RESPONSE TO GENNA'S PAPER
Just a few comments about the essay on the Church as a community:
Note that the many local churches are not simply viewed as the regional branches of the universal Church. Every parish community as “Church” contains within itself everything necessary for salvation– the true faith, priestly ministry, sacraments, etc. Just as every particle of the host and every drop of the precious blood is the total Christ; so too does every local faith community manifest the presence of Christ. The mystical body is spiritually whole in all of its parts. This is different from other kinds of communities.
Often the descriptive word FAMILY is used to define the Church community. Just as a human family celebrates its unity and reality with the family meal; so too does the Church express her identity in the Eucharistic meal and sacrifice. The Church is never more CHURCH then when at worship.
This community is also hierarchial, and this element is shared with families and most secular communities. Family headship might go to the husband and Father. The head of a business community might be the president or the chairman of the board. The Church finds her invisible head in Christ and the visible headship in the Pope or HOLY FATHER. Regarding the Church, paternal headship is seen on all levels: Pope, Bishop, Priest. Indeed, we call our priests, FATHERS.
The communion of the saints admits that our faith community extends beyond earth into heaven and among the souls in purgatory. It could also be said that God, who sees everything from the perspective of the ETERNAL NOW, sees all that the Church was, is and will be.
I am aware that the Church is spiritually a community, but could it really be called a human community? One of the basic fundamentals of a human community is that the people share the same values – a link which Roman Catholics seem to lack (for instance: Why is there even an issue over Catholic voting for pro-abortion candidates?). Some conservative Catholic groups are closer to Evangelical Protestants than to other Catholics. Could the human members of the Catholic Church really call themselves a community? (Remember: I cannot use spiritual things, such as the belief in the Eucharist, as the basis of my argument. I don’t think my professor would find that legitimate.)
The Church is by definition both a human and divine institution. This being the case, it must be both a human and spiritual community. As a human community, it suffers from all the imperfections and defects to unity that also plague other types of communities. Note that there are disfunctional families, conflicts between neighbors, heightened state and national political polarities, and vast dissent in the global community about basic policies and even values. Absolute agreement upon values might be ideal and yet defining community strictly along these lines might force one to contend that no true community exists at all– at least in this world. I would argue that communities need basic concurrence regarding core values, but also structures of authority that allow for dialogue and conflict resolution.
Just because there is dissent in the Church does not negate the Church as a human community. The “mea culpas” of Pope John Paul II acknowledge that the human community of the Church is not perfect and that as sinners we have sometimes perpetrated terrible evils and injustices. This is a separate consideration from the Church as a spiritual or divine institution or community. As a divine community, the Church can be regarded as perfect and infallible. The spiritual dynamic is in regard to the mystical body and the four marks of the true Church. The Church is the vehicle for Christ and may be regarded as the great sacrament of encounter between ourselves (with one another) and with the Lord.
It is in regard to the human quality of community that the Church by necessity sometimes must allow people to excommunicate themselves from ecclesial unity. Such excommunication may be canonical or juridical or even in less rigorist terms. A person in mortal sin has for all intensive purposes damaged the “communio” that should exist in the Church. A person who dissents upon a core teaching (like the Gospel of Life) also risks rupturing his or her tie to the community, even though such a person may go through the motions of faith and fellowship.
Cardinal Arinze and Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope) have made it clear that a person who supports and enables the abortion of children, and especially public proponents, should refrain from holy communion. They may still attend Mass, but the reception of holy communion (our sign of unity in Christ) becomes a blasphemous act when such people partake of the sacrament of life. They take upon themselves judgment itself. The fact that many bishops fail to enforce canon law and are overly passive shepherds is indeed unfortunate; however, this does not negate the human element of the Church community– it only further witnesses to the brokenness of the human condition. Remember, there are no perfect human communities, only spiritual ones.
The fact that Vatican II speaks of many Protestants as “separated brethren” admits of a partial unity within a larger circle of Christians. Would this not be more as a human community, particularly upon shared values, than as the divine institution which is synonymous with the Catholic Church?
It should be noted that the Catholic community, as an institution, may not be as pervasive and united as in years past. Ethnic Catholics from many parts of the world hyphenated their Catholicism within the other elements of culture. Western culture is taking a serious hit today and with it the human ties of faith are also weakening. Historically, for instance, Irish and Italian Catholics mixed their faith into their ethnic identity in such a way that one would be hard pressed to separate them. This is why families like the Kennedy’s breed such scandal– for breaking the ties that bind. Everyone gets married in Church. The kids receive their sacraments and godparents are chosen, not only as a spiritual bond but as a human one. Although it is a terrible distortion, even a gangster as in the Godfather movie, is part of a fragile human bond that weaves the Church into an extended family.
Your professor would be wrong to deny the pertinence of the Eucharist in this discussion. Everything in the Church has a corporeal and a spiritual side. We even say as much in the liturgy when we refer to the bread as made from human hands, knowing that it shall be refashioned into the real presence of Christ. There is a human and divine interaction. Apart from the invisible and crucial spiritual factors of Christian worship, we also find purely human factors: common responses, singing together, familiar ritual, fellowship, welcoming or hospitality, etc. Not everyone goes to Church, but those who do develop a sense of community just through regular familiarity and interaction.
It is hard to have strong emotional responses to large communities. When strangers are hurt or killed and we hear about it on the radio, it has a muffled effect. However, if the paper boy is killed in Iraq or the next door neighbor has a burning cross left on the lawn– communities pull together, for support and for remembrance. Just as the Church community struggles because of dissent, so too does the nation– particularly when some would die for our freedoms and others burn and trample upon the flag which is the symbol of our country and her ideals.
Small churches and small communities within larger churches have been the objective of dioceses for some time now. The RENEW efforts, with all its haphazard results, was an attempt to nurture a closer sense of fellowship under common values and emotional concern. We are not robots. I suspect many philosphers err greviously in omitting human feelings from the scenerio. Parishioners, especially the old ones, identify themselves, not by their street, but by the parish they attend.
Efforts are made to visit the sick. St. Mary’s had a Bereavement group when I first came and they helped people endure their loss– by being there, helping with food or house sitting, preparing liturgies, etc. These things are part of the human dimension. We develop friendships– in our Catholic schools and parishes– we visit and call when someone is absent or sick. We help each other out with special projects. Especially in my parish, where people come from Annapolis, Laurel, Greenbelt, Forestville, and Clinton– the tie is not geography but love for a parish, its history, and its people. Again, there is nothing particularly divine or spiritual about this. It is very human, and not even unique to the Catholic community.
The other question I would like to explore is the time dimension in relation to the Catholic Church. In class we have talked about how a good community has a balance between past, present, and future. We have looked at the Jewish nation, and how they have been able to preserve all three of these time dimensions since their beginning.
Has the Jewish people really kept such a balance. It was once contended that the Jews were united more by race (or if that word is offensive, substitute "ethnicity", presumed or realized, or if it still fails the tolerance test, by shared history and culture) than by a common faith. Reformed Jews and Orthodox Jews possess a radically different kind of religion. Israel itself, not to mention New York, counts many athiests as Jews in good standing. Further, I would contend that European Jews, despite the ghetto experience, are far more European in mindset and genetically than the semites and others they have displaced in Palestine. Prior to Vatican II various Jewish scholars warned their Catholic counterparts about the dangers of messing with ritual. They had done so with the result of a bland worship and today similar concerns are raised about Catholic ceremonials. I mention this because the Catholic notion of remembrance is borrowed from the Hellenic Jews– ANAMNESIS. At their Seder they recall their past and make it present. They become the Jews liberated from Egyptian slavery. They are the people who look forward to a new Jerusalem. Similarly, the Church remembers and makes present the saving acts of Christ. Obviously, this is a spiritual and sacramental reality; however, it makes a mark upon the human person that extends beyond the liturgy. We have encountered Christ. We were with him. During Lent we celebrate this with the Stations of the Cross. We are with Jesus to Calvary and at the end are given the promise of Resurrection and a new People of God– the Church.
The human community of the Church is not as well as it should be. Many ethnic customs, saturated in the faith, have been lost. Even the staffs of churches and parochial schools threw out whole libraries after Vatican II, arguing that the old Church was dead. The Traditionalists who have separated from the Holy See even claim that they are true to the old Church and that the post-Vatican II Church is a new organism, detached from the old. Obviously, this is not my belief nor that of the living and teaching Church; however, a lot of falsehood and abuse has harmed the community all the same. Do we even teach Church history in our Catholic schools– grammar, middle and high schools? Do our CCD programs approach it? It is as if we jumped from biblical times to 2005!
“Does the Catholic Church have a balance of past, present, and future? It seems that in many ways the Church has done herself a disservice with Vatican II, cutting off what might have been essential ties to the past (in the Latin language and the Mass, for instance.) Furthermore, as more and more Catholics today lose their faith in the Real Presence, it seems that perhaps they are losing their link to the future as well.
What about the Mass? It was a major tool for the transmission of culture to the human community of the Church– now that common language (Latin) and a high aesthetic (for beautiful music and art) has been largely replaced by those things coarse. Okay, here I am critical, but I do not think the human community of the Church is completely dead. She may be on life-support, but the patient may yet pull through.
As a community the best way for the Church to remain intune with the three dimensions of history is as follows:
1. PAST – Memorial Prayer and Understanding the Meaning of the Mass; Study of Scripture (Old and New); and Church History– particularly through a revival of the Catholic cult of the SAINTS. Our devotion to the saints is a built-in way to keep in touch with our roots!
2. PRESENT – The Mass and our encounter with Christ; the Sacramental Life of the Church; and restored forms of Catholic Action (with activism as on matters like Abortion).
3. FUTURE – The Mass is here too in that it is seen as a participation in the heavenly banquet; Allowing God to use us in building up the Kingdom of God; Invigorating the membership as missionaries of the Good News.
Notice that the Mass applies to all three tenses. During the Mass, we sometimes proclaim or sing: CHRIST HAS DIED, CHRIST IS RISEN, CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN.
Both the human and the divine elements of the Church take their lead from Christ. While the Jews are a community based upon decendance from Abraham and a promise; and the Moslems are a sect hinged upon the law of Allah; we Christians define ourselves and our communities by our unity and likeness to Jesus Christ. This is not just an “other worldly” appreciation but a “meat and potatoes” one– acceptance of the truths in the deposit of faith– following the decalogue and the two commandments of Christ– realizing the beatitudes– loving one another, even the enemy– forgiving one another. While there is a spiritual dimension here, all of this touches upon the human community– where we have been (sinners), where we are (repentant), and where we hope to go (among the elect).
Of course, the Pope is the visible leader of the community on earth and unites all human beings in the human Catholic ‘community’. But this would seem to be a rather loose tie, at least in my way of thinking.
This has been the essential tie for 2,000 years. While the Orthodox churches became national groupings; the See of Peter has maintained a visible universal bond for the Catholic community, even when language, dress, even liturgy and customs differed. (Remember that there are still other rites in union with Rome, too.) The ultimate bond is with Christ. But Peter and his successors are the Keepers of the Keys. The Pope is the Roman Rite. We even celebrate the Chair of Peter as a feast in the Church. The marks of the Church are also imporatnt, but given the confines of your work you may have to distingush between the spiritual and human elements: ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC. The unity is in Christ. It is the immediate assumption that there is only one Church instituted by Christ as the community of men and women seeking salvation. The Church is regarded as the new People of God, the new Israel, the new Zion. The holiness of the Church is solely in regard to her divine character. The Church is holy because as Christ is holy. She is embued with his presence. The word Catholic means universal. The Church is the sacrament of salvation intended for all men and women. The People of God in the Old Testament was exclusive but the new People of God is open to all who would believe. Apostolic refers to the trust given the apostles by Jesus, his bestoyal of holy orders upon them, and the transmission of these orders and the apostolic message.
I don’t know; but it is important for me to add that I am not in any way attacking my Church or trying to pick a fight. I am simply honestly making an inquiry and trying to investigate it as a social scientist would. Dr. Misztal wants us to come up with something imaginative that applies what we have learned about community – to “swim in alone in the dark and find our way” as he puts it. If everything I say sounds really stupid, please let me know.
My recommendation would be to read the universal catechism in the section on the Church. From there you can branch out to books and articles on ecclesiology. Be careful of some authorities, however, like Hans Kung. He is a dangerous priest. I am not saying to avoid him, just to be forewarned.
Nothing I have written here is scholarly. Indeed, as I have not reviewed it, I may have made a few quick errors, too. But for what it is worth, here are my ramblings.
Speaking to the subject of religious communities in the contemporary Church setting, Gabriel Moran wrote a book in 1970 entitled THE NEW COMMUNITY. Most of the book explores the meaning of the word “community”. He writes:
Although one cannot dictate that a word has only a single meaning, there does seem to be a keynote which runs throughout discussion on community. Whatever else may be added to this beginning, community denotes a human as opposed to a sub-human ordering of experience. It should be noted that a definition of community begins not with a specification of the size, purpose or location of a group, but with a description of the kind of experience an individual has vis-a-vis other persons. . . . The word community designates an ordering of human life that unites without destroying, that brings out the capacities of each individual, and that forges a bond out of strikingly dissimilar strands. Thus, community means that by meeting another person at the level of our common humanity we will share the affection and encouragement, the sympathy and the intimacy, the truth and the love, that will enable us severally to become wholly and integrally ourselves. A moment’s reflection upon the definition I have just given will lead to the somber conclusion that this ideal of community is never achieved.
At this point, Christianity can perhaps throw some light on the situation. At least it does provide some clue to the imperfection and failure of every human community. I refer to the Christian belief that there can be no perfect human communities until there is a perfect human community. Without an ultimate reconciliation to creation and the creator, man’s individual projects will always be tainted with failure. The call for such an ultimate reconciliation begins to make sense in our day. The only ideal that is now worth striving after is a world-wide community in which all men are brothers. (see pages 45 and 46)
What is the kind of experience that defines the Church community? Members have an experience of relationship and/or encounter with Christ that draws them into a union of common faith and practice.
As a community we recognize that we are all sinners who need one another and the mercy of God. A structure has been both imposed by Christ and developed by leaders in the Church for her proper operation.
Not only is the Church both a human and divine institution (community) but she is the breaking in of the kingdom itself. By virtue of the fact that the Church is composed of human beings, she is a human community. Without a human community, there can be no divine institution of the Church. One school of eschatology would contend that not only is the Church a human institution, but ultimately, she will be the only human institution. This is what Moran is implying in his book. There can be no perfect human communities until there is the perfect human community– the Church at the consummation of things– the goal of human history! This would seem to make all other human communities reliant upon the Church in a certain sense.
The primal expression of human community is the family. Christians are well aware of this and speak of the “little church” of the family. This is not just poetic license. An important quality of the Church is realized in Christian families. It is where we first learn our faith and develop a sense of identity. We become aware of ourselves as individuals and as members of a larger whole.
It should be added that the community of the family is molded in the likeness of God. A husband and wife know each other and their love generates a child. Similarly, the Trinity is a community of persons: the Father knows and generates the Son from all eternity; the Father and Son love each other and generate the Holy Spirit from all eternity. The divine imprint marks both our spiritual and our human communities.