We had a great time, eating bar food and drinking beer and discussing the Faith.
Lots of great questions were bandied about; I enjoy fielding questions about the Faith.
But they also asked me to give an answer to the question posed in the title of this post.
Here are the notes I wrote up. They are notes, so I apologize if any thoughts are incomplete or confusing. Feel free to ask questions in the comments about anything that is unclear.
What can you expect from the Church?
1. She will be there, because Christ promised. “Upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Also, the Book of Revelation describes the Church as triumphant in heaven, even as she is engaged in mortal combat on earth, until the final consummation.
The Church’s very existence is miraculous; as is her perseverance.
It’s very hard to explain the origins of the Church, the spread of the Faith, and the catholicity of the Church both then, and between then and now, without seeing it as a matter of divine providence.
There are several things that often seem to threaten the Church:
New truths (New World, Copernicus, Evolution, Physics)
Here’s a famous quote by the English historian Thomas Macaulay:
She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.
2. She will have the same mission: to introduce you to Jesus Christ in this life, so that you can live with him in eternity.
When you think about us—our basic needs, our basic questions, are they really so different? We want a good life; we want to make the most of what we have; we want to share our lives with other people, perhaps be married, perhaps have children. We want to find what will make us truly happy; and we want to make a difference. And, if we reflect on it, we realize these questions extend beyond death. However different our life here in the USA, in AD 2013 is, from the rest of the world and the past, Aren’t the basic questions the same? Someone in Africa or Asia, right now; or someone who lived 500 or 5,000 years ago: wouldn’t they have had those same big questions?
The Baltimore Catechism said it well. Why did God make me? To know, love and serve him in this life, so that I may be supremely happy with him in the next.
This is the mission of the Church. And if you think about it, what the Church does seems—by design—to be evergreen.
Again, a little history. With all that has changed in the life of the Church, we are praying very much in the same manner as the early Church, the basic structure of the Church hasn’t changed all that much, we have the same message, and the same means, the sacraments. I really think that if you could snatch a Christian from the 1st Century and plunk him down in the 21st Century, at Mass, at a baptism, at an ordination, at a wedding, in the confessional, and whatever else was confusing, she would recognize the sacraments.
So many times when I’m explaining the sacraments, or the various practices of the Church, it occurs to me: wasn’t God clever? In how this works out? Long before psychologists gained their insights about the workings of the mind, of conscience, of guilt, we had the sacrament of confession. Long before someone figured out that societies regularly need to find scapegoats; and that rituals of violence can be powerful, purging experiences…long before, God planned for the Passover Lamb, and for himself to come and offer himself on the Cross: The Lamb of God.
3. She will be Christ to you; therefore, speak to you the way Jesus Christ speaks to you.
It’s funny how people will say, “we want the pope to say X” or “we want the priest to say Y.” And we actually spend a fair amount of time, in parishes, and in dioceses, trying to figure out what people want from the Church, what the Church should say or do.
But did you ever see Jesus doing that in the Gospels? Did he ever show up anywhere and say, “What would you like to hear?” The Apostles never did that. They would be invited to speak, but they didn’t do a survey first. When our Lord was invited to speak at the synagogue in Capernaum, he took the scroll of Isaiah, and found what he wanted to read.
By the way, the first reaction to him was very positive. But as he continued speaking, they turned against him, and went to toss him off the cliff!
Father Ted Ross, who teaches at our seminary, says something like this: We don’t need the Church when we’re right; we need her when we’re wrong. And a corollary is, we don’t need the Church to tell us what we already believe and like; we need her to tell us the things we don’t want to believe, or don’t like to hear. That’s what we need her for!
The Gospel at Mass today was really funny. Our Lord is giving the Pharisees a hard time. And after repeatedly saying, Woe to you, Pharisees!, we hear this:
Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them” (Luke 11).
***Here ends my writen notes. I recall winding down with something about how important it is that Christ speaks the truth to us, and that's what we need the Church to do. The truth is, I was racing the clock as I wrote my notes...