Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Church is Necessary

This explains why, apart from this body, outside this unity of the Church in Christ, outside this Church which — in the words of Romano Guardini — "is the bearer within history of the plenary gaze of Christ on the world" — faith loses its "measure"; it no longer finds its equilibrium, the space needed to sustain itself. Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers.

It is against this ecclesial backdrop that faith opens the individual Christian towards all others. Christ’s word, once heard, by virtue of its inner power at work in the heart of the Christian, becomes a response, a spoken word, a profession of faith. As Saint Paul puts it: "one believes with the heart ... and confesses with the lips" (Rom 10:10). Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion: it comes from hearing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed. For "how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?" (Rom 10:14).

Faith becomes operative in the Christian on the basis of the gift received, the love which attracts our hearts to Christ (cf. Gal 5:6), and enables us to become part of the Church’s great pilgrimage through history until the end of the world. For those who have been transformed in this way, a new way of seeing opens up, faith becomes light for their eyes.
Lumen Fidei 22

Reflection – This passage may seem a bit abstract or remote, a bit dense in its wording, a bit hard to follow, perhaps. But it speaks to a real question, a real difficulty that many people have today.

Do you remember that viral video from a year or so ago: “I love Jesus, but I hate religion”? That’s what this passage, in admittedly dry theological language, is trying to answer. There is a strong idea, common really, that we can love Jesus and love God while completely distancing ourselves from the Church and having nothing to do with Her.

To which we say, ‘not so fast, slick.’ To live one’s faith as an individual, a little person on his own, or a little group of people on their own, is not sustainable really. Faith comes from hearing, and bears fruit in proclamation. Faith is inherently public, in the Christian sense of the affair. A faith that is not publicly professed is not a full and genuine faith, and this is strictly scriptural (Rom 10:10).

Furthermore, a faith that is separated from the faith of the Church is a faith that is precisely measured by the individual’s own level, his or her own possession of truth, of goodness, of beauty. And this is not how God designed the human race to be, not His providential plan at all. We are meant to find a genuine personal faith, a genuine following of Jesus, within the larger faith of the billions of Catholics who share it with us, and in union with the many millions of Catholics who have gone before us and who have passed it on to us.

My personal faith—that frail plant prone to blight and frostbite at any moment—is upheld and strengthened, preserved and fostered in the giant greenhouse of the Church, in which the light and warmth of Christ is held and amplified in the sacramental flow of life. It would be a matter of extreme ingratitude and churlish ill-temper on my part to receive all this sacramental grace and evangelical proclamation from the Church, to have received the Christian faith in the first place from the Church and have had it nurtured and fed by the Church, and then just turn around and walk away from it because I don’t like this priest or that bishop or I think the Pope should do x, y, or z and he’s not listening to me or whatever.

I realize that so many people who walk away from the Church do so because they have not experienced themselves as being fed by it, simply don’t know what it is they have been given, or perhaps were given it very poorly indeed so that the treasure was unrecognizable as what it is. Such is the lamentable state of our times and our ecclesial life.

But we who are in the Church need to clarify for ourselves our proper relationship to Her, and understand that our personal faith is intrinsically bound up, springs from, and is held by, the faith of this corporate entity, this communal experience. We cannot distance ourselves from the Church, even inwardly, without our faith being damaged in some basic way.

That’s all I have to say on the matter today. Tomorrow I am in poustinia, so no blogging. We’ll keep on with the encyclical for a few more days after that, and then see where we are.


  1. Ah, "un bon mot", Fr. Denis.
    I am rather hoping that you would say more about this; in particular from the perspective of an individual's ability, through grace, to be in love with God. Not so much in love or enthralled with a particular manifestation of God but with the Father as a person. How do you see that in terms of one's own love of self (now there's a dry term or is "arid" a more realistic descriptor?) and how that same person can leave or abandon that perspective of self love. Where do you see the person of God residing in this Church, His bride, and how does the church lead us away from self-love and into a true communion? Sacramental yes - without a doubt - but what does the church do and how does she enable us to change? How does she heal us of this so that we can be?
    Kindest regards - John Lynch.

  2. Dear Mr Lynch
    All my life I have prayed mostly to Jesus and the Holy Spirit (am 65) but this year in March I distinctly recd. the word Matthew 6:6
    "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is with you in secret; and your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you." Since then I have been having "closet time with Abba Father" each night before retiring. The Father has shown me so much of His love that it has displaced self-love because knowing and receiving His infinite love cannot but push away our fears and insecurities which result from self love...well this is just sharing in response to your first half of comment, the second part i leave to the wisdom of Fr. I am a relatively new (5 years) Church goer who has learned to love the Church as Christ loves Her...and i am so grateful today that I was born and baptized into this mysterious marvelous miraculous Body of Christ...Thank You, Abba Father.


  3. Well, this encyclical is short, but sort of startlingly compact....Just before this section...there is some discussion about Jesus, the mediator who opens us by loving us to a truth greater than ourselves- Jesus the "trustworthy witness", "deserving of our faith"-thru whom God works thru out history. Jesus is the "one who makes God known to us" and so we welcome him in our lives and trust him.
    Faith helps us open ourselves to a Love that precedes and transforms from within. This is the true action of the Holy Spirit : " the Christian can see with the eyes of Jesus and share in his mind, His filial disposition, because he or she shares in his Life, which is his spirit " (LF, 21)
    Because of our love of Jesus and that love in us, " the life of the believer becomes an "ecclesial existence", since faith is confessed within the body of the church. Christians are one without becoming the Borg - without losing individuality because Christ comes to us first, in our solitary hearts.
    It is an intensely private and intensely public matter at the same time.
    Anyway, this is how I am understanding this tiny bit.....
    Bless you

  4. Clearly, I must follow up on this post, since it has started a discussion... stay tuned for next week's blog.


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