Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The importance of history

A close friend recently asked how I could stand the "politics" of the Catholic Church. And I spent some time reflecting on that question.

It is true that people inside the Church and even those in leadership positions suffer from the same sins and those outside the Church. And it is disappointing, particularly when those sins float to the top like cream. But we make a mistake if we think that it is possible to be Christian apart from the institution.

Christianity is not like Buddism. It is not merely a philosophical or moral system that an individual can follow toward enlightenment. You cannot simply take up the Bible and jump from the first century to the 21st. Jesus did not tell Peter he was handing on a philosophy for individuals to follow. He said,

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld will not overcome it. MT 16:18

And the εκκλησία, the Church that Jesus said he was building was in the singular. And for 2000 years Jesus continues to build the Church. Some stones are smooth some have very rough edges, but it certainly is not up to me to judge the stones with which he builds. We cannot say, " I like the rows of stones from the 4th century and the 16th but not the 10th." You cannot separate Chritianity from the institution. The Church is not simply an abstract idea. It is concrete reality built of living stones over the course of two thousand years, and every stone added since Peter has one thing in common. We are all in need of God's grace.

Today the Church remembers those foundation stones, the Christians living in Rome in the summer of 64 AD when the great fire devastated the city. The emeperor Nero looking for someone to blame chose the fledgling Church of Rome and so began what would be two and a half centuries of persecution that would not truly end until the conversion of the emperor Constantine.

The centuries of persecution would forge the solid foundation and with each successive century Christ has continued to build his Church remaining always the capstone of his Church. He chooses precisely the right stone and puts it in precisely the right place according to its shape.

Today's memorial reminds us that it important for us to study not just the Bible but our history, to study the beautiful precious stones whom we have canonized but also the less perfect stones, the ones like most of us.