Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why Bother With the Church?

In the faith of Israel we also encounter the figure of Moses, the mediator. The people may not see the face of God; it is Moses who speaks to YHWH on the mountain and then tells the others of the Lord’s will. With this presence of a mediator in its midst, Israel learns to journey together in unity. The individual’s act of faith finds its place within a community, within the common "we" of the people who, in faith, are like a single person — "my first-born son", as God would describe all of Israel (cf. Ex 4:22).

Here mediation is not an obstacle, but an opening: through our encounter with others, our gaze rises to a truth greater than ourselves. Rousseau once lamented that he could not see God for himself: "How many people stand between God and me!" … "Is it really so simple and natural that God would have sought out Moses in order to speak to Jean Jacques Rousseau?"

On the basis of an individualistic and narrow conception of conscience one cannot appreciate the significance of mediation, this capacity to participate in the vision of another, this shared knowledge which is the knowledge proper to love. Faith is God’s free gift, which calls for humility and the courage to trust and to entrust; it enables us to see the luminous path leading to the encounter of God and humanity: the history of salvation.
Lumen Fidei 14

Reflection – Tuesdays with Francis (and, ahem, Benedict) time again! This paragraph from the encyclical is quite significant for us. We are commanded to worship the Lord God and serve him alone. Faith is faith in God, the One, the Only, the God who is above all gods and in fact who shows up the gods of the heathens as naught. This God is revealed in the Old Testament as a ‘jealous God’, a God who wants the whole love and fidelity of his people, and who calls them away from the service of any other god, and chastises them severely when they fail in this.

And yet, this same God who is so fierce in his monotheism is quite happy, in fact chooses, to work through a succession of human mediators. Moses is perhaps the greatest among these, but the prophets are, as well. The kings of Israel and Judah, deeply flawed as they were, were a kind of mediator for the God of Israel. Priests in ancient Israel, as I understand it, were not so much mediators of God as mediators of the people, carrying their sacrificial offerings before Him in the sacred rites of the temple.

Nonetheless, here we have all this mediation, all at the ordering and choice of this God who is so all-or-nothing in his demands of uncluttered, unadulterated worship of Himself. What’s this about – if God wants all my attention and love, why would He clutter up the joint with all these other people claiming to speak for Him? Can’t He speak directly to me?

The encyclical provides a very good reflection on this matter, which is at the heart of our biblical revelation of God, after all, and is not something we can just dismiss if we are biblical Christians. Namely, that mediation, God’s choice to work through human beings in a human setting, forms community. God does not simply want to establish a living communion with each one of us individually, although he certainly does want that. He wants to establish a living communion with each of us that draws us into a living communion with one another.

And so, the Ten Commandments are given to Moses so he can communicate them to the people of Israel, so that they can know themselves as a people brought together by God’s design and not simply a bunch of random individuals clinging together in some kind of Hobbesian necessity or Rousseauian social contract.

Now it is argued that all this mediation business has been done away with for good and for all with the coming of Jesus Christ, the Christ and Christ alone is the mediator between God and man. And that is certainly true. But if this unique and absolute mediation of Christ is meant to do away with the Old Testament models of mediation—priest, prophet, king—then why did Jesus choose twelve apostles and send them out to carry his Gospel to the world? Why bother with such a cumbersome thing as that? After all, Jesus is God and man – He didn’t have to do it that way. But he chose to act through the preaching of the apostles, and ‘acting through’ is indeed mediation, by definition.

The whole New Testament scriptural presentation of God and of Christ shows that the unique mediation of Christ bringing us fullness of communion with God is achieved through the mediation of Christ’s body, the Church, and all its visible ministers, members, structures and community life. God is not dealing with us only as individuals; He still fashions a people, a body, a kingdom. And this kingdom is the Church of Christ in the world, which I (of course) believe to subsist in the Catholic Church, His body through which by the Holy Spirit He communicates the gift of salvation and the grace of God.

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