Sunday, February 03, 2013

One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic

In his book entitled God's Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church, theologian Charles van Engen suggests that the four marks of the church - one, holy, catholic, and apostolic - be considered less as adjectives and more as adverbs. That is, they should describe how the church is functioning in a way that is unifying, sanctifying, reconciling, and proclaiming.

By considering the marks of the church as adverbs, it calls attention to something we all too easily ignore: we have to live the church. The church is not, has never been, nor ever can be simply a static institution. Instead, it is the community gathered together by God to proclaim the Good News to the world. These adverbs tell us not what we must do - for proclaiming the Gospel must adapt always to new cultures - but how we must do it.

It's easy to kvetch about the institutional church, so let's think about ourselves for a moment. Are we women and men of reconciliation? Do we draw others in or do we exclude them? Do we wield the Gospel as an instrument to divide people or do sing out the song of salvation and invite people to sing along?  Do we have the courage to raise our voices in song, inviting others to join in the chorus in a unified voice? Do our actions speak to God's sanctifying presence int the world or does my behavior bespeak callousness or brutishness? Do I proclaim the values of the Kingdom or do I witness to values that demean others or infringe upon human dignity?

I'm amazed at how reluctant I can be about using the name "Jesus" even in theology courses. I'll speak of God, of "the Spirit," of Christology, yet I'm pretty reluctant to say "Jesus Christ." Theologians are expected to say things like, "I'm writing a paper articulating the bi-valent understanding of the eschaton in the thought of some forgotten thinker" but seem more than reluctant to say, "I'm writing an article aimed at helping others to come to know the Lord more intimately so that they can find joy there."

How do I do theology? How do I live out my faith? I type this and think, "Ryan, you're doing a pretty crappy job?" The question is: how does one do it better? One can always pray more - I know I can - and being more conscientious about how I present a "Catholic face" to the world is something that bears reflection. That said, I can't help but to feel that if I made a part of my daily life a short reflection each evening on these four traits that maybe, just maybe, I'd start to be a small brick contributing to the church worthy of being called Christian.

So here's my one-minute daily meditation one might use this week:

  • As I look upon the day, how was I a reconciling force in the world? Did I bridge divides or exacerbate them? Did I bring healing or greater animosity?
  • How were my actions sanctifying? Is there something today that points toward God's creativity or have my actions been counter-productive, thwarting God's creation?
  • How was I at proclaiming today? Did my words and deeds dispense the "Gospel of I" or did they share the Good News of the "Most High"? 
  • Have I been a unifying agent? Did I reach out to others and invite them to know something of my joy or did I push people away? 
I remember hearing the quip "Be the change you want to see." There's no point in complaining about the church if I'm not willing to take the steps that I'd criticize it for not taking. 
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