Vol 39 No 2
POPE BENEDICT XVI
A PAPAL CONDOLENCE MOTION
Costelloe SDB PRIESTHOOD IN THE THEOLOGY OF JOHN PAUL II
LEARNING NEW WAYS OF EVANGELISING
BELONGING, COMMUNITY, AND THE CHURCH: Some Theological and Pastoral Reflections
THE TRINITY'S FIRST CREATION THE CHURCH: An Orthodox Bishop's Appreciation
Of The West's Greatest Father Of The Church
CONTEMPLATIVE MISSIONARY SPIRITUALITY: The Way of the Heart
THE CHURCH AS AGENT OF HOPE: What can Religious Faith Contribute to Life
in Contemporary Australia?
A NEW CATHOLIC SOCIAL MANIFESTO? The Compendium Of The Social Doctrine
Of The Church
RICHARD LENNAN, "RISKING THE CHURCH. THE CHALLENGES OF CATHOLIC FAITH"
community, and the Church: Some theological and pastoral reflections
RECENTLY I WAS ASKED to give a talk to young adult Catholics on the
theme 'Belonging, Community, and the Church'. Having been asked to step
in for someone at short notice, the organiser asked me to talk about 'belonging'
and 'community', and, adding with some difficulty, 'somehow relate it
to the church'. It was an instructive brief because in the organiser's
mind he had difficulty in linking 'church' with a sense of belonging and
Preparing for the talk was also challenging because the language of theology,
at least on an academic and magisterial level, does not tend to use terms
such as 'belonging' and 'community', in part, I would suspect, because
they suggest subjectivity at the expense of the objective sacramental
reality of the church. In this brief paper I explore how the language
of 'belonging' and 'community' can be reconciled with more traditional
notions such as 'communion', 'sacrament', and 'membership' of the Body
of Christ. I also identify some pastoral phenomena that bring out the
social and ecclesial need for Catholics to regain a sense of communal
'Community' Or 'Communion'?
The language of 'community' has entered the prayer, life, and culture
of the Catholic Church. Often enough we hear homilies and exhortations
to 'create community' with each other and with family members, our neighbours,
refugees, and just about everyone we meet. Some parishes have 'mission
statements' that identify community formation as the objective of the
prayer and work of the parish. At times the impression is also conveyed
that 'creating' or 'forming' a community is a moral imperative. In short,
the word 'community' is used to describe the nature of the church, its
very constitution and raison d'être.
Yet it is not always clear as to what exactly constitutes a 'community'.
By 'community' do we mean getting to know each other better, or is it
a mere gathering of like-minded people in a geographic area, or does it
mean 'community of the disciples of Jesus Christ'? Today we often hear
real estate agents extolling the 'lifestyle option' of the local 'village
community', councillors promising to up-build the 'community atmosphere'
of the forthcoming fair, and police speaking of 'community safety'. It
would seem, therefore, that there is nothing particularly Christian about
employing the term 'community'. Hence, the notion of church as community
raises some fundamental theological questions: is the church's mission
to form 'community', and, if so, what kind of community? And is there
a distinction between the constitution and the mission of the church?
I take the view that the model of the church as a 'community' is a relatively
poor one, and that (at least in isolation from other models) it represents
inadequately the true nature and mission of the church. Instead, I suggest
that a better model of the church, one that incorporates the aims of the
popular usage of the notion of 'community', is that of communion. It is
not that the notion of community, especially understood as a 'community
of the disciples of Jesus Christ', is without merit in defining the institutional
and charismatic elements of the church. Rather, it serves as a weaker
model than communion in order to explain better the mysterious character
of the church. To be sure, both models have their limitations, and need
to be held in conjunction with other models, images and metaphors of the
church; this essay merely reflects upon the relative merits of both models
in the context of fostering a sense of ecclesial belonging.
The church as communio or koinônia brings out a great deal of the
various descriptions of the church found in the decrees, declarations,
and constitutions of Vatican II. In particular, it is specially mentioned
in a number of conciliar documents (e.g., Lumen gentium, 1,4,8,13-15,18,21,24-25,51;
Dei verbum, 10; Gaudium et spes, 32; Unitatis redintegratio, 2-4,14-15,17-19,22).
The church as 'communion' harmonises with several biblical images of the
church, notably the church as the body of Christ and the church as the
people of God (Dulles 2002, 42). The term 'community of disciples', however,
does not appear in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, although
the communitarian character of salvation history receives some attention
(e.g., Gaudium et spes, 32). Communio emphasises inter-subjectivity built
on an ethic of love, a common profession of faith and sacramental worship,
and an inter-relationship of prayer and grace with the faithful departed
and the angels. Insofar as the church can be modelled on the intra-divine
life of the Three, communio is the best ecclesiological correspondent
to perichoresis (the mutual inter-penetration of the Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit, in the Godhead). Quite simply, 'communion' connotes a union
of 'heart and soul' (cf. Acts 4:32, 5:12), an 'organic' bond of filiation
and fraternity with Christ and each other (cf. Mt 12:46-50; Lk 14:26,
18:29; Jn 13:12-16, 19:25-27; Rom 12:10; 1Tim 5:1-2). The church as communio
is highlighted by a number of post-conciliar magisterial documents so
much so that it could be argued that it is the primary official description
of the church (e.g., C.D.F. (1992), 3; Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 34). The
fact that there is a resurgence in 'communion ecclesiology' in theological
literature is no coincidence.
On a pastoral level the term 'communion' serves to express a richness
and profundity greater than the more ambiguous and universalised notion
of 'community'. To Catholics and non-Catholics alike, regardless of whether
one understands the intricacies and fecundity of its meaning, the use
of the term 'communion' brings out the sacred character of being church;
quite simply, no other gathering of people would dare to apply such a
term to their meetings. 'Community', on the other hand, suggests that
participation in the prayer and sacramental life of the church is optional,
because the church is a mere voluntary association. Perhaps this reflects
a popular anthropology, born of the Enlightenment, that views humans as
being born first as individuals and who then subsequently seek to form
an ordered society, rather than as persons being individually loved into
existence as social and interdependent beings. 'Community' may also be
used in a deliberately anti-institutional or anti-hierarchic sense, yet
a communitarian focus can ironically emphasise the institutional elements
of the church as experience tells us that all communities have their leaders.
Even an emphasis on 'Christian discipleship' as the basis of 'community'
suffers because it suggests Robert Bellarmine's societas perfecta, that
is, a complete and alternative society. Yet surely this 'ecclesiological
elitism' would strain an Australian ear. In short, 'community' risks emphasising
the sociological character of the church at the expense of the divine
or 'vertical' dimensions of the church. 'Communion', instead, can be (re)appropriated
as a Christian term, one well at home in the Catholic tradition, and can
in itself contribute to the formation of Christian identity. Words, after
all, both arise to describe the prior existence of a reality and act to
form that reality in the future.
The Sacramental Character Of 'Belonging'
Whilst the use of the term 'communion' is to be encouraged, there is undoubtedly
a perennial pastoral need for the church to provide a forum for 'belonging'.
That is, there is an existential desire and need to 'belong' to a group
of like-minded persons, a group in which one can find value, meaning,
and a future. In the church today, a random glance at congregational attendance
would suggest that young people and men are most lacking in a sense of
belonging, judging by their relative absence in many assemblies.
Although it may come as a surprise to many, the prayer/worship and belief
of the church already provides a sound and rich source of belonging. The
whole sacramental life of the church is geared towards belongingof
belonging together in Christ in our journey to the Father by the Spirit.
In baptism we become one with Christ and with one another; indeed, the
irrevocable baptismal bond is something that allows Christians of all
denominations to call each other brothers and sisters despite their being
visible disunity amongst churches.
In confirmation, among other aims, we affirm our baptismal bond in the
apostolic faith. In sacramental confession, we seek peace with each other
and our neighbours. Above all, it is the eucharist that is the foundation
and source of our unity; 'communion' can therefore signify both the unity
that we are and seek to become, and the body and blood of which we partake.
In a sense, as Catholics we all 'belong' around the altar, laying, as
it were, our sacrifice of joys, grief and moments of grace on the sacred
table (cf. Rom 12:1; Phil 4:18; Heb 13:15; 1Pet 2:5) so that Christ our
priestly mediator can join them to His perfect sacrifice to the Father
(Heb 2:17, 4:14, 5:5,10, 6:20, etc.). It is not without reason that St.
Augustine describes the eucharist as a 'sign of unity' and a 'bond of
love' (In Ioan. evan. tract., 26.13.3). Thus, our identity can be determined
by the eucharistic bond in which we participate; in simple terms, we gather
around this bishop in this diocese in this eucharistic fellowship (cf.
Sacrosanctum concilium, 41; Dies Domini, 35-36). It is unsurprising that
Pope John Paul II has marked this year as the 'Year of the Eucharist'
because it is through the eucharist that we find and express our identity
and communion (cf. Mane nobiscum Domine, 21-22).
The sacramental life of the church underscores yet another image of the
church; that the church herself is a sacrament of Christ (in the sense
of making Him present and continuing His work), and that Christ is the
sacrament of God. In a real sense, therefore, every Catholic can say that
he or she 'belongs' by virtue of his or her membership of the church,
regardless of their degree of faithfulness to the prayer and discipline
of the church.
Scripture employs a variety of images to bring out this sense of belonging
to God, in Christ, and with each other. Baptism incorporates and vivifies
us as members of Christ's Body (Rom 6:3-11; 1Cor 12:12-30), to which He
is united to us as our Head (Rom 12:5; Eph 1:10,22-23, 4:15, 5:23; Col
1:18,24. 2:19). Christ is our bridegroom (Mt 25:1-13; Eph 5:25-27,31-32),
our foundation stone (Mt 21:42; Acts 4:11; 1Pet 2:4,7), the vine which
gives life to us as branches (Jn 15:5-7), and our mediator with the Father
in the Spirit (1Tim 2:5; Heb 8:6, 9:15, 12:24). As church we form a sacred
fellowship (cf. 2Cor 13:11; 1Th 4:9), a holy people of God (Rom 9:23-26;
Heb 8:10; Jam 1:1; 1Pet 2:9-10), coming together to 'break bread' in communion
with one another (cf. Acts 2:42-47).
These sorts of images bring out the connection between communion and community
to such an extent that, understood correctly, community can be said to
be an intrinsic part of communion; both images seek to highlight the interpersonal
solidarity that shapes us as travellers on The Way (cf. 1Pet 2:11). And
however we understand the constitution of the church, we are all called
to mission, which is to proclaim the Kingdom of God and spread the Good
News of Jesus Christ (Lumen gentium, 12,17,30,33,35; Ad gentes, 23). That
is, communio both precedes and follows missio (cf. Dies Domini, 45).
Some Pastoral Reflections On Reclaiming Catholic
Culture And Identity
I am too young to know from first hand experience about all those things
that formed Catholic identity before the reforms of Catholic life following
the Second Vatican Council. Our elders in the faith speak of numerous
sodalities and societies, a great public piety that included street processions,
religious orders having reached a peak in membership in 1967 and declining
thereafter, with many lay people being 'third order' members, and much
more. Catholic schools were so conspicuously different because of the
stark presence of the brothers and nuns as teachers.
Whatever the merits of many of these groups, movements, and practices,
one thing was clear everyone knew who the Catholics were. Whether
this sense of communal personality, which at times was undoubtedly something
akin to 'ecclesiological tribalism', sufficiently encouraged Christian
discipleship or not, most Catholics found a sense of belonging and identity
in the church. With the decline of this Catholic culture came a growing
sense of dissociation and disconnection.
This decline in 'Catholic loyalty', for want of a better term, I would
suggest has been a great loss to the church, especially to young people
and to male members of the church. Today loyalty is forged despite a lack
of a strong Catholic identity. Indeed, many will acknowledge that young
people are increasingly attracted to traditional forms of worship such
as the Tridentine liturgy or simply abandon the Catholic faith in favour
of a Pentecostal variety of worship. Priestly and religious vocations
are still drawn to more traditional forms. We cannot dismiss these trends;
instead we need to understand their needs and concerns, and cater for
them with all our resources, ability and traditions.
The challenge for the Catholic Church is to regain its culture and unique
identity, without falling into the trap of doing so at the expense of
personal commitment to Jesus and the Kingdom. To do this we need to re-consider
and re-claim those sound traditions and beliefs that help us to be Christians
in a Catholic way. Some examples will help us to illustrate this point.
On the faith side, we need to believe again that the fulness of the means
of salvation and of revelation is found in the Catholic Church (Unitatis
redintegratio, 3-4), and we should shun a relativism of religions and
religious truth (see Lumen gentium, 13; Dominus Iesus, 4-8,21) whilst
maintaining our commitment to ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue.
On the liturgical side, we could perhaps re-think whether we have lost
traditional marks of the Latin rite, such as the use of incense, chanting,
icons, and candles. Do many Catholic men simply opt out of Sunday worship
because of the 'feminisation' of the hymns or the liturgical language?
Often enough liturgists quote the Second Vatican Council's call for greater
participation in the liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium, 14,41), but we sometimes
forget that the very same Constitution also called for the use of Latin
in the liturgy as the norm (Sacrosanctum concilium, 36,54,113). If the
way we pray demonstrates to the world what we believe (lex orandi, lex
credendi) then liturgical renewal stands at the core of the renewal of
Catholic identity. There is a marked experiential difference between a
liturgy focused as 'communion' and one aimed at 'community' formation;
put simply, a communitarian focus risks overemphasising the sociological
or 'horizontal' dimension of the church. Do visitors to our parish become
transfixed on the transcendent God who holds the world in being, and in
whose immanence calls us to love our neighbour with a self-sacrificing
On the aesthetic side, because of the alliance between art, worship and
evangelisation, we need to re-look at our liturgical symbols, art, and
furnishings. We need to re-examine whether some of those plaster statues
adequately point to the image they represent, whether electric 'candles'
under-sell our communion with the saints and angels, and whether the quality
of our contemporary religious paintings, banners, vestments, sacred vessels,
and furnishings turn our hearts to the divine. Also, have we puritanically
removed sacred art at the expense of under-catering to the tactile and
sensuous dimensions of bodily worship? St. John Chrysostom permitted the
decoration of the bodies of our churches so long as we did not neglect
to adore the bodies of the poor (see Hom. in evan. Matt., 50.4).
On the social side, we perhaps need to re-introduce and reinforce apologetic
and debating societies, associations of professional Catholics, altar
server guilds, dances and parish dinners, and more. On the public side,
perhaps we can re-claim pilgrimages, processions, clerical and religious
dress, bell ringing, etc. and we need prominent lay Catholics to wear
their badges of loyalty. It is not without coincidence that Orthodox churches
have many of these features and retain a strong sense of 'brand loyalty';
for them cultural/linguistic (and therefore personal) identity is synonymous
with religious identity.
Some may say that Australians are 'too relaxed' to bother with 'inessentials'
in the manner described, but this cannot be true given that our fathers
and mothers in the faith had them and many Australian Catholics want to
see them again. Regaining, or indeed creating anew, a culture of faith,
piety, solidarity, and identity, would help the church to foster loyalty,
community, and belonging. Indeed, it would foster vocations, especially
to the priesthood (because the cultic life of the church is so fundamental
to identity) and to marriage (because the social life of the church is
the seed-ground of interpersonal communion). In our times, when we bear
the cleansing of the slow uncovering of sexual scandal in the church,
we need this witness, solidarity, and pride more than ever. Undoubtedly,
what constitutes 'Catholic identity' and 'Catholic culture' is a matter
for debate; let us agree on what our sources are and let us engage in
re-claiming it together.
To be sure, re-claiming a Catholic culture and identity is not the key
mission of the church; the mission of the church is to proclaim the Kingdom
of God in faith, hope, and love. A Catholic culture and identity, however,
flows from this mission and lubricates us to undertake the mission as
'cunning snakes' (cf. Mt 10:16) in a sometimes hostile world. No one wants
the paradox of the 'atheist Christian'someone loyal to the 'Catholic
club' but quite indifferent to the Gospel. Traditional forms of piety
and prayer address the spiritual, social, emotional, and psychological
dimension of the believing person, human needs of which the church must
always be aware in order to stem the flow of the faithful to alternative
religious movements and philosophies (cf. Water of Life, 1.5,6.1-6.2).
The conference organiser can take comfort in linking 'church' with 'belonging'
and 'community'. We just need to re-appropriate our Catholic language,
our Catholic tradition. After all, this is exactly what the Fathers at
the Second Vatican Council intended when they called for a 'rejuvenation'
(aggiornamento) of the church; we can only 'update' the church by re-claiming
the traditions of the church (ressourcement). On a sociological level,
marginalising the pre-conciliar beliefs, practices, and ritualised pieties
risks encouraging those groups that exaggerate the worst of the past in
an attempt to prove fidelity to the continuation of Catholic identity.
There are many ways to understand the church, and I would suggest that
we should replace the weaker notion of 'community' with the more profound
notion of 'communion' as a way to foster love, fellowship, identity, and
a sense of belonging. As a communion of disciples we are always challenged
to remain faithful to the Gospel and to the received faith (cf. 1Cor 11:2,23;
2Th 3:6), and in doing so we need to re-evaluate from time to time whether
our desire for change has been at the expense of those traditions and
customs that have given us an ecclesial identity for so long.
Vincent Battaglia is a post-graduate student
in theology at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. Society of St Paul/Libreria Editrice
Vaticana, Homebush/Vatican City.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (2000), Dominus Iesus. www.vatican.va.
. 'Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion'. Origins
22 (1992): 108-112.
Dulles, Avery, S.J. (2002), Models of the Church. (Rev. ed.) Image Books,
Flannery, Austin, O.P., ed. (1975), Vatican Council II: The Conciliar
a nd Post Conciliar Documents. Dominican Publications, Dublin.
John Paul II, Pope. (1998), Dies Domini (On Keeping the Lord's Day Holy).
St Pauls Publications, Strathfield.
. (2003), Ecclesia de Eucharistia. www.vatican.va.
. (2004), Mane nobiscum Domine. www.vatican.va.
Pontifical Council for Culture/Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
(2003), Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian Reflection
on the 'New Age'. www.vatican.va
I had foreseen then [in 1970, in an essay on
'Faith and the Future'], if one may put it that way, that the Church would
become small, that one day she would become a Church comprising a minority
of society and that she could then no longer continue with the large institutions
and organizations that she has but would have to organize herself on a
more modest scale. In that connection I had thought that when that happened,
then, next to those priests who are ordained as young men, proven men
from the professions could also advance, that, in any case, diverse forms
of office would take shape. I think that this was correct insofar as the
Church has to adjust herself gradually to a minority position, to another
position in society. Also correct was the prediction that in particular
unsalaried ministries will probably be on the rise. To what extent, then,
there will be viri probati ('proven men' who come from another profession)
is another question. I mean, the whole ancient Church lived on the vir
probatus. Since there were not yet seminaries, she generally called men
to the priesthood who had had another profession. However, from about
the second or third century on they subsequently renounced marriage. Let's
leave open what forms will develop in this area. But the irreplaceability
of the priesthood and of the deep inner connection between celibacy and
priesthood are constants.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, an interview, Ignatius
Press, San Francisco. 1997, p.256.