Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why the Church?

Yesterday I received an e mail forward from a friend that ended with these words "And yet I’m never out of mind of what Annie Dillard said: What a pity, that so soon after Christ came the Christians."

We all get discouraged with the institutional church from time to time. Understandable. Some of us have given up on Her entirely. We prefer instead to stay in our individually wrapped spiritual environments like so many slices of processed American cheese. Understandable but unfortunate.

I don't think God meant it to be that way. In fact, I'm quite sure He meant the opposite..... Theologically, it is impossible to draw a line separating the resurrected Christ from His Church, which is his Presence on earth. When we say (as has been re-hashed in recent press articles) "outside of the Church there is no salvation" we are not saying that from within a ticket booth with a crossing guard arm we raise and lower to decide who is out and who is in. Catholics are very clear (or should be) on this. We don't get to decide who's in and who is excluded. That's God's job.

But by the same spiritual law we ARE required to let everyone know what the God of reason and faith requires from each of us. Then, the decision to respond to or turn away from that Presence is left to each one of us.

And that Presence comes to us in with and under the most distressing guise of other people. Others who are hard to get along with, others in their need, others who force us to do what Jesus our Lord did,... love and serve others.

When we withdraw ourselves from that sharpening Presence both we and the Church lose. We lose the ability to grow in actual holiness, which equals loving and serving others who may or may not be "like us." But the Church also loses, because if this process goes on ad infinitum then the Church is left as a lonely parody of modern life.

We sit in homes with no front porches listening to our I-pods and eating food from plastic containers prepared for us by people whose names we will never know. In ecclesial terms, without the Church we are left sitting in a comfy chair, reading about, praying to, and serving a God whose true Face we will never know.

That's the pity.

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