Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why Does the Church Exist?

The recent Sewol tragedy generated much reflection on the part of the citizens. The death of such a large number of children was due to human error. Why was there such a dereliction of duty? A priest writing in Biblelife had difficulty keeping the many negative thoughts from overcoming him, especially, when in his mind's eye, he kept seeing the Coast Guard life boat come to the sinking ferry and taking the captain and part of the crew off the ferry, and leaving the many children behind.

The Church is also imagined as a boat an ark. Is it the kind of boat that we can call for in a rescue?  Can I trust the boat to carry my precious children? Is it really different from the other boats and vessels, the nation and our trust in money, with which we are familiar?  When people are in crisis, he laments, the  places which are willing to extend a helping hand are disappearing. The responsibility of the Church to save the sinking world in which we live has to be continually examined and be ready for marching orders.

During the 4th century, the monks living in the city began to leave for the desert. At this time, the persecution of the Church ended. The Church became favored, churches began to appear in the public squares of the empire, and the monks did not like what they saw. The Church was not able to function as it was meant to by the orders of the  founder. The monks were seeing all the evils in the big cities and the way the Church was being influenced by the national state and wanted to leave the muddy and gloomy environment for the peace of the desert.

The article introduces us to Ivan Illich (1926-2002) who took great pains to point out the many problems in the relationship of the Church to the World. He used frequently two Latin words: 'the corruption of the best is the worse' and the 'mystery of evil'. Difficult he says to understand the horrible things that have happened only with the intellect.

"First, the evils of modern technology can't be compared with any of the other material cultures. Secondly, it is necessary to know the historical waste and luxury in society. It goes against all the Gospel teachings of Christianity and overturns them. The actual condition of humanity is a deformation that has come from Christianity. All our systems and structures in society are a distortion of Christianity."

The problems that we have in society, Illich said, are because the Church was not acting Church-like, and it is not far from the truth to say the thinking was too close to the thinking of the world. The reason for many of the evils was a distortion of the Gospel message. What are we to make of such an assertion? Jesus' desire and plan for the Church was the salvation of the world and when we recall the mission, we have to nod our heads in assent. Salvation was the object and target of the Church.

In Conclusion, he returns to the monks in the desert. The hermits were not leaving the cities to abandon the Church but the opposite; they wanted to save themselves, prepare a base camp, and have their feet on  solid land, so they could throw the rope to those on the sinking boat of the world. They wanted to save the world, which like a ship full of holes was sinking.

If we want to have the same energy that the hermit fathers had in the desert and help our fellow human beings and those who will come after us, we need to find solid ground where we are able to stand tall. Where is that base camp? We have to study to find the virtues that we have not been attentive to, and  return to the desert to practice these virtues.

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