Church community is open to all

De Facto

POBAL DÉ ‘We are the Church, and we need to reclaim that ownership as a community of believers’.

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

My colleague Michael Gallagher wrote in last week’s edition of this paper about his negative experience of the institutional Catholic Church (see ‘The impact of Church failings on community’). He is not alone. Many people have had such experiences, yours truly included.
While everyone’s experience is different, there are common threads, especially the feelings of hurt and rejection. These can run very deep, as can be seen from Michael’s article.
It raises the question: What is Church? There is the ‘institutional’ Church, which we generally see as clergy and hierarchy, and the ‘communal’ Church, described by that terrible word ‘laity’. I prefer a blend of both.
Church is, quite simply, the people of God, pobal Dé, made up of people, nuns, priests and bishops. In essence, we are the Church, and we need to reclaim that ownership as a community of believers. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not reserved for the hierarchy alone, as we know!
There is a common thread for all believers – theologically it is baptism, practically it is the sense of community. Baptism and community make us equal. The bond or glue that makes it happen is the Holy Spirit – God’s thread of presence – rippling through everyone.
At a funeral Mass final commendation, the coffin is blessed with holy water because the person was baptised, and blessed with incense because the body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. Respect. If we genuflect before a tabernacle because of the Real Presence in the form of consecrated hosts, so also should we ‘genuflect’ before the Real Presence in any person in the form of the Holy Spirit.
That understanding of personhood makes Christian community possible through having a relationship with a living God. Christian communities are based on the communal opening words of the great prayer, Our Father. Jesus did not teach us to pray ‘My Father, who art in heaven…’.
While the institution might want to get on with everyday ‘rules and regulations’, the community gets on with the everyday things of life, namely ‘living’. That makes sense if the underlying faith is secure in the knowledge that one is loved, plain and simple.
Imagine really believing that you are loved unconditionally by God for who you are right now, not for who you can become. That is the reality of a relationship with a living God.
St Paul stated (Romans): “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” He then lists most things you can think of that can cause you serious angst, yet insists that God’s love can break through any obstacle.
One or more priests or bishops do not define Church, institutionally or communally. The thing about institutions is that they are made up of people. Many institutions, especially the Church, are affected by the Peter Principle, where people rise in the structure of the organisation to their own level of incompetence.
The Church is riddled with this incompetence. This structural deficiency has created serious pain for many people. Church scandals from child abuse and its subsequent cover-up to petty jealousies in everyday situations where “Father is always right” have caused untold harm.
The answer for most people whose sense of community is shattered is that they simply create a new community, either outside or on the periphery. Real Church community occurs in small groups not in big buildings with huge crowds.
Michael Gallagher rightly bemoaned the dearth of House Stations, but the sense of community of such gatherings still happens in many parishes. People meet and pray as a local community without priests, who are scarce anyway, unless they are married! There are seven married priests in the Westport area, not in official ministry, yet many are active in local church communities.
Pope Francis is promoting Synodality – an upturned pyramid – where the hierarchical Church structure is turned on its head to give all Church members an equal voice, like St Peter’s claim (Acts 10) that God has no favourites. We are all equal, equally loved, equally forgiven and equally important in our Church community.

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