19 January 2012

An Ecclesial Thought

Sometimes I wonder that if by translating unrealistic or temporal expectations onto the Church, we place both ourselves and the Church in the position of being, quite frankly, in a no-win situation.  In a metaphor which is sure to limp, I question whether the expectation of the Church being run as a liberal democracy is not as foolish as asking a point guard to run the two-minute drill. 

Perhaps it’s being a Mets fan, or having grown up in New Jersey, but empirically speaking, illogical expectations are the quickest way I know (and I have verified this) to disappointment and unhappiness.   It seems that many of our theological ailments are contingent upon our expecting the Church to ontologically be something that it was never meant to be, or doctrinally define areas in which it bears limited competence.  Expectations of the Church all too often stem from whatever historical or political milieu the critic is wading into at the time of the criticism.  I am reminded of the peasant in a Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail verbally assaulting King Arthur about rights and liberties.  The scene is funny for several reasons, but as someone trained – in a limited sense at least – as a historian, its anachronistic irony is the best part. 

Or, from another direction, whenever I hear the Church’s structure of governance critiqued vis-à-vis liberal democracy, I cringe.  I recall Charles Taylor writing that secularism has something to teach the Church.  Of course.  In this vein, one may accept liberal democracy’s ability to teach the Church a thing or two.  But: best practices at government?  Come now.

Quite often in our critiques of the Church (or, dissent, or however one might qualify it nowadays), it seems as if we forget the real purpose for which we belong to the Church in the first place.  The Church is our Mother, our home: it is present reality and eschatological hope.  I recall a professor of mine once remarking about the heavenly liturgy, quipping “whatever that means!”  I think he was right.  Whatever that means indeed!

Allow me then, to expand the quip: whatever the Church means, it certainly is something at once analogous and yet different from its coming eschatological culmination.  Then again, I guess that’s what the Communion of Saints will do for you. 

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