On Sunday, in the Holy Mass, reciting the “Creed”, we speak in the first person, but we confess as one the one faith of the Church. That “I believe” said individually joins a vast chorus across time and space, in which each person contributes, so to speak, to the harmonious polyphony in faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums this up in a clear way: thus, “believing” is an act of the Church. The Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. The Church is the Mother of all believers. “‘No one can have God as his Father, who does not have the Church as his Mother’ (St Cyprian)” (n. 181). Therefore, the faith is born in the Church, leads to her and lives in her. This is important to remember.
31 October 2012
Reflection – I have mentioned before on this blog my encounter with a young theology student who told me she wasn’t interested in studying ecclesiology because ‘she wasn’t married to the Church.’ My reaction to her was, alas, gaping horrified silence (I was a second year seminarian then, and not quite as quick on the draw), although afterwards in a fit of l’esprit d’escalier (that’s French for thinking of something clever to say five minutes after the conversation ends), I said to the empty air, ‘Well, that’s too bad, since Jesus is.”
But of course it’s not for us to be married to the Church, precisely. The Church is, as the Pope says, and as we have always said, our Mother. There is this body, this group of believers spread across time and space, this countless throng of mostly ordinary men and women, a few of them saints, but most of them struggling sinners like you and I… and the faith we profess comes to us through them. It also comes to us as a direct action of God our Father, but in the womb, if you will, of the Church our Mother.
This is so crucial. For so many people today, ‘The Church’ has a bad name. Even many Catholics find it a fairly anguished term, like that young woman who distanced herself from it. Either the horrible sexual scandals that have beset us all have become the primary association with ‘Church’, or failures (real or perceived) of ecclesiastical leadership to teach the faith and promote justice and charity, or teachings that simply seem wrong to some, or the appalling unkindnesses and inhospitality and harshness that can occur at the Church on the most local and immediate levels.
So many people leave the Church simply because ‘Fr. X. was mean to my mother.’ It’s easy to dismiss this (‘oh, for crying out loud – there’s more to the Church then Fr. X. at St. Blatherings Parish!’). But for many people, there really isn’t, and harsh or rude treatment really does that kind of major damage.
So it is important—beyond important, it is crucial—for those of us who can expand our vision of the Church to do so. To see this motherly reality, this profound dynamic where God the Father begets us as his sons and daughters in the womb of our Mother the Church. Because it didn’t have to be this way, you know. God could have just done it on a person-by-person basis without reference to a Church, you know. He chose, in his sovereign will, to have all these graces of divine life, sonship, deep communion with the Trinity all come to us through and in the life of the Church.
You know, it’s almost as if He’s really serious about this ‘love one another’ business. It’s almost as if it is really matters to Him that we fashion a human family, a real community of persons among ourselves. It’s almost as if He really means it that it is not good for man to be alone, and He really does intend us to be with each other, not just in superficial commercial or social interactions, but in depth and in love.