Thursday, February 5, 2015


   Disagreement has been part of the church since its beginning, and has often helped unify it and move it forward.  Today's disagreements, however, have broken the church apart. For example, when Pope Francis proclaims Jesus' care for the poor,sick and outcast, some bishops and others proclaim that they are "confused."  When he says, "Who am I to judge," about gays, and that Catholics don't have to reproduce like rabbits, even while he reaffirms the ban on contraception, some Catholics cry out for more stern repetitions of traditional "church" teachings.  And when Francis denounces economic inequality, some turn on him.  In these and many other ways, today's church is broken.

   The very word, "church" has lost its meaning.  In the above paragraph, I placed the word, "church" in quotes because, as it is used there, it means the Magisterium, the "teaching church," which is made up of the pope, curia, bishops and their clergy.  It leaves out the laity, who in this meaning, are the learning, obeying church, with no input into what the church teaches.  This is not the Catholic church.  I hope Catholic publications would stop using the word "church" in this broken meaning.

   Let's recall that Vatican II taught that all the baptized make up the church.  And all enjoy the sensus fidei, a "sense of the faith," an instinct for discerning matters of faith and morals. And God intends that the laity's discernment is to be used to help form what the church,i.e,., the whole church, teaches.  Without the laity's graced and essential contribution of their discernment of moral truth, which they get from their everyday experiences of marriage, family, social and economic justice, etc., the church lacks its integrity and identity. 

   I believe that in the midst of this brokenness, a true, 21st century Catholic church is now dawning.  Let's see if we can recognize it.

   Soon after Vatican II wrote about the whole church, Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote a book in which he outlined various models of the whole church.  He said the church is:
      1.  An Organization, with structures of authority and operation
      2.  A Mystical, Spiritual Communion of believers
      3.  A Sacrament, a sign of Christ's presence and grace in today's world
      4.  A Herald that proclaims the Good News of Christ to and in the world
      5.  A Humble Servant that teaches and practices social and economic justice, especially for the poor and sick
      6.  A Community of Disciples who spread the love of Christ throughout the world.

   Dulles said that the Organization model, while obviously important, should not come first in our consideration of what the church is.  (Later, he softened his view a bit, while substantially holding to its essence.)  I submit that the other models, taken as 
a whole, clearly and beautifully describe the dawning church of good willed people, including both those who are hopeful and those who are disheartened.  

   Whether we are liberals, conservatives, members of reform groups, those in the pews, those who have walked away, those (especially the young) who are "spiritual but not religious," we already belong to this newly dawning church.  This is a community of the faithful who are deeply sensitive to the presence and intentions of the Holy Spirit, a community that therefore is spiritually alive and present in today's world.  This is a widespread community that joyfully collaborates with all good-willed people of others faiths and of no faith.

   It is a community of hope, that in one way or another, recognizes God as calling and empowering us from the future, inviting us to transcend our present selves and our present society and culture, and evolve into a new level and intensity of wholeness in love.

   Pope Francis is trying to create a new, spiritually alive church organization from the broken pieces that he inherited.  His work will take much time and effort, and is not guaranteed to succeed.  So, while respecting the need for a spiritually alive organization that fulfills and serves all the models of the church, we cannot wait.  People are suffering now.  Waiting is not an option. United in good will and working with our best, honest moral discernment and commitment to our Catholic faith, we can work to build the world that God is calling us to build, so that in Christ's creative, healing and world-transforming, loving grace, we can help fulfill Jesus' prayer, "Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven." 

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Note: Religious women and men are considered to be part of the laity.  Only Religious priests are clergy.