Thursday, March 2, 2017

Give up Church for Lent?

A very interesting article was posted in today's Angelus email.  Give up Church for Lent. 

Obviously the headline is meant to grab you, but the message is important, not just for this Lent, but for many other times too...

Those of us who work in ministry, and especially for those who are employed by the Church, it is all too easy to get caught up in the politics and palace intrigue that surrounds the institutional Church.  The Church, in many ways, is no different than any other  government or corporation or family, where we can get lost in the minutia of the day-to-day, and forget the larger picture... and in our case, the picture can't be any larger... building a relationship with God through his creation.

I have heard many Catholics complain about certain aspects of the institutional church, and I too have gotten caught up in this.  In working with adults who seek to join the Church, through the RCIA or other conversion process, some complain that their family or friends don't understand how they could join an institution that is so corrupt.  What I need to constantly remind people is that they need to separate the institution from their faith.  Their faith in God, and the relationship that is built and strengthened through the Sacraments... going to Mass, receiving the Eucharist, finding moments for prayer and reflection, having that regular conversation with God.  Remembering that Christ taught us to serve, not be served.

I remember back when the film "The DaVinci Code" came out.  I remember reading articles from the press about how the so-called revelations from the story shook Catholics to their core... that their beliefs were called into question.  Many parishes and ministry groups and parent groups held meetings and workshops talking about this because it was on everyone's mind.  The first point that needed to be made, of course, was that this was a work of fiction.  This was not real.  I also liked to remind people that there's no possible way the Church is organized enough to pull off such a scheme.  Most of our own parishes can't keep their parish calendars and school calendars in sync, so how could we possibly keep such a big secret for so long.

But once we get past the "work of fiction" idea, it opens the gate for some interesting conversation.  Suppose the premise of the film (and the book) was true?  How would that change the core aspects of our faith?  God is still God.  Christ still lived and taught and preached... still suffered, died, was buried and rose from the dead.  The Holy Spirit came and continues to guide us.  The Mass nor any of the Sacraments lose their grace or meaning.  It changes nothing. 

The Church, that perfect gathering of the faithful through Christ should not be confused with the Institutional Church, which carries with it all the human flaws and failings of any human organization.  If people come to me with doubts about the Holy Spirit at work in the world I only need to remind them about the Institutional Church which has managed to survive these 2017 some years.  As empires have come and gone, the Church still survives, despite her many mistakes and failings.  I like to say that if not for the Holy Spirit, we humans would have destroyed the church long ago.

So this Lent, give up the institutional church.  Come to Mass.  Celebrate the Sacraments.  Our faith is so much more that it cannot be contained, and join in the dance that truly is "church."

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