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By Deacon Keith Fournier

11/11/2013 (5 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The early Christians did not see the Church as something onerous or optional, they saw it as normative for every Christian and life giving.

We do not make the Church in our image, the Church re-makes us into Christ's Image through the grace which is mediated through the Sacraments, revealed in His Word and experienced in our ecclesial life together. This is heart of the ecclesiology so evident in the earliest Christian literature; a view of the Church which is dramatically different than the notion revealed in that interview and in that book.

Our Lady of Limerick Catholic Church, Glenns Ferry, Idaho

Our Lady of Limerick Catholic Church, Glenns Ferry, Idaho

Article Highlights

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

11/11/2013 (5 months ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: church shopping, mega church, old time religion, ecclesiology, Catholic Church, communion, mystery of faith, sacraments, Deacon Keith Fournier


CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - One of my favorite leisure activities is going to book stores. I know, in the age of Kindles,smart phones,i-pads,surface tablets - many people simply bypass the real thing. Not me. I love books and I love bookstores. Every so often, I have a free Saturday morning and I venture to a local bookstore, cup of coffee in hand.

Several years ago, on just such a Saturday morning visit to the book store, I noted a book entitled  They like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations. In a quick review of its contents, I saw nothing new. This claim emerges repeatedly in some Christian circles, the notion that you can separate Jesus from His Church.

The very concept would have seemed nonsensical to the early Christians and it still should to those who choose to stand on their shoulders and carry forward the fullness of Christianity into a waiting world.

That same year, I heard a program on Public Radio dedicated to examining the growth of what is  called the Mega Church movement in Western Protestant Christianity. It took a similar approach to dismissing the church as an optional extra. The emerging church movement is the newest version of this brand.

The title of that program was Big Churches Use Technology to Branch Out. It focused specifically on a trend toward building what the reporter referred to as Satellite churches. These are places where the sermons or messages are delivered to the assembly over a video conference.

The radio reporter had visited several Satellite churches and noted commonalities among them. Most have eschewed much of what they call formalism in worship. They include within that disparaging term all forms of liturgical worship.

The appearance of the facilities was another common point; they had no interest in creating what they called churchy looking environments. One group actually boasted of covering over the stained glass windows left from a prior occupant of their facility in order to place the video screen in front of them.

The reporter interviewed several people who extolled the fact that they were able to get coffee as they entered the facility and drink it while they watched the sermon. While speaking with the reporter they took their lattes and cappuccinos into the main auditorium of the Church.

There, they listened to a contemporary music band which became background music to the radio interview. One couple told the reporter of their fatigue with past church experiences and how they longed for something they called more alive and fulfilling.

One man commented that watching what he called the messages was like watching TV and that the content helped him to be more successful in his business and experience a more fulfilling life. He added that he and his wife liked attending this service by video because it kept their children interested as well.

One telling line came up several times as people explained how they ended up in these satellite services. They all said: We church shopped for a while - and ended up here. While the insights we can gain from the comments certainly bear some consideration as we examine our own Church life and the need for a new Evangelization and even more dynamic homilies,it is the very premise and foundation which I seek to address.

Can We Shop for a Church?

The very notion that we can shop for a church like we shop for consumer goods is simply mistaken. It misses the true nature of the Church. The Christian faith is not just about Me and Jesus, it is about Me in Jesus, joined with all who are Baptized into Him and then sent as a new community into the world to continue His redemptive mission.

It also implies that Church membership is one more optional consumer selection among many in a growing smorgasbord of modern materialist/consumerist lifestyles with the primary goal of satisfying our own wants.

The expression church shopping emerged from the seeker movement. This movement is rooted in the most basic human experience, the existential search for meaning in life. The search can become the doorway to faith, or a return to faith as in my own life.As a wandering teenage hippie, I began a sincere search for the truth which led me to the One who is the "Way, the Truth and the Life" and into His Home.  

It can open the seeker up to the limits of his or her own ability to answer the existential questions of life thereby turning them away from self absorption and toward the God who created them for loving communion. However, it can also lead to emptiness and delusion if it ends up spiritualizing what is just another form of self centeredness.

We all have a need to belong because we are not solitary by nature. We were fashioned out of and created for relationship. We are not fully human until we are in relationship. The heart of the Christian Revelation is that God is not solitary either. God is a Trinity of Divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who, in perfect love, is One.

Christians proclaim that through the saving Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ - the Second Person of the Trinity and the Incarnate Word - we are now capacitated to participate in that Trinitarian Communion, beginning now and opening up into eternity.This happens in the Church, His mystical Body, a communion of Love.  

It is only in the gift of self to God and to one another that we actually find ourselves. The Christian claim is that we were made for God, and as St. Augustine said so well, our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee. It is there, in the Lord that we also find our true home.

That home is the Church which is fundamentally a relational reality, an ongoing encounter, a participation in the Trinitarian communion in and through Jesus Christ.

Perhaps one of the most often quoted sayings of the early fathers is from Cyprian of Carthage who wrote, He cannot have God for his father who has not the church for his mother. We do not shop for a Church because it is the Lord Himself who came for us and calls us to Himself. You did not choose me but I chose you.(John 15:16)

The early Christians and the Church

The early Christians believed that to belong to Jesus was to belong to His Church with no separation. Of that there is no doubt. They believed that just as we were all born from our mother's womb - so we are invited by God, in and through Jesus Christ, to be born again into the Church, the new humanity which is being re-created in Him.

Catholics, Orthodox and other what I will call classical Christians still believe this.

We believe that the process of redemption begins when we pass through the Sacramental Waters of the font of Holy Baptism. It continues as we cooperate with the Grace given to us in our life within the Church. It will only be fully completed when the Lord Returns and we are raised in Resurrected Bodies and live in a new heaven and a new earth!

This understanding of the Church as a real participation in Christ and entry into the very Trinitarian Communion runs throughout the writings of the early Church Fathers. Let me share just two snippets as an example.

First some words from Origen: Christ has flooded the universe with divine and sanctifying waves. For the thirsty he sends a spring of living water from the wound which the spear opened in His side. From the wound in Christ's side has come forth the Church, and He has made her His bride.

Next, a few words from Bishop Ireneaeus of Lyons, a disciple of Polycarp who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John: We need to take refuge with the Church, to drink milk at her breast, to be fed with the scriptures of the Lord. For the Church has been planted in the world as a paradise. The early Christians did not see the Church as something onerous or optional, they saw it as normative for every Christian and life giving.

Church shopping is symptomatic of a deep longing to belong to God. We should appreciate that longing and respect it. However, it suffers from an inadequate ecclesiology, which is a theology of the Church.

One of the problems we face in discussing this topic is that some of our Christian friends have rejected any discussion of theology at all. It has become a suspect word in certain Christian circles.

Theology is, according to a common definition, faith seeking understanding. In an age that has elevated shallow thinking to an acceptable state of being; I believe that we need all the intelligent reflection on what it truly means to be a Christian that we can find!

The Church is not about function, or even a benefit derived transaction- at least in the contemporary sense of meaning what we get or what we do. Nor is it even primarily a matter of our own personal experience. Rather it is about a continuing, lived, dynamic, relational encounter with the Lord and all those who are now joined to Him in His Mystical Body.

The Church comes from above. It is a participation in the Divine Nature, instituted by the Lord and not designed or redesigned by us.

The Apostle Peter wrote of this truth in his second letter to the dispersed early Christians: His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)

The Church is called a mystery (the Greek word is mysterion) for good reason. In theology the term does not refer to some kind of puzzle to be solved. Rather, it is used to refer to what cannot be fully grasped or explained by words. St. Paul writes regularly of this kind of mystery.The word sacrament is a Latin Term, the Greek refers to them as the mysteries. At every Liturgy we profess the mystery of faith. 

Paul's writings concerning the nature of the Church in his letters to the Corinthians, the Romans, the Ephesians and the Philippians all demonstrate the integral place of the Church in his understanding of the Christian faith. His encounter with the Risen Lord on the way to Damascus reveals the ground of his ecclesiology. (Acts 9: 1-22)

We read, Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to Him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

The voice Paul (then Saul) heard from heaven asked him why he persecuted Me. Saul had never met Jesus in the flesh. He had, however, persecuted the Church. Jesus is identified with the Church and her members. He is really, truly present in His Body on the earth.

In the words of St. Augustine, what he called the whole Christ cannot be separated - the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.

The Church is an encounter with that whole Christ, the Risen Lord, and an entrance through Him into the Trinitarian communion, beginning even now and completed in eternity. That encounter and the relationship it supports is spoken of throughout the Christian Tradition as being nuptial, this is wedding language; the Christian vocation is to be espoused to Jesus Christ as a bride to a bridegroom for all eternity. The Church is the bride and Christ the bridegroom.

Let me share some of the language sometimes used for describing the Church found in the early Christian writings. The Church is a gift - and a seed of the Kingdom to come. The Church is the vine into which we are grafted. The Church is the Risen Jesus, Sacramentally present in the world. The Church is the new family, begun at the Cross.

The Church is where we can learn to love as we enter into the very communion of the Love of the Godhead revealed in the total gift of the Son of God on the second tree of the Cross. Birthed from the wounded side of the Savior, who is the New Adam, on the altar of the Cross, the Church is His Body continuing His redemptive mission on the earth.

See how different all of this is from the idea of finding a place where we can have lattes and listen to good music? All of these images of the Church which I just used are found in the Sacred Scriptures and expounded upon within our common Christian tradition.

We do not make the Church in our image, the Church re-makes us into Christ's Image through the grace which is mediated through the Sacraments, revealed in His Word and experienced in our ecclesial life together. This is heart of the ecclesiology so evident in the earliest Christian literature; a view of the Church which is dramatically different than the notion revealed in that interview and in that book.

One of my favorite contemporary theologians is an Orthodox layman named Olivier Clement. He writes of the absolute splendor of the Church in a manner which reveals that the same experience of the Church which characterized the early Christian fathers is being experienced today:

In the Risen Christ, in his glorified body, in the very opening of His wounds, it is no longer death that reigns but the Spirit, the Breath of Life. And the cross of victory and of light, which is the pattern of our baptism, can henceforth transform the most desperate situation into a death-and-resurrection, a 'Passover', a crossing-point on the way to eternity. And that is what the Church, this profoundly holy institution is: it is the baptismal womb, the Eucharistic chalice, the breach made for eternity by the Resurrection in the hellish lid of the fallen world.

The Church is the Mystery of the Risen Lord, the place, and the only one, where separation is completely overcome; where paschal joy, the 'feast of feasts', the triumph over death and hell are offered to our freedom, enabling it to become creative and work towards the final manifestation of that triumph, the final transfiguration of history and the universe. .In its deepest understanding the Church is nothing other than the world in the course of transfiguration.

Now that is beautiful! So too is the Lord who founded the Church and continues to mediate His Divine Life, in His word proclaimed and the Sacraments. So too is his Church, being dressed up as a bride longing for the wedding day..Come into the communion of love. Have your lattes after participating in the Holy Mass, where the heavenly wedding Feast is opened up to mortal men and women and we touch can the mysteries of eternity. Shopping for a Church? Give me that old time religion, the Catholic Church!

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for April 2014
Ecology and Justice:
That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick: That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.



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