Asking a Tough Question Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 10 April 2007 09:15
John Garvey, an Orthodox Christian and columnist over at Commonweal asks, "Why People Leave the Church?" He suggests it is too easy to blame the cultural climate alone, rather than admit the failings and frailties of the institutions that make up the Church. He claims that while, for example, the existence of pedophile priests shook the faith of some Catholics, the attempt to protect the reputation of the Church by some of Her leaders was more disturbing. He also writes,

"it is too easy for some of us who stick with the church to say, “Where else have we to go?” That was said of Jesus Christ, not of the institution. These days there are many other paths a seeker might choose-not only other churches (all of which have their own share of sorrows), but an honest, individual, inquiring search that might or might not end up leaving the searcher open to the truths of the gospel. Such an individualistic course is a great loss, I think, where the life of the sacraments and spiritual counsel is concerned; but I can see how someone might end up there.

We excuse the institution and its representatives too easily. One of my teachers, the late historian and theologian John Meyendorff, pointed out that Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, the representatives of organized religion at the time, can-and should-be understood as a criticism of a similarly complacent and self-satisfied Christianity."

In some of the earlier discussions on this blog some commenters indicated concern that we at Intentional Disciples were trying to separate Jesus Christ from the Church; that in emphasizing the personal relationship with the Risen Lord, we were somehow downplaying the importance of the Church, which is His Body. I certainly do not want to do that. But I believe it is important that as His Body, or, perhaps, his Mystical Body, we keep in mind that our behavior must never tend toward self-preservation, and certainly not toward the denial of the woundedness of the Body. The resurrected body of Jesus still bears holes in his hands, feet, and side. The Church, too - all of us individually and together - have wounds which we dare not hide or pretend don't exist.

Rather, we need to keep Christ - and the focus of his earthly ministry - in mind. He did little to protect his reputation, other than to state again and again that nothing he does is his own, but only what the Father tells him to do. His focus seems to have been preaching the Good News of God's love and desire to save us, and to be that Good News through the miracles that were signs of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God and the defeat of Satan. So, too, our focus as individuals and as a Church must be service, not self-preservation. If we really believe Jesus' promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, then we have no need to protect our reputation, and can give ourselves over freely to the service of others and evangelization. Jesus said, "I have come not to be served but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many." (Mt 20:28)

If we forget that we give praise and worship to God not only in our liturgies but also in our service to and forgiveness and love of others, we will be in danger of becoming complacent and self-satisfied like the Pharisees of old. We will look much less like the Body of Christ, and people will drift away, seeking Him elsewhere.