Thursday, June 26, 2014

A dreadful thing...

Images of the sacred are necessary, but since they inevitably become stabilized, reverence can become fixed and shackled to them, in bondage to them. Religions spawn idolatry because we resist being reminded of the impermanence of our images, even those of the Holy. ~William Desmond, Philosophy and Its Others
I begin this post with the above quote because, to my mind, it captures an essential aspect of what might be considered our contemporary tendencies toward idolatry. Normally, when we hear the word idolatry, we think of things like golden calves and statues of false gods. At its root, idolatry occurs when we place something finite in the place of the infinite. While I can't say I've had much of an impulse to forge a golden cow, I'll admit that there are times when I'm seduced by other "idolatrous" images present in the world: riches, being honored, being powerful.

It seems to me that many of us face the temptation toward idolatry quite frequently. No place is this better seen than within the Catholic Church. At its core, the Church is a community gathered into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit which journeys together through history as it grows in friendship with God. For believers, this should hardly be an objectionable, albeit minimal, definition.

Note, however, the verbs: to gather, to journey, to grow. These are dynamic verbs, verbs of motion. The Church is an ongoing process over time; it is not now a completed project and, near as I can tell, will it be completed on this side of God's Kingdom.

I mention this because I find myself disheartened when I read essays published in Catholic forums, or read the comment boxes attached to them (note: reading comments is often an invitation to spiritual desolation). I find myself sad because people treat the Church as though it were a solid and stable thing, rather than a dynamic process over time. What is more, the Church becomes the object of fixation for those who write about it. How often do you read:

  • I don't agree with the Church. 
  • The Church is wrong about....
  • In my experience, the Church needs to....
While I it, I'm struck by what's missing: you hardly ever hear about sacraments, about community, or about this Jesus fellow who seems rather important! Well, you only hear of Jesus when it is politically advantageous to the person's point, such as "Jesus was with the poor" or "Jesus was welcoming." Jesus is used as a cudgel for advancing one's opinion rather than as the good shepherd who is gathering us together. 

One of my favorite scriptural quotes is Hebrews 10:31 - "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." God's hands are hardly idle as they lead and gather, direct and draw, the Church forward in history. They are the hands that reach out to us, that beckon us forward through a finite institution toward an infinite relationship and life eternal. The Church, for believers, is the means of salvation. It is hardly salvation itself. 

This is not to discount the experiences of the faithful, but it is to encourage all of us to be mindful of our temptations to turn the Church - or any institution - into the sole focus of our lives. Often enough, "liberals" and "conservatives" are but mirror images of each other: both seeing the Church as a static thing, they either rush to remake it or preserve it as-is. Both forget that the whole project is not of human initiation and that God is, ultimately, calling the shots on this. 

Anyway, these are brief thoughts before I go to Costco to shop for the community. I've been very busy playing music, studying French, and generally enjoying the summer and I've not felt much like posting of late. I hope readers are keeping well in these early days of summer and please be assured of my prayers as we continue in our journey together!

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