Monday, June 29, 2015

Church as Institution

Today is the Feast of Peter and Paul, two leaders of the early church. Meditation in the Daily Mass booklet for the feast centers on the  reading of Matt 16: 13-19. Church can be understood in many different ways and thanks to Cardinal Dulles we have his six models: institution, communion, sacrament, herald,  servant  and community of disciples. Besides these six there are many more ways to see the Church but the model that begets the most opposition and loathing, and not only from those outside the community is the  institutional understanding of Church.

In the Gospel for the Mass we hear: "I will entrust to you the keys of the  kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven." These words bring to mind a fence,  repugnant to  many in our society.

We speak about the universality of Church-- why do  we need a fence?  We are Christians, is the answer given in the meditation, but can believe and proclaim what is not Christian. In the world in which we live there are many elements that threaten the Christian life. Not a few in the Church who are zealously active and use the  Scriptures as their witness, propose teachings that can't coexist with the teachings of Jesus. Often not realizing this is the reality.

For many in the history of the Church, the institutional model had great meaning. Much of society has lost  trust in institutions, but we still have Catholics who have a great love for the institution, with its failings and weaknesses. Seeing the church only as a  human institution, there is no organization or institution that has done more for humanity. A rudimentary familiarity with world history and a willingness to be objective and see the bad with the good in the context of the times will permit a person to acknowledge that the Church has been a beacon and given hope and meaning to much of humanity. It continues to be a conscience to the world even though few are listening.

The meditation ends with a reflection that the Church continues to preserve us in the visible unity of faith. We who are descended from the Church of the apostles, he hopes, will continue to nourish a love for the Church as institution, but to remember the Church is much more than an institution.

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