Friday, June 08, 2012

Catholicism: Not a church for anyone

I do honestly puzzle over the meaning of a certain thesis-antithesis pairing which seems to affect the Church these days. What does it really mean for a church to be inclusive? For that matter what does it mean for a church to be exclusive? Why is inclusivity good? Why is exclusivity bad?

Many of us have suffered from being involuntarily excluded from an event which we would dearly loved to have enjoyed. Some people find themselves excluded from society because of reasons of accident, and our Lord Jesus did indeed reach out to those whom Society excludes. How many times do we hear in Holy Scripture of the need to care for the Orphan, the Widow and the Stranger, the Deaf, the Blind and the Lame, the Leper, the Poor and the Unclean. Notice how these have all been excluded passively. Their exclusion is the result of something happening to them.

There are others who have been excluded too whose exclusion does involve a choice that they have made, for example the Prostitute and the Tax Collector. Notice how, as Christ includes them, they find reasons not to be what they once were.

Thus, inclusion into the Church necessarily is a life changing aspect. For many their circumstantial needs are met and their dis-eases attended. For others, there is a discovery of self-worth and a realisation that their lives can be made better by being included into the Church of Christ.

Yet this is quite a pivotal idea. Inclusion into the Body of Christ requires the desire to be transformed, and that transformation is not something we control. Inclusion into the Church of Christ means that we have to give up the full control of our lives. While this may mean the end of the pain of our previous existence, it also means an end to that within us which causes that pain to recur. Inclusion in the Church of Christ is solely on His terms, not on ours.

The Church is certainly inclusive but it is also exclusive. Simply speaking, it excludes all those who don't want to be included.

Can we be this simple though?

The problem lies in this word "Catholic". There is a tension in how people interpret it. Literally it means "according to the whole". People interpret it as "universal" and again there is an equivocation. Does Catholic mean "for everyone" or does it mean "for anyone"?

There's a big difference: "for everyone" implies the general, "for anyone" implies the particular.
"For everyone" demonstrates a general principle applicable to the whole as a whole. "For anyone" demonstrates a general applicable to the whole as a particular. The statement "ice creams for everyone" (i.e. "everyone can have an ice cream") is different in meaning from"ice creams for anyone" (i.e. "anyone can have an ice cream").  The first implies that each and every person actually gets an ice cream, the second still has the possibility that individuals have the ability to refuse.

The Catholic Church is not for anyone. It's for everyone!

A Church that is for anyone is a Church that caters for the desires of particular individuals. This initially sounds fine, after all God cares for the individual, and the Church must follow her Lord, but what if the individual does not want to follow the Lord, at least not in the way the He desires? If the Church is for anyone, then the dissenting individual is not only welcome but needs to be catered for. We then have a Church in which those who do not wish to be transformed are allowed not to be transformed. This is a clear contradiction to what the Lord Jesus wanted. As we demonstrated above, membership of the Church entails a desire to be transformed according to the will of the One who Created. If Sin is indeed the mortal sickness of humanity leading to Eternal Death and the Church the Hospital, how can the infection be controlled if the Hospital is not kept as clean as possible. The infection is common to us all and we all suffer from the effects of Sin. We cannot therefore include those who not only refuse to be healed but also desire to keep the infection alive.

An Inclusive Church is therefore for everyone and, by "everyone", we mean all the Faithful, the Living and the Dead - after all, Death is no barrier to those who believe he Church to be the vehicle to Eternal Life. This relationship seeks true unity with Christ and with others all together, not the acceptance of ways of life which do not seek the transforming power of Christ.

If that's what makes the Catholic Church exclusive, well then, it is exclusive, but that does not mean that it is not for everyone!


Fr Anthony said...

You are writing some very interesting articles, and they cause me to reflect aloud on my own blog, as you have doubtlessly seen. Thank you, and keep them coming.

Warwickensis said...

Thank you, Father, very much.

I do read and enjoy your blog too and I find much there to stimulate my own thinking. Long may it continue!