Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Church and Community

The church was always intended to be a community of love. But most Catholic parishes are a long ways from there. The church is rightly concerned with doctrine and liturgy. We need the true faith and we need to celebrate it in an authentic way. But at the end of the day it is by our love for one another that people will know we are His disciples. There has been a lot of talk about how protestant churches are not as successful as they used to be in building community for young adults. Catholics have been seeing people leave for quite some time. The latest study of why they leave does not mention community much but that suggests Catholics don't even expect community from their church. They see it as a cold institution. They hope it becomes less cold. The idea of it being a place where people feel supernatural love for each other is so far away that it does not make the radar.

So what is going wrong? Why don't Catholics bond with each other and form friendships that make the whole world want to be Catholic? That is what Jesus wanted for His church. We are His church. What gives? There are likely many reasons. One that comes to mind is that it is too easy to be Catholic today. People bond when they share a struggle. But too many Catholics don't struggle. If we would all struggle to understand and live out all the teachings of the church we would find ourselves being powerfully bonded together. The culture would be laughing at us and we would be looking for encouragement and support. But many parishes are not that different from the culture. Sure there are some who want to know the faith and live the faith but they are not exactly the majority. A serious Catholic is almost as likely to find his faith being ridiculed inside his parish as he is in the society at large. So you tread very lightly.

People find solutions. There are organizations like Opus Dei that offer that kind of community. Some find it online. But that is not the supernatural love that the world would find amazing. That is just groups of like-minded individuals hanging out together. There is nothing remarkable about that.

1 Peter 2:11 talks about Christians being like aliens in a foreign land. That resonates with me because when I was growing up the church I went to was mostly dutch immigrants. We were close. My dad was a pastor so that helped but most families socialized together a lot. They went to the same school. They had boys and girls clubs as part of the church. The teenagers had a strong community. It was all quite natural.

That broke down a generation later when the church members became less dutch. We were not bonded like aliens in a foreign land because we were living our faith so well. It was because we were actually aliens in a  foreign land. When we ceased to literally be that we ceased to live like that. But we should have that dynamic all the time. We should not fit very well in our culture. We should feel strange enough that we should naturally seek to spend time together as Catholics.

That is when the church starts to act as a body animated by the Holy Spirit and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Then her holiness and her beauty will be easier to see. It is often when the church is persecuted that we see this happening. When the people who are there are paying a price or taking a risk to be there. Then the witness becomes even stronger because you not only see the body of Christ but you see the cross as well.


  1. You might be interested in this article:

    Quote: "Having been outsiders and suffered discrimination in a largely Protestant nation since its foundation, Catholics in the United States have bought gradual acceptance into the American mainstream for the price of assimilation. Key leaders such as Archbishops John McCloskey of New York, John Ireland of St. Paul, James Gibbons of Baltimore, and George Mundelein of Chicago, urged immigrants to abandon their ethnic Catholic identities and integrate into the surrounding culture in order to move up in a society that was shaped by Protestant (and largely Calvinist) values. The process was completed around the middle of the twentieth century. American Catholics have retained their faith but abandoned the distinctive culture that nourished it. They were now thoroughly assimilated to the mainstream with its dominant ideologies of liberalism, pluralism, egalitarianism, and materialism, all creeds for which there is no foundation in the Catholic tradition."

  2. Interesting thoughts Nick. There is a related question of how much of protestant spirituality can be baptized by the church and how much needs to be rejected. I would say retaining the faith while rejecting their ethnic culture and embracing the American culture should be good. But the key is the faith must be retained. Many of the examples he gives involve watering down the faith. The Catholic faith can look very different in different cultures and remain authentically Catholic but it requires a creative orthodoxy. Considering the eternal first but not ignoring the temporal culture in which we live.

  3. Agreed. I think he got that too, he was just saying there was an unacceptable level of assimilation such that ethnic roots were totally obliterated. Now when someone boasts that they are Irish, it's because of St Patrick's day.