I’ve invited several people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.
(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at aknox[at]sebts[dot]com.)
Today’s guest post was written by Brian. Brian is a friend from elementary school, and he is Catholic. We recently became reacquainted through Facebook. I’ve previously posted a conversation that Brian and I had in a post called “An encouraging dialog between a Catholic and a Baptist.”
You may disagree with some of the things that Brian says in his guest post. I only ask that you read attentively and interact with him in love. But, that said, feel free to ask questions… Brian expects it.
And he said, “Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.” – Mark 4:30-32
I am honored that Alan asked me to write a post for his blog. He and I were in grammar school together in Alexander City, Alabama prior to my family moving to Louisiana in 1977. God works in the craziest ways, and I came across him (and his interesting blog) on Facebook thirty plus years later, and voilà, here I am. One other thing for those who do not know, I am a Catholic Christian of the Latin (or Roman) Rite.
Since Alan’s blog chiefly deals with ecclesiology or the role and leadership of the church with regard to salvation, I thought that I would forego the usual Catholic/Evangelical issues such as purgatory, faith and works, icons and statues, and focus on Catholic ecclesiology as I have experienced it, which incidentally will incorporate to some degree those things above which are contentious issues between us.
What is the Church? If you asked the average Joe and Mary Catholic it is likely they would respond, “It’s where we go to Mass.” While this is true in the narrowest sense of the word (see Alan’s post on the etymology of the English word “church”), as with most things Catholic there are multiple answers to this question and more than one of them is correct, but in the most general sense this is how Catholics define the Church: “the liturgical assembly, but also the local community or the whole universal community of believers.” These three meanings are inseparable. “The Church” is the People that God gathers in the whole world.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 752) That’s all fine and good in theory, but how exactly does it work in reality?
My most basic experience of church is at home. It is here that I pray and study the scriptures and pass on the faith to my children and tend to the family with which God has blessed me. We have a special corner of the dining room (the “beautiful corner”) which is set apart for prayer. This is what may be called the “domestic church”. It is the smallest component which we define as “church”. From this tiny “seed” the church grows to include 1) liturgical assemblies which are groups of families (or domestic churches) which meet to devote ourselves “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” and are governed by priests, 2) local communities which are groups of liturgical assemblies also known as dioceses (or eparchies in Eastern Catholic Churches) governed by bishops, and 3) the universal community which is the entirety of all local communities across the world governed by the Pope. We are all united through faith in Jesus manifested by being born again “through water and the Spirit”.
The church is governed hierarchically from the domestic church to the universal Church. The government is one of service for the benefit of the body. Therefore, when St. Paul says, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior,” he is saying that the husband is at service to the wife for both of their benefit. Similarly the priests, bishops, and Pope all are servants of the body, called for its edification and well being.
The role of the church in the world is to spread the gospel, the good news. Jesus tells the apostles in St. John’s gospel, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” Why was Jesus sent? To reconcile the world to the Father: to heal the sick, feed the hungry, to proclaim mercy and forgiveness to sinners. The role of the church in the world today is the same now as it was in the beginning, to continue the work of Jesus in reconciling the world to the Father. We are to be Christ to the world, to be his mystical body, and each member of that mystical body is gifted with a charism which is shared in order that Christ may be known and his work done.
Since God created not only space but also time, the branches of the “mustard tree” extend not just through space but through time as well. The church includes not only the living on earth but the living in heaven. We are united to the living in heaven through Christ just as we are united to the living on earth through Christ. As we have a lot to learn from our elders on earth, so we have a lot to learn from the saints in heaven who lived lives of heroic virtue through their sacrifices, their writings, and even through their martyrdom, in short through their many and varied gifts. They reflect the light of Christ and reveal to us how Christians have lived through the ages, and quite frankly how we should live today. For this we venerate them, and since we are united with them in Christ, we ask for their intercession with the Lord just as we ask the same from our brothers and sisters on earth to whom we are united in Christ.
So, in this relatively short amount of space, I hope I have conveyed just a little how a Catholic understands the Church, the people of God, which starts small like a mustard seed but grows and spreads out great branches across space and time “so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.”
Laudetur Iesus Christus in aeternum!