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The Community called Church – J. Segundo

June 9, 2013

TCCCThis book was written during the heady days following Vatican 2. I believe the Church needs to heed its message even more now than it did then.

The author describes the current state of affairs in which many are losing their faith because the church seems to antiquated and preoccupied with irrelevances. On the other hand, many remaining inside the church do so because they cannot cope with ‘the human adventure’ and use the church as an escape from the demands of modern living. As a result, the church becomes increasingly irrelevant.

When the Church ceased to be a persecuted minority group, everyone became a Christian by virtue of living within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. They weren’t evangelized, weren’t ‘converted’ and their knowledge of Christian doctrine weds limited to the dumbed-down, easy-to-understand simplicities that they were taught.

If the Church is to be equipped to do its work in the complex world of today, then church members themselves need to be evangelized. The world has taken a very long time to evolve to the point when life became self-conscious – through human beings.

The pagan philosopher Porphyry objected that:” If Christ is the one and only savior, as his followers claim, then why did he come so recently?”

“So recently! Porphyry could not have imagined how recent in human history his coming was. The scholarly sciences now tell us that humanity was living on earth for a million years before Christ came. Twenty cen­turies have passed since Porphyry was alive, and the Church is still some­thing ridiculously “recent” with respect to humanity. If we were to reduce the whole history of mankind to eight hours, then the twenty centuries of the Church would not come to more than a minute!”

Christians are seen as those who have evolved yet further in that they are conscious of God’s plan for the world’s humanization. It is they who are seen by Teihard de Chardin as ‘piloting history’.

It is not surprising that Christianity did not reveal all its poten­tialities while humanity was preparing for this piloting work, or even that Christianity did not adopt the creative perspective for which it was in fact created. Just as the human spirit needed a long period of prepara­tion to develop all its potentialities, often seeming to be tongue-tied and primitive, so too did the Church.”

Self-conscious, self-aware, people don’t walk around as if they possessed certainty. They have an inner dialogue going on. It is this doubt and searching that enables them to resonate with the struggles of the rest of human beings who are outside the church. So a church that preaches certainties and attracts only those who seek certainty is useless in the task of evangelization.

In the Nineteenth Century, Christian apologists argued that the Bible was always right. So modernity was wrong.

Now, we have to admit that some Christian formularies are simply incompatible with our modern mentality.

Academic theology has become increasingly specialized and remote from the ordinary person of faith but it is that ordinary person who needs help in articulating his beliefs and in living them out in the real world since he is at the cutting edge of mission – and by ‘mission;’ the author doesn’t mean converting individual people so that they become church members but in humanising the world so that all people can life abundant lives, to ‘become fully human’.

“Gerard Huyghe, bishop of Arras, had this to say about the transition to an adult Christian morality: “For many years we have offered a teach­ing that was clearcut, easy, and filled with formal categories which told people what venial and mortal sin was. But if we want Christians to be truly adult and to take their spiritual and moral life into their own hands, we can no longer give them such crutches. We must offer them a dynamic principle that will operate in their own hearts. What is the primary thing in Christian morality if it is not love? Love is far more demanding than any moral norms we could spell out. But it is obvious that there will inevitably be a period of uncertainty between the time people leave their crutches and the time they feel truly capable of acting out of love. It is a time of growth.”

So the dumbed-down church rules are no longer adequate for mature Christians living in a complex world. “It is certain that love is the one and only thing demanded of us. But to love is to build something up, and no one can take our place in this unique and progressive task. In order to set out on this road, we must start by liberating ourselves from a servile moral outlook that questions the lawfulness of things. So when Paul says that love satisfies every claim of the law, he does not mean that it is simply a summing up of the commandments. He also means that it involves an authentic revolution which turns morality into a dynamic reality that is ever on the move. And it is so not only because we fulfill it step by step but also because we discover it step by step.

“That is why Paul completes the passage cited above with this phrase: “I am absolutely convinced, as a Christian, that nothing is impure in itself; only, if a man considers a thing impure, then to him it is impure” (Rom. 14:14). Saint Augustine’s words are true: “Love and do what you will.” But we do well to add the remark of De Lubac: “But don’t be too quick to think you know what love is.”

Church isn’t for everyone. It is meant to be leaven in the wider world. “the Church has been and always will be a particular community.” If she follows Christ’s footsteps, “the limitation of the Church is ……..the result of its incarnation. ….. Christ …… when he took on flesh and entered our history,….limited himself.

Against the notion that Christians will be ‘saved’ whilst the rest of humanity is condemned to hell, the different between Christians and others is that Christians are the ones who known God’s plan for the betterment of humanity through love whilst the others don’t know it. They are what Karl Rahner called ‘anonymous Christians’ – if they carry out loving acts, they are doing the work of the Church without realizing it, like the sheep in the parable Matthew 28 who asked ‘when did we…?’

“…the principle “no salvation outside the Church” is scarcely orthodox in origin. Saint Cyprian of Carthage used it against a papal doctrine which held that heretics who converted to the Church did not have to be rebaptized. Basing himself on the principle of “no salvation outside the Church,” Saint Cyprian concluded that baptism administered outside the Church (i.e., in heresy) could not save a person and hence was not valid. Even though the Church did not accept his viewpoint on baptism, professing “one sole baptism for the remission of sins” (the Creed), the principle was retained as valid. There was “no salvation outside the Church.”

“The profession of faith imposed on the Waldensians by Innocent III (1208) spoke about “the holy Roman Church, catholic and apostolic, outside of which we believe there is no salvation”. In 1442, the sixteenth ecumenical Council of Florence applied this principle to real sectors of humanity in a very strict and harsh way: The holy Roman Church “firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that no one who lives outside the Church—not only pagans but also Jews, heretics, and schis­matics—can share in eternal life. They will go into the eternal fire pre­pared for the devil and his angels unless they reunite with the Church before they die”.

“The formula itself is repeated in the Bull Unam Sanctam (1302) of Boniface VIII, the allocution Singulari quadam (1854) of Pius IX, and the first draft of the Constitution on the Church that was to be proposed for definition by Vatican I. This latter schema affirmed: “It is a de fide dogma that no one can be saved outside the Church.”

“So there is no question of denying the principle. Instead we must understand it as the Church understands it. This is what the Holy Office said in a letter to Cardinal Cushing of Boston in 1949: “Among the things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach, there is also the infallible declaration which teaches us that there is no salvation outside the Church. But this dogma must be understood in the same sense in which the Church understands it.” Going further, the letter explains that this principle holds true for those “who know that the Church has been divinely instituted by Christ.” And it affirms that “it is not always necessary that such a person be incorporated de facto into the Church as a member; what is required is that he at least be united to her by desire or intention, even though it is not even necessary that this desire be explicit.”

“Boniface Willems says: “In this [implicit] active faith there exists an objective orientation toward the Church, whether one is explicitly con­scious of it or not. The principle no salvation outside the Church does not mean to concentrate on the boundaries of the Church but rather, on the contrary, it seeks to highlight the universal mediatory role of Christ’s Church.”

“No one would complain about people being left outside the Church if membership in the Church were regarded as a risk. Consider how much work is involved in building a city. Would anyone complain if some people were left out of that project? Would people accuse the work force of being an aristocracy because its members pursue specialized studies and possess certain protective elements that others lack?”

Churches have been more concerned with their self-preservation than with the betterment of humanity. The Latin American hierarchy sided with dictators so as to preserve the church’s freedom to run its schools and so on. The impetus given by Vatican 2 helped the Latin American church to give birth to liberation theology, in which the church sides with the poor and supports them in their struggles towards a more fully human existence.

Is the church to give aid to the poor? Or does that mask the real problem?  Should we help the victims of a greedy society or should we work to change that society’s structures so that the poor no longer need aid?

With modern communication, the ‘poor’ is no longer merely someone down our street. We are now aware of suffering all over the world as news broadcasts can bring disasters from across the globe to out televisions almost instantly. The author gives an example of how that makes our choices far more complicated than in the past: A few centuries from now, when the still fresh picture of the atom bomb exploding among human beings is erased from man’s memory, he well celebrate the day on which man acquired this dreadful power destroy himself. Why? Because from that day on, even though we may no: have realized it then, no spot on this planet could be disregarded and no facet of mankind could be overlooked without danger of igniting the spark that could destroy the whole world.

Men may not love each other any more than they did before. But when any spot on the globe or any creature can become the fuse for an absolute force, then we glimpse a curious analogy with the absolute power and value of God’s love for “our brothers, however humble.”

However, the picture evoked by nightmarish potentialities for destruction is only the surface image. This world divided into watertight compartments based on geography, culture, race, nationality, and territory is inevitably giving way to a world of interconnections rooted in the economic realities of its growing energy sources. This economic network is putting the fate of all into the hands of all. Why? Because the basic structure taking shape is stronger and more decisive than any attempts to perpetuate the gap between rich and poor, and it will eventually supersede these attempts in one way or another.

A random example will make this clear. Suppose that the problem of overpopulation in Japan reaches the point where hundreds of thousands of children will not be born unless the economy can support them. At that point my choice of a particular car may well decide, to some extent at least, whether these children are born or not. My choice of a Japanese car may allow a child to be born, while the choice of an American or German car may simply increase one of the highest per capita incomes in the world by a slight margin.

The example may seem crude and simplistic. It is only an example but there is some reality behind it. And the world in which we live may give an unexpected twist to the words which Christ spoke. How surprised we may be on the last day to hear Christ say: “You have my Father’s blessing; come and possess the kingdom, for you chose to live and let me be born too . . . the curse is upon you; go from my sight . . for you chose to live but denied me life!”

When we hear Christians saying that they are on good terms with God because they do not kill people or rob their neighbor, we cannot doubt their sincerity. But we can wonder at their words. In what kind of world will they be able to live with such shortsighted perspectives? p.101f

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