Posted by: cctracker | March 1, 2013

Who is “Christ” and What is “The Church?”

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As someone for whom theology has been a vital tool, not only for exploring and expressing faith, but for opening my heart and mind in an effort to grow as a spiritual person, I’ve returned to these terms over and over again in an effort to understand what they mean.

Are they still worth clinging to?

To what do they refer at root?

How far can they be stretched before they become indistinguishable from other expressions that serve similar ends without carrying the historical, doctrinal and cultic baggage that makes them inaccessible or unappealing to so many?

What transcendent authority and human potential might they still name and release in a unique and essential way?

For the last few days I’ve been in a conversation with one of my favorite partners in the dialogue about life’s “essential questions.” He’s also one of the toughest. We know one another so well that much of the “conversation” happens for me after we talk. I carry what he said around with me for days, asking him questions, listening to his answers, formulating replies. Weeks or months from now the actual exchange may pick up again. We just had an out loud session the other day that got me thinking about the questions I’ve noted under the title of this post.

Photo James Burton

Photo James Burton

The occasion of Pope Benedict’s resignation got Andrew Sullivan thinking about the same questions. You can read his entire post on The Dish but here is what he says after asking if the “ship” of the Church might be sinking under the weight of the child sex abuse scandal:

“But because we are the church, and every act of love in Jesus’ name is the church, and every sacrifice for another is the church, the actual church can never sink. It is, in his Holiness’s words a “community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ.” It lives on – in the lives of so many, lay and priests and sisters and brothers alike, men and women who have been betrayed by their nominal leaders, even as they witness to Jesus every day of their lives.

This church, whoever is elected Pope, will rise again. It will rise because in a world of such potential destruction, the message of non-violence and peace is more vital than at any time in the history of humankind. It will rise because the global capitalist system, while bringing so many out of poverty, is also now creating vast inequalities and straining the planet’s eco-system with a frenzy that we have an absolute duty to slow and control again. It will rise because the supreme values of the current West – money, power, fame, materialism – are spreading everywhere. And they lead us not to some future hell but to a very present one, in which the human soul becomes a means, not an end, in which human life is regarded as disposable not sacred, in which even the more enlightened countries, such as the US, legitimize the evil of torture and pre-emptive warfare.

We are the second generation of humankind capable of destroying the entire planet with weaponry. We are the first capable of destroying its very eco-system with greed. We need the Gospels more powerfully now than ever – because the stakes have become so great and humankind’s hubris so vast and expansive.

Yes, as a Catholic, I pray for a new Pope who sees this and can speak truth to the power of the world. But as a Catholic, I also know this will change nothing unless we begin that renewal from the ground-up.”

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The renewal Sullivan speaks of will require a Church rooted in “Christ.”

On this late night near the end of winter, I know Christ in the embrace of my wife caring for me through illness. In the gentle, wordless, and comforting hand of a maintenance worker the other day who touched me on the shoulder for no reason at all. In the relentless and under-compensated generosity of nurses and health care workers stationed on the chaotic front lines of human frailty and disease all over the world.  In the face of an aged Pontiff who knows that in many ways he failed in the tasks he undertook, but who nevertheless steps down from an office of staggering power with remarkable humility to affirm the presence of God in all of us–in the Church–rather than in himself.

“Christ” names the individual and communal Spirit of all of us in loving service to one another. And yet that Spirit is “given” not called up from within on our own strength and authority. If we open ourselves to that Spirit with prayers of genuine desire and gratitude, we can channel the presence we ourselves need and depend upon. We can be Christ for others. We can renew his Church.


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