Monday, September 08, 2008

"Our Church, too"?

I recently had an unfortunate disagreement with someone to whom I am moderately close. I'm not a fan of relational discord with anyone, and much less with someone like this. And much as I'd like to simply put the whole thing behind me, there was one comment that was made in the midst of the disagreement that has had me pondering.

The immediate topic of dispute was abortion. Like me, this person is Catholic, but unlike me, she is pro-abortion, and sees no conflict between that and participating fully in her parish life, including taking the Eucharist, being a cantor, etc. I've simply been silent on this matter for years, ostensibly out of interest in relational harmony but probably more out of cowardice. However, this disagreement provided the opportunity for me to express my concern for the state of her soul, not simply for her pro-abortion stand but for her continuing to take the Sacraments.

Naturally, she took my concern as condemnation, accused me of being Torquemada and enjoying it, etc. But in the midst of it all, she made an interesting comment. "There are lots of people who think like I do", she said, "and it's our Church, too!"

With that one phrase, she betrayed the fault in her thinking, and her view of the Church.

"Our Church"? Last I checked, it was Jesus Christ's Church. Not my Church or her Church or Joseph Ratzinger's Church or Hans K√ľng's Church, but Christ's Church. That means He sets the conditions for participation. The Church is not, at root, a human institution. Her members are human, but her Head is Divine.

It seems to me that the crux of the issue lies here. A person who looks on the Church as the dynamic expression of Divine activity in the world is going to think very differently than one who sees the Church as simply another human institution. The former view ultimately sees the Church as a family with God as Father, while the latter sees it as a political institution that can be swayed and changed by humans.

This is not a trivial difference. If the existence of the Church and terms of participation therein are set by an eternal, immutable God whose will cannot be swayed by any human pressure, then statements like "you shall not murder" are understood to be absolute. Whether the commandment is ignored or obeyed, it remains valid because it has been spoken by the defining authority.

But if the Church is a human institution, whose existence depends on the participation of its members, then it is defined by those members and can be changed by them. This is a political or anthropocentric perspective (to tie in to my earlier posts).

To be fair, my friend was somewhat handicapped here. You see, she was educated at one of our land's premiere "Catholic universities" - and yes, it's one of the ones that threw over the faith for the secular agenda a couple of generations back. Thus her education about the Church was big on the importance of the Church's human members throughout history and how different things were across the centuries, and very short on the enduring Presence of Christ and the things that remained constant despite the various times and cultures which the Church has served.

In short, her outlook is tuned to the human externals of the Church, rather than the Divine Heart and His immutable laws. That's what she was taught, and she's comfortable there. My suggestion that she will have to answer for disobedience someday didn't fit her outlook, and was therefore violently rejected.

I'm very thankful for something that was taught me long ago by my own father. Again and again he drilled into my thick young head that someday I would stand before the Throne of Christ and answer for my obedience and disobedience to His holy law. One of the answers I'll not be able to give then is that lots of others were with disobedient right along with me. And one thing I certainly don't want to have to answer for: behaving like His holy Church was somehow mine.

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