Loving Our Human Church
Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.
The Catholic Church is a human Church. Wow, that's news! Unless you have been living under a rock you probably know all too well that the Catholic Church is a human Church—human sins, scandals and disappointments. It makes one wonder if God couldn't have made the Church a little less human and a little more divine—a little more ready-made, whole and complete. But that is not how God does things.
Open the Bible and on the very first page you find a God who makes things: a God who created the heavens and the earth, a God who said, "Let there be light," a God who separated the waters from the dry land, a God who made every kind of plant and tree and bird and fish and cattle. And God made us in God's very own image. That means that God made us to be makers, creators, inventors, authors, discoverers, architects and manufacturers. We are made in the image of a God who makes things!
And as God entrusted his creation to our first parents, so Christ entrusted his Church to us, his disciples. This is the positive, exciting, amazing side of belonging to this human Church. Christ commissioned us to cause the Church to "fill the earth." We are to make the Church catholic, universal, all-embracing—both in space (reaching to every land and culture) and in time (gracing every historical age and epoch).
What an awesome responsibility to be co-creators in God's great plan! What trust God must have in us!
Many cultures and historical periods have shaped the Catholic Church. There are parts of the Church that have taken root in the cultures of Byzantium and Syria. I (and probably most of you reading this article) belong to the branch of the Church that has been highly influenced by Roman and European culture. Each Sunday we see the priest at the altar wearing Roman clothing (albs and chasubles were once ordinary, daily clothing for a first-century Roman). We govern our Church with a Code of Canon Law based on the Roman legal system. Our early church buildings were modeled after the throne room of Constantine.
From the Europe of the Middle Ages we picked up the custom of serfs bowing and kneeling before the liege lord. From court etiquette we adopted titles of address such as "Your Eminence," "Your Excellency" and "Monsignor." And as the Church progresses through the centuries we try to select and incorporate what is good from the culture and to let go of those elements that are no longer useful.
There's the problem! Our human vision is limited: We are not always sure which elements are good and which are no longer useful. Is the requirement of celibacy for priests still helpful to the Church? Is the "just war theory" still valid? Should bishops be appointed or elected?
When, When Not, to Change
During the past 40 years we have experienced many changes in the Mass. We know that some parts of the Mass were instituted by God and cannot be changed while other parts of the Mass are of human origin. These human elements can be changed, and indeed should be changed when they no longer help us express the meaning of the Eucharist. But what elements ought to be changed? How are they to be changed?
These important decisions God has entrusted to us. Sometimes we make wrong decisions. Sometimes we alter our decisions as circumstances change or as we see the situation more clearly. But isn't that all a part of being human? Isn't that a part of growing up?
Catholics believe that being human is a good thing. Our bodies are good. Creation is good. Growth and change are good. That's why it's great to belong to a human Church—a Church that is forever growing, developing and maturing—a Church that is always discovering new ways to proclaim the gospel until that day when the fullness of God's plan will be revealed in us.
Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., has a doctorate
in liturgy and sacramental theology from the Institut Catholique
of Paris. A popular writer and lecturer, Father Richstatter
teaches courses on the sacraments at Saint Meinrad (Indiana)
School of Theology. His latest book is The
Sacraments: How Catholics Pray (St. Anthony Messenger
Next: Our Missionary Church
By Judith Dunlap
it's difficult for independent folks like myself to accept authority that
resists questioning. Such authority seems constraining. As a youngster I hated
hearing, "Because I told you so" from an adult. When my first child was born I
resolved that I would raise him to question things, to question me. But it took
me years before I realized the importance of developing a voice and look that
conveyed absolute authority.
I was feeding two toddlers when my oldest son came in the
house, accidentally bringing a huge wasp with him. Now big flying bugs scare me
silly, but I knew I could not show panic. I would take care of the wasp—after
my children were safely away.
I asked Roger Andy to take his young brother and sister out of
the room. Rather than taking each by the hand, he sat down and asked me, "Why?"
My explanation, "Wasps sometimes sting," was met with another, "Why?" By the
third "Why?" I met his eye, gave him "the look" and in a voice two octaves
lower than normal, commanded: "Because I told you so." He grabbed his two
siblings and left the room. Later, I thanked him for rescuing Kristin and
Jamie. (I would like to say I then proceeded to answer all his questions about
wasps, but I didn't. I was never the perfect mom.)
Mother Church can be similarly demanding. Questioning is fine
until she suspects her children are in danger (of heresy, sin, etc.). Her "look
and voice" are called dogma, and we are expected to accept it without
questioning. Occasionally I feel like my son must have felt on that spring
afternoon: still questioning, just a bit resentful. Often Catholic teaching is
fully explained and I can understand what is taught and the reasons. Sometimes
it is not to my satisfaction. Maybe I just don't get what Mother Church is
telling me or don't want to get it. Or, once in a while Mother Church's
follow-up teaching isn't quite perfect either.
Parents, ask your children if you have a look or voice or unquestionable authority. Ask them to show you what each is like. Discuss.
often encourage the idea that a wedding is the crowning achievement of love.
The first movie Shrek did its part, ending with Shrek and the ogre princess
Fiona finding true love after learning that true beauty is not skin-deep. Shrek
2 picks up from there, where the "happily ever after" of marriage faces
Problems begin with Shrek's in-laws. Fiona's parents, king and
queen of the Kingdom of Far, Far Away (labeled by white letters on a hillside
in imitation of the famous Hollywood sign), eagerly anticipate the first visit
of their daughter since she was released from her spell by her rescuer and husband.
All the kingdom's citizens turn out for a grand celebration of the special occasion.
But no one has been prepared for the mate the beloved princess
has chosen—nor for her transformation. In a fairy-tale version of Guess Who's
Coming to Dinner?, how will her parents react? Will love trump their loss
of long-held dreams for their daughter?
Those dreams include a handsome (and narcissistic) prince they
had earlier selected for her from their own kingdom. After the initial shock
Fiona's mother begins to adjust to the new reality, but her father, the king,
is determined to reform it. This obviously requires extraordinary action.
He turns first to the invincible assassin Puss
in Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas, a character with a flair
competitive with that of the faithful donkey voiced by Eddie
Murphy, who has tagged along on the visit. When Puss in Boots
fails to eliminate Shrek and instead becomes his ally, donkey
grouses, "The position of annoying talking animal has already
Enter the fairy godmother, who, it turns out,
is the mother of the handsome prince and has an evil streak.
"Ogres," she promises Shrek, "don't live happily ever after."
When the godmother's attempt at replacing Shrek with her son
fails, Shrek, the donkey and Puss steal the magic potion she
had created in an effort to turn Fiona back into a beautiful
princess, Shrek into a strapping hulk and donkey into a dazzling
Shrek 2 is more plot-driven than the character-driven Shrek,
but the fun is still in the telling. A contest should be created to see who
can find the most references to past movies and parodies of popular culture
in the film.
The result is a hilarious sequel that is less of a children's tale
than the original. When I saw Shrek at a mid-afternoon
screening the theater was crowded mostly with adults, a testimony
to the word of mouth that this is a funny movie for grownups
too. Still, the kids I saw it with loved it. The movie doesn't
lose the message of self-acceptance of the original, while
its mild double entendres probably go over the heads of youngsters.
The added messages of overcoming prejudice and the need to
work at marriage will appeal more to adults.
What values do you find in this film?
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
St. Monica (322?-387)
seemed to present St. Monica with one challenge after another, but through prayer
and persistence her most heartfelt wishes were fulfilled.
Born of Christian parents in what is now Algeria, she was married
off at a young age to a pagan man who proved to be an unfaithful husband and
absent father. Of their three children, she had a clear favorite: Augustine,
He was brilliant but he was a handful, breaking her heart with
his immoral lifestyle and his rejection of the faith. Monica tried tough love—forbidding
her son to eat or sleep in her household. But she welcomed him with open arms
when a vision assured her he would ultimately embrace the faith. And he did—in
Before that happened Monica followed Augustine
and his mistress to Rome and then to Milan. There she met
a bishop (now St. Ambrose) who became her spiritual director.
At his advice she gave up some of the practices and habits
that complicated her relationship with her son. Not long before
her death, Monica witnessed Augustine's Baptism by Ambrose,
who had come to know the young man well. She called it the
fulfillment of "all my hopes in this world."
Augustine went on to become a priest, a bishop known for his devotion
to the poor, one of the Church's most distinguished theologians and, finally,
a saint. After 20 years of marriage Monica received another gift late in life:
the conversion to Christianity of her wayward husband and her peevish mother-in-law.
Her lifetime of charity and piety had impressed them; her prayers had moved
St. Monica is the patron of mothers. Her feast day is August 27.
back." Two simple words, but just what Saundra Willingham wanted to hear.
It was 1993, and she had just taken a decisive turn in her faith
journey. The longtime community activist was returning to the church of her
youth after exploring nondenominational and Protestant Churches for some years.
She had begun her search in hopes of finding more fellowship, more focus on
the Bible, more soulful music.
She ended up right where she had started. A series of forces was
involved, including her young daughter, Melanie, who was drawn to the church
of extended family members and often accompanied them to Catholic Mass during
the years her mother worshiped elsewhere. Meanwhile, a family member recruited
Melanie to attend the children's version of the Rite of Christian Initiation
of Adults (RCIA) while her mother "accompanied her to give her a foundation
"My daughter led me, though she didn't know God was using her
like that," Ms. Willingham told Every Day Catholic. "Yes, God was doing
his thing with me!"
Of her time away from the Church, she says, "I don't regret it.
I learned. I grew. I gained an appreciation for the faith of my youth." And
at the end of her search, she said, "I knew the Church was mine!"
She went on to direct the RCIA program at her parish during some
of the years she lived in California. Now back in her native Cincinnati and
working as a teacher, Ms. Willingham loves her new parish, St. Robert Bellarmine.
"When you've gone to Mass there, you've had a spiritual experience. Now I'm
the happiest Catholic there is!"