July 8, 2009

Rambling Apostolic Rant

The gospel for today contains St. Matthew's list of the twelve apostles, who are given "authority over unclean spirits" and entrusted with Jesus' own fundamental proclamation, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Sometimes I think when it comes like a passage like people say in their hearts, 'Ugh, a list of names...whatever!' I know that some preachers feel that way, because I've heard them. But on the contrary, I say that a list like this places a very challenging and powerful claim before us.

The mission and authority of Jesus is handed over to a specific collection of people; real historical people who are named and identified specifically. The proclamation of the Kingdom, the Resurrection faith, and the authority passed on by Jesus are not the property of just anyone who decides he should have them.

This can be very hard for us Americans to hear; the do-it-yourself, independent attitude is very powerful within us. We have this idea that we only have to form a committee made of members who might or might not know something about the question at hand, and by some supra-rational process they will come to an infallible authority. Unfortunately, Christianity is not a do-it-yourself kind of thing. It is a proclamation and a faith given to specific community of persons, and remainig therein. To suggest that we can become Christians by ourselves, much less preachers and teachers of the faith without this community, is a form of Pelagianism. Here I'm reminded of one of my favorite ditties, Hilaire Belloc's Pelagian Drinking Song, which starts like this:

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

This is why it is important for us, if we want to be Christians in the best way we can, to find ourselves in one of the apostolic churches, those communions that derive concretely and historically from the Apostles to whom Jesus entrusted his mission and authority. By this we mean one of the 23 particular churches (rites) that make up the Catholic Church or one of the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox churches. Of course there are a lot of gray areas here; both Catholics and Orthodox have schismatic groups that have maintained apostolic succession, and some Anglicans and Lutherans claim it too. But why would someone place themselves in such an ambiguous place, much less settle for less by joining an "ecclesial community" with no realistic claim to derive from the Apostles at all?

For me, in the course of my own conversion, it became a no-brainer. Based on my reading of the Scriptures and first experiences of prayer, I had decided that I wanted to become a Christian. As I began to learn the history of Christianity and how sacramentality follows directly upon the confession of the Incarnation, one of the sacramental, apostolic churches seemed like the only possible choice. Being a European American, Latin rite catholicism was the clear option.


pennyante said...

I often think what would happen if I ever left the Church. I could go nowhere...

...because I am truly convinced that I have to follow the succession of the Apostles. Even though I see much that is evil and wrong within the Church, the basis of our Faith, its sacramentality and our striving to be faithful to it keeps me here.

Though I know many people from other Christian denominations and recognize their own faith and holiness, something is missing there for me.

I think your article has expressed it very well.

Unknown said...

i am with pennyante. excellent thoughts. and i often think how much i could reduce martial stress by being a member of a anything but Catholic christian church. but there is so much to leave behind. I need everything that our Savior gave to the Church. Not less. What a long list that would be. Thank you Father Charles for keeping us strong.

Anonymous said...

What a great reflection! I hope the likes of Jeol Osteen read this and encourage his flock to return to Catholicism...Why do I get the feeling that is never going to happen.

Paul A. Zalonski said...

I'd like to offer a thought or two: you introduce, at least on this blog, the question of particularity when it comes to Catholicism. This idea is essential in understanding our adherence to Christ especially if we are going to believe that Christ is what He says He is: the Way, the Truth and Life and no other to God the Father is possible except through Jesus. Our faith is built on Christ as the fulfillment of the salvation first offered to Israel. Today, particularity is dismissed out of hand by so many theologians and preachers for a variety of unconvincing reasons which diminishes the work of the proclamation of the Kingdom.

Another aspect I appreciate is your mentioning is the notion of the Church as a companionship vs. the pelagianism that many Catholics advocate: McBrien, Haight, et al. The Church is given, not constructed; we receive a gift and we don't take a gift. So if the Church is gift then how do we live in the Church? If you consider the logic of the Church clarity is had when you accept the Church only in sacramental terms and not the eyes of sociology. So language of "the institution of the Church" lacks a proper sense of theology. The consequence of seeing the Church in these terms is that the Church is the continuity of Christ.

Pennyante raises the point of where does one go if not to the Catholic Church is important if you believe the promises of Christ are true. The promise of the 100-fold is not given to anyone else but to the apostles and therefore to Christians, i.e., Catholicism. Without the Eucharist and priesthood there is no church. Sorry to be so particular, but I believe this to be true and not discriminatory. The logic of the Protestant communities is a reduction of the gospel to a narrow strategy of living.

One last thing, I would recommend the reading of a booklet I commissioned when I was the Catholic Information Service at the Knights of Columbus, "Eastern Christians and Their Churches." There you will get a solid understanding of the notion of the diversity in the advancing the Kingdom. You can order the booklet at www.kofc.org/cis or read the pdf with the following link. (http://www.kofc.org/un/eb/en/resources/cis/CIS342.pdf).


Brother Charles said...

Thanks, Paul, for insights and resources!