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Vol 39 No 2


Kristina Keneally


Jim Quillinan

Vincent Battaglia
BELONGING, COMMUNITY, AND THE CHURCH: Some Theological and Pastoral Reflections

Lawrence Cross
THE TRINITY'S FIRST CREATION THE CHURCH: An Orthodox Bishop's Appreciation Of The West's Greatest Father Of The Church

Anthony Arthur MSC

Mark Raper SJ
THE CHURCH AS AGENT OF HOPE: What can Religious Faith Contribute to Life in Contemporary Australia?

Bruce Duncan CSsR
A NEW CATHOLIC SOCIAL MANIFESTO? The Compendium Of The Social Doctrine Of The Church



Belonging, 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 community.

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 identity.

'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 belonging—of 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 love?

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.

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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.