Monday, September 17, 2007

The necessity of the Church

Given our RCIA classes have started, I thought I'd pull Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief off the shelf and get started on it. It features four lectures given in Paris and Lyons France in 1983 at a conference on catechesis and reflections on the those lectures. The lectures were given by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Godfried Cardinal Danneels, Franciszek Cardinal Macharski and Archbishop Dermot J. Ryan. We often like to think people in these positions are far removed from the problems down in the "trenches" but reading these reflections clearly show how seriously and indeed how personally they take the everyday issues of forming and increasing the faith of their flock.

As always, I'll pull out a snip that caught me. In his long, in-depth and as usual pointed lecture, then-Cardinal Ratzinger came to a discussion of the issue of the role of the Church as an institution and its necessity in the economy of salvation.

It seems to me that the average Christian consciousness today is almost universally determined by a somewhat coarsened form of congregationalist thinking: according to this consciousness there is, first, Christianity as such, and then - because human things require institutions - we must find for ourselves an organization in which it can continue. Thus the Church is regarded as an institution that, while necessary, given the conditions of human existence, is nevertheless organized by men alone and that is ultimately something external as compared to the contents and hence must not interfere in those contents as well. There is no need for a lengthy proof that, with such presuppositions, the contents of the Christian message itself will end up evaporating more and more and become thoroughly arbitrary. But given such a state of consciousness, which is fostered by widespread and plausible habits of thinking and living, it is very difficult to demonstrate the manifest character of ecclesiastical tradition, without which that tradition cannot be lived out. That, therefore, is what we should be concerned about above all else; then the concept of pluralism, too, will automatically fall into its proper place again.
Very often the difference between God allowing for the Church to exist and God intending and wanting for the Church to exist is lost. There is, in the economy of salvation, nothing left to chance, nothing truly extraneous or devoid of importance. As much as God intended from all eternity to provide for man's salvation, He also intended to provide the Church. It is something we as catechists in particular need to help those who study under us come to understand. The Church did not just come to be by chance, it was willed by God from all eternity; it is not merely a human construct meant to parlay power from person to person, it is a necessary element, given to us by the God who is love to help ensure our salvation.