Monday, April 21, 2008

God in the Church

Last week, Fr. Trong gave a homily from the readings, focussing on the baptizing of the 3,000 in one day and the parable of the sheep gate. Now, I look forward to Fr. Trong's homilies, unlike some people, because the level of effort that he puts into each phrase and the depth of knowledge of the Gospel he gives. These homilies are studied, deliberate, affairs, and I appreciate the care for us that he shows in this labor.

Many moons ago I had heard a homily on the sheep-gate. Do you know what a sheep-gate is? It's the gate that keeps sheep in the pen, and wolves at bay. Well, 2,000 years ago, the shepherds didn't use wrought iron fences and gates, they used stone for the fence and their own bodies as the gate. That way, an adventurous sheep (of which there would be fewer over time) would wake the shepherd, but the only thing going over the walls would be predators. Clever, no?

Fr. Trong related these two stories as to our rôles today. The parishioners are the sheep and the priests of the parish, the shepherds. The sheep know the shepherds just as the parishioners and priests of the parish know each other and look out for each other, just as the early disciples in St. Peter's time. Anything or anyone else is a wolf, even if it's wearing sheep's clothing. So, Fr. Trong concluded, the laity should stay in their parish.

I can see Fr. Trong's point, and agree with 99% of it. Most parishioners should stay in their parishes and learn from their parish priests, because this arrangement is edifying for most parishioners.

But let's look at the history of the Church. Does growth toward God come from within the bureaucracy and the magisterium? Or, does it come from without? This is an important question, especially in light of the most visible symbol of authority, Pope Benedict, to this country. Well, let's examine how the Church has grown throughout history.

  1. Abram, an idol-maker's son, intuited the the presence of God from outside the prevalent pan-theistic cults.

  2. Jesus, the most perfect Jew ("Not a jot or tiddle" [Matt 5:18]), supplanted the prevailing Rabbinic monotheistic rule of the Pharisees and Sadducees with the worship of a Triune God

  3. St. Peter and St. Paul (né Saul), interpreting Jesus' words and acts, expanded God's people from the Jews to include the Gentiles

  4. St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, notorious for his licentious youth, did some studying outside of the Torah: he was heavily influenced by Platonic works, and used that influence to make Christianity accessible to the Western/Latin world.

  5. St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, the Arc of Salvation, used the philosophical methods of the heathen, Aristotle, to explain and to prove rigorously the tenets of Faith

  6. St. Jeanne d'Arc was burned at the stake by the Church authority for following the voice of God

  7. St. Thérèse de Lisieux had to petition the Pope, against the vehement objections of her parish priest and bishop to enter religious life.

So, with the exception of 3. above, if we were always to listen to the local church authority, we would still be:

  1. idol-worshipping pantheists

  2. Jews awaiting the Messiah

  3. n/a; church authority got this one, as it got many others, right

  4. idol-worshipping pantheistic slaves of Roman rule

  5. dumb servants of faith, disallowed to use our God-given gift of reason

  6. less French??? Okay, I don't have a good counter-example here, but I'm sure something along the lines of nationalism, patriotism and self-governance can be thought up here by someone quicker than myself

  7. unable to see God in the "Little way"

Again, let me stress, that following the teachings of the Church and Church authority in their parishes is what makes Catholics, Catholic and is one of the pillars of the Church. But, the Church body is composed of fallible human people organized by bureaucracy, and, as such, may occasionally fall into error, may entrench into established ways for dogmatic, not salvific, reasons, and may react to perceived outside threats with a hand that is sometimes too heavy (just ask Galileo about that). When God knocked Saul off his horse, no concerns of the local church were going to stop his new evangelization. God calls each of us, but that calling, for most of us, is to follow our vocation in our homes and in the pews to be edified by the local parish priest, but when God calls in a particular way, it is for the overall good of the Church, and not objections, nor even martyrdom by the people in that Church can stop God from carrying out His Will to bring the People of God to Himself.

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