqueness of each is greatly enhanced!

It is a beautiful image which tells us that the Church is like a great orchestra in which there is great variety. We are not all the same and we do not all have to be the same. We are all different, varied, each of us with his own special qualities. And this is the beauty of the Church: everyone brings his own gift, which God has given him, for the sake of enriching others. And between the various components there is diversity; however, it is a diversity that does not enter into conflict and opposition. It is a variety that allows the Holy Spirit to blend it into harmony. He is the true “Maestro”. He is harmony. And here let us ask ourselves: in our communities do we live in harmony or do we argue amongst ourselves? In my parish community, in my movement, in the place where I am part of the Church, is there gossip? If there is gossip, there is no harmony but rather conflict. And this is not the Church. The Church is everyone in harmony: never gossip about others, never argue! Let us accept others, let us accept that there is a fitting variety, that this person is different, that this person thinks about things in this way or that — that within one and the same faith we can think about things differently — or do we tend to make everything uniform? But uniformity kills life. The life of the Church is variety, and when we want to impose this uniformity on everyone we kill the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

— Pope Francis I, speaking at a General Audience in St Peter’s Square October 9 2013

The Church is a family… equal in dignity

“The Holy Father here takes an image from the first Letter of Peter (1 Pet 2:5), in which Peter describes the Church as a household  an oikos in the original Greek. There are many beautiful images for the Church in Sacred Scripture and each image highlights something important about the Church. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. She is the People of God. She is the Bride of Christ. But she is also described as the ‘spiritual household’ of God, and that is a very significant image for us. The image of the household was a defining one in the Early Church. It is, of course, essentially a family image. …

Indeed, the Church is a family. Yes, there is a radical equality of human dignity in a family; no single member of a family is more a part of the family than any another. But equality of dignity does not mean identity of roles; a mother’s role is not the same as a father’s, nor a son’s the same as a grandmother’s. This is true for the Church as well. A married couple’s role in the Church is not the same as a consecrated religious sister. A priest’s role is not the same as an unmarried woman’s. There is equality of dignity, but diversity of roles. And the Holy Father’s point here is that there is a beautiful complementarity among these different roles — married people can help priests in their vocation to be holy and priests can help families in theirs. Our tasks are different, but our aim is the same — to live holy lives and prepare ourselves for ‘the life of the world to come.’ As Mother Teresa used to say: “You can do something I cannot do. I can do something you cannot do. Together let us do something beautiful for God”.

— Archbishop Charles J Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland in a homily while on a pilgrimage to Knock 23rd June 2012 as reported by St Joseph’s Young Priest Society in their Autumn 2012 newsletter The Sheaf

The Next Set of Quotes are of Various Topics Around the Theme of Church, all by Ronald Rolheiser

they loved but not necessarily liked each other

“The group of disciples that first gathered around Jesus were not individuals who were mutually compatible at all. They came from very different background and temperaments, had different visions of what Jesus was all about, were jealous of each other, and were, as Scripture tells us, occasionally furious with each other. They loved each other, in the biblical meaning of the phrase, but they did not necessarily like each other…. This is what it means to be church. (page 108)

we no longer fully own our own lives

…. Church community must be founded on… a gathering around the person of Christ and sharing his Spirit (page 112)…. In essence, in some form or other, we are mutually accountable for our lives. We may still live in our private houses and have our private bank accounts, but, once we belong to a church, we no longer fully own our own lives. (page 115) ….

most parents are raised by their own children… into self-sacrificing maturity

Church puts a rope around us, takes away our freedom, and takes us where we would rather not, but should, go. Thus the best example of what church, baptism and consecration really mean is the example of having and raising children… most parents are baptised by their own children–and raised by them! Imagine a typical scenario. A young woman and a young man meet, fall in love, and get married. At that stage of their lives they are fairly immature. Their agenda is their own happiness and, notwithstanding that they are good-hearted and sincere, they are both still selfish with the natural self-centredness of youth…. What happens is that for the next 25 to 50 years, every time they turn around, a number of tiny and not-so-tiny hands will be stretched out, demanding something of them–their time, their energy, their money, their car keys, their sympathy, their understanding, their hearts. Whether they want to or not, they will mature. For 25 to 50 years they will be forced, by a clear conscription, to think of others beyond themselves…. out of your natural selfishness and into self-sacrificing maturity. Such is baptism. Such is the Church. (page 115 to 118)

you need to be carried … or… you’re carrying the family?

One last thing about the conscriptive rope: It is not one which we may let go of after we have accepted it…. The Church has always taught, and rightly so, that baptism is irrevocable, that it leaves an indelible mark on the soul. Anyone who has ever had a child knows exactly what that means, when you hold your own child for the first time it scars your soul indelibly…. Like a mother who has given birth to a child… we cannot opt in and out of the Church as fits our mood and phases of growth. As long as we do not understand this, we are still, in terms of ecclesiology, a child or an adolescent who himself or herself needs to be carried, as opposed to an adult who is helping to take responsibility for carrying the family.” (page 119-120)

God has many rooms in his house… Be ready to sit down with everyone

To be a catholic is not the opposite of being protestant. Protestants too claim the name catholic and the ‘protest’ of the original Protestant reformers was not, in essence, so much a protest against the pope and Roman Catholicism as it was a protest for God, for God’s holiness, and against anything that would limit the catholicity of God’s heart. What does it mean to be catholic? Jesus gave us the best definition of the term when he said: ‘In my Father’s house there are many rooms’ (John 14:2)…. God has a catholic heart — in that catholic means universal, wide, all-encompassing. The opposite of a catholic is a fundamentalist, a person who has a heart with one room. Thus, any spirituality of the Church needs to emphasise wide loyalties and inclusivity. A healthy member of a church community does not pick, in an either/or fashion, between having boundaries or emphasising freedom, between believing in defined doctrines or emphasising individual conscience, … between liberal and conservative, between old and new…. To be a member of a church is not to choose between these. It is to choose them all. Like our God in heaven, we too need a heart with many rooms. …. John Shea once suggested that the heavenly banquet table is open to everyone who is ready to sit down with everyone.” (page 122-123)….

Church, ultimately, whether we do it in a church building or around our kitchen tables, is about people getting together for no reason other than to take the ointment, that is, to offer each other love and affection. (page 126)….

So Why Go To Church?

What is being proposed is not a series of reasons why you might want to go to church but why you should go to church….

  1. Because it is not good to be alone (… church, by definition, is walking to God within a community)
  2. To take my rightful place humbly within the family of humanity (… at the point when adulthood is reached, something else is asked of us, not just by God but also by nature. Our task now is no longer to try to emerge but to merge–to go back into community, to lose our separateness, not to stand out, to become naked again. This is the real meaning of humility…. The Church gives us the place to die to élitism. To join a church is to give up élitism. That is both perhaps the greastest obstacle to church participation and the greatest benefit of it.)
  3. Because God calls me there (… Spirituality is not a private search for what is highest in oneself but a communal search for God)
  4. To dispel my fantasies about myself (Away from actual, historical church community, whatever its faults, we have an open field to live the unconfronted life, to make religion a private fantasy that we can selectively share with a few like-minded individuals who will never confront us where we most need challenge.)
  5. Because ten thousand saints have told me so (I go to church because by far the majority of good and faith-filled persons that I know go there. Moreover they tell me that whatever goodness and faith they carry is, in an essential way, fostered there.)
  6. To help others carry their pathologies and to have them help me carry mine (Anthropologists tell us that one of the primary functions of any family is to carry the pathologies of its members…. Simply put, I go to church so that other people might help me carry what is unhealthy inside of me and that I might help them carry what is unhealthy inside of them.)
  7. To dream with others (Alone, I am pretty powerless, able to make a splash, but not a difference. A very large group of people watching the news together could change the world. The Church is that group…. It is far from perfect, but it is the best of a bad lot and it offers positive hope.)
  8. To practise for heaven (Heaven, the Scriptures assure us, will be enjoyed within the communal embrace of billions of persons of every temperament, race, background, and ideology imaginable. A universal heart will be required to live there…. When we gather with only persons of our own kind, the heart need not and generally does not stretch. Going to church is one of the better cardio-vascular spiritual exercises available. 
  9. For the pure joy of it… because it is heaven!” (page 127-132)
— Fr Ronald Rolheiser, in his book ‘Seeking Spirituality,’ chapter 6, of the 1998 Hodder & Stoughton (London) edition
.

Church Teachings, Life & Worship (“Tradition”) “Develop”…

“… and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.
This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down.
This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfilment in her.”
— Vatican II document Dei Verbum (Section 8), 1965, as published on the Vatican website

The Catholic Church and ‘Development’ (“Third World”/”North-South”) ETC

“… Francis looks like a radical break with the past, but he is right: He represents an essential continuity in the Roman Catholic Church’s mission.

In Victorian times, Pope Leo XIII (in office, 1878-1903) was also denounced as a “socialist” when, in 1891, he issued the Catholic Church’s first formal statement on economic and social issues. In “Rerum Novarum,” he called for a living wage, opposed child labor and (a little belatedly) supported the idea of trade unions. Leo’s strong defense of private property in the same letter did not seem to win over critics.

Even Pius XII (1939-58) — one of the least-loved popes, thanks to the Vatican’s ambiguous wartime role — insisted that when fighting unjust social conditions, “Charity is not enough, for in the first place there must be justice.” In the late 1940s, it was a future pope (John XXIII, 1958-63) who, as the Vatican’s ambassador to France, helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

The educational role of the church in the developing world has been powerful and often controversial. “All we want is a labor force,” a colonial governor lamented to missionaries in Madagascar a century ago, “and you’re turning them into human beings.”

The most visible arm of the church’s social mission is a network of humanitarian and development agencies known as Caritas (Latin for “charity”), which is the largest private organization of its kind after the International Committee of the Red Cross. Its total budget, $3 billion, is barely as much as the World Bank lends to large countries like Turkey or Brazil in a single year, but its reach and impact are unmatched.

In some African countries, as much as half of basic education and health services are provided by the church. Catholic hospitals and clinics around the world distribute about a third of all the antiretroviral drugs received by people living with H.I.V. and AIDS, and in India, where Catholics are no more than 2 percent of the population, the church is the second-largest care provider in this area after the government.

As a result of its work in basic health and education — and despite its obtuse views on birth control — in the last 50 years the church has probably lifted more people out of poverty than any other civic institution in history.”

— Robert Calderisi in the NY Times of December 30th 2013 under the heading ‘Radical Pope, Traditional Values’, (Calderisi is listed as “a former director of the World Bank and the author of ‘Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development'”)

 

In the Church is where you’ll find courage and support to walk the way of the Lord

“The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of his way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today.
— Pope Benedict XVI, talk to young people in Yonkers, New York, USA, April 19 2008
 .

Addendum

Summary of Pope Francis’s Approach

“… the Pope puts mercy first, then the rules; he has a broad vision of church that includes, not excludes, that accompanies people rather than condemns them…. a church where there is more grace, less lace…. He is making the church relevant and exciting.”
— Fr Gerard Moloney, CSsR, in his editorial entitled ‘The Francis Effect’ in the November 2013 Issue of the ‘Reality’ monthly magazine published by the Redemptorists in Ireland
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