Wednesday, August 11, 2010


What do you think of when you hear the word “Church?” There are many different ways you could go. You might call to mind all the people, lay and clergy, who make up the Church. Church might be the almost Plutonian ideal of what we are to be – the unblemished bride of Christ that in its ideal practice is all that we should be here on earth. Some people think of priests and nuns and buildings. Finally there is the idea of Church as institution, particularly Rome.

Well, in fact Church is in some way all of these things and more. It has diverse facets because it has a diverse job. It is to handle spiritual things in a material world. Like an amphibious car it has to handle two worlds. So there are parts that are mysterious and spiritual and parts that are very earthly. Therefore there are those aspects to the Church that are loving, nourishing, and familial, and parts that are institutional and business like. In the first part is where hopefully you find the love of God and neighbor, in the second part you will find a mechanism for assisting the Church to operate in the world to bring that love.

Too many people look for affection from the institutional Church. Institutions do not show love. People do. In this case, God’s people do. Institutions help institutions exist. They are necessary for organizing one billion people. At the heart of our institution is both a man and office: the papacy – the oldest continual governing office in the world.

So, on the one hand, institutional Church has been wildly successful. But on the other, as an aspect of the Church that is worldly, it will disappoint the individual at times but that is mostly because we are entirely impossible to please. If I want black from the Church, my best friend will inevitably want white. (That was meant to be an analogy but even that could be applied to the color of vestments worn at Masses for the dead!)

To that end I get a chuckle when paying attention to the secular news. One the one hand “Rome” is seem as having too much say in the day to day operation of the Church. Rome needs to stay in Rome and let the Americas take care of themselves. Who are we? Children? Do we need “Papa” watching over us? The power of the Church is far to centralized and our bishops are but pawns.

That might be on Monday, then on Tuesday it will be, “Rome must act! It needs to come in and override bishops in their day to day operation of the diocese to (you name the topic) save churches – discipline priests . . .” Then if Rome does not act it “doesn’t care.”

Yet if not the most, the office of the pope is among the most successful governing bodies that ever existed. And though parts of this office of the Vicar of Christ are mystical and holy, there are parts that are institutional and are bound to please some and bring the ire of others. Fr. Benedict Groeschel CFR likened the Church to a great hippopotamus. As gentle and benevolent as it might try to be, by simply being so grand its littlest gesture might squeeze someone terribly and gain their indignation.

So when tempted to blame Rome for something (and it may or may not deserve it) just bear in mind the tremendous and often impossible burden it must endure in running a worldwide Church of people with different sensibilities, customs, and needs, balanced with governments, and primarily the Will of Christ and give her at least that much credit before bristling at the way she has chosen to act.


Fr. Pfr said...

Thanks Fr. V. I like the hippopotamus image. Something else to consider is that many people automatically equate "institution" with "hierarchy." The institution of the Church serves many purposes, but as VCII says, the Church is instituted as a hierarchal communion. "Communion" implies persons in relationship in a particular ordered (hierarchal) way. I find this is helpful to remember when people degrade the big bad institution.

Cracked Pot said...

"If I want black from the Church, my best friend will inevitably want white."

Even within families, we are so different in our likes and dislikes. (I have a gas range; my sister has an electric stove with a cooktop--very different.) So, the Church cannot be overly concerned with what we might like or want, but with what is right and according to the mind of Christ.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Pfr,

Your comment was very helpful and added more food for thought to this great posting by Fr. V. Thanks!