How many people have heard that phrase, holy mother Church? how many times have you heard it used by Catholics today?
We should use it more, it so directly expresses how we as Catholics should feel about the Church and the inherent love we have for it.
Thinking about this I was struck by a quote from the Lord of the Rings, well the films at least since it has been a while since I read the books. But anyway Faramir, when he is sent on a senseless errand by his father, to his almost certain death says this of his city:
“Where does my allegiance lie if not here? This is the city of the men of Numenor. I would gladly give my life to defend her beauty, her memory… her wisdom…”
Then I began thinking, Tolkien was not a man to indulge in allegory, but I could be tempted to say that Minas Tirinth could by used in this sense as a symbol of the City of God.
Now look at the quote again. Perhaps instead of the men of numenor read; the Saints, does this not stir your heart?
And it is true we are all called to give our lives for the Church, all vocations further the Church, marriage, religious life, priesthood, chastity in single life, celibacy or even a hermitage. All the jobs we do, if we do them for the glory of God, we do them for the Church simply by being the salt of the earth, as a part of the universal priesthood to bring God’s divinity into the created world as a collaborative work in creation, the way Adam helped name the animals.
I was also struck today by the distinct feeling of how simply hanging out with other Catholics makes my spirit sing. I have non Catholic friends and family and I love them, but even when I am with family I don’t have quite that same feeling, of being commonly related to our mother the Church.
How I wish everyone, especially my family, could experience that feeling. It is so deep, of being directly united to Saint Augustine, to St Thomas Aquinas, to Teresa of Avila, to the Pope, to my priest, to my fellow mass goers, to the martyrs, to the angels and all the saints.
It is very hard to describe, but I would say that is like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, after meeting the lord they said to each other, “did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” Similarly being in good Catholic company creates that feeling in me, because it is true, Catholics have Christ in them, they receive him body, soul and divinity at mass and because they are linked to the tangible body of Christ on earth, the Church.
People often say they are fine with “spirituality” but they “don’t do religion” specifically “organised” or even worse “institutional” religion.
Well I’d say it is interesting that the first definition of spirituality in the Oxford English is thus:
Relating to or affecting the human spirit as opposed to material or physical things. Hmmm interesting, that is almost a perfect definition of gnosticism.
Gnosticism was the first deliberate distortion of Christian teaching the Church encountered, gnostic belief predated Christianity but quickly tried to show how Jesus fitted into its belief system. The Catholic Church had to define its faith and itself very quickly in order to make sure that it wasn’t subsumed by this kind of religion and to this day it is still the least compatible religion to gnosticism.
Gnosticism is a fascinating heresy, unsusual since I find most heresies quite quite dull, they just try to deminish Christianity in one way or another. The really juicy thing about gnosticism is that its about getting ahead of the game spiritually.
Gnosticism is elitist, only wild, fantastic and esoteric knowledge will save you from this profane imprisoning flesh that is the human body and that other less worthy or less theologically adept individuals are going to be stuck with.
We all want to be ahead of the game, we want to have the skinny, we want the insider info, this kind of thing appeals to everyone I think, it is why the Da Vinci Code was so popular.
A colleague at work was stunned when I told her that all the word Saint meant is that we know they are in heaven, which is a destination all Catholics should hope and aspire to. They are not an elite, they are simply part of the Church triumphant.
Christianity of course rejects gnosticism completely, we are to spread the Gospel as far and as widely as possible, we are to think of others first, we are to get to heaven and show how many people we helped to get there before us and with us. Our bodies are a gift from God, a God who wants the best for everyone. A God who is not equaled by some evil force that corrupts nature, but a God who is redeeming nature itself through Jesus and his body the Church.
I would also stipulate, perhaps controversially, that Gnosticism is naturally less effectively rebutted by protestantism.
If salvation is by faith alone, then how does that make people feel who arn’t up on their theology 101? how does it feel if you don’t understand your pastor’s sermons? what if the terminology in all the worship songs about blood, and love and substitutional atonement doesn’t really make sense to you?
Is salvation based on what we think about God??? or even worse how we are feeling about God at any one particular time? No, our feelings about God can change from one moment to the next, just look at the psalms, they go from lament to praise from one verse to the next.
Also I’d point out that protestants often have to suggest the Church is purely a mystical body, of someone who is currently on earth in a mystical sense, so is to us somewhat of a mystery. How is that helpful? Is that really worth believing in? we are mystically united to one another through a mystery, to a mystical person??? that makes my head spin.
Catholics on the other hand are mystically, tangibly and concretely united to one another through the Catholic Church, which is the mystical and tangible body of Christ on earth. As a priest reminded me today Jesus said to Saul on the road to Damascus “why are you persecuting ME?”
The apostles weren’t an incorporeal group of people, they were rock solid and bumped into people on the street. Indeed I was also reminded today how the Church was founded on Peter, not on his faith, or his statement of faith, not on what he thought of Jesus, but on Peter himself. It was a very tangible appointment to lead the Church. Catholics follow the successor of Peter to this day and it has been the rock of unity the Church is built on ever since.
We are saved by sacraments which are real and tangible and we believe that it doesn’t matter what we believe about the Eucharist, it will still be Jesus, (although it does matter if you don’t believe it is Jesus because then you probably shouldn’t be receiving the sacrament)
It doesn’t change the state of our soul whether we feel we are absolved in confession, because if the priest absolves us we are absolved. It doesn’t matter whether we feel different after baptism, confirmation, ordination, marriage or the annointing of the sick, because something real has happened no matter what we think.
As an aside interestingly it does matter what the priest believes about the Mass because if he doesn’t intend to say Mass then it is invalid. Form, Matter and Intention are required for a priest to say mass. But this is part of the role of the priesthood, to bring meaning which only God can give to the world through the mass.
Let me wrap up with what Jesus said in the final discourse in John’s Gospel, maybe it is just that translation, but I can’t shake the notion that, “my prayer is not for them alone” means: my prayer is not just for the apostles but for everyone who believes the Gospel that they may all be one.
Ergo Christian’s should be united as a witness to Christ to the entire world. That suggests a global, authentically united, tangible church, that is linked to the apostles. There is only one candidate for that title. So yes it is tragic that people don’t understand the love Catholics have for the Church, perhaps if we were better at showing it more people would discover what it feels like!