Intentionality & Institutionality Part Deux Print
Friday, 19 January 2007 07:09

Written by Keith Strohm

Mike Liccione over at Sacramentum Vitae has picked up on our discussion of intentionality and institutionality (which is only fair, as he started it). You can read the whole follow up post here, but I wanted to focus on something particular that he wrote:

I wholeheartedly agree that what's often missing is the "intentionality," and that the basis of the needed intentionality is "an emphasis on encounter and relationship with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit." That's exactly why, for instance, I've joined Communion and Liberation. There, I find both intentionality and its basis, as one can indeed find them in certain other "ecclesial movements."

That is unlike most parishes, which are predicated on providing (a) the sacraments and (b) for want of a better term, pastoral services. Now both (a) and(b), especially (a), are absolutely necessary. But when there is no community based on experiential encounter with Christ in prayer and in each other, the sacraments and services are experienced primarily as institutional dispensations, and the enterprise starts running more on human than divine energy. The ordinary lay Catholic notices that other institutions provide similar services, most of them more reliably than her local church; she treats the sacraments as goodies you "receive" from the institution, which is located in a building complex at which you pull up and get what you're there for before you pull out, never really forming a community of intentional disciples with your fellow parishioners. The Church thus becomes, experientially speaking, a consumer organization, less exciting if occasionally more necessary than the shopping malls. That is often why people are "bored" by church. Given their experience, who wouldn't be?

As we have discussed here in the comboxes and in posts, intentionality (as defined by Mike) and the sacraments are integrally linked. The sacraments in a very real sense form (as in constitute) the community of faith, and lives of intentional discipleship allow the sacramental graces to unfold in our lives--deepening our communion and our growth in holiness, as well as disposing us to live out our secular apostolic office more freely and intentionally.

It's a classic Catholic "both/and" situation. We have, however, not effectively lived out the intentional part. Helping others meet Christ and forming communities of intentional disciples so that they may effectively fulfill their particular secular vocation is not a priority for most parishes--despite that clearly being what the Church has asked them to be.

And so, the parish is experienced as "sacramental way station." People come, get what they need/fulfill an obligation, and then move out. As someone who takes the challenge of the Second Vatican Council and the writings of John Paul II seriously, it is frustrating to see that men and women have to find intentionality and the full riches of the Church's Tradition in a movement rather than in their parish (and I say this as someone who has a tremendous respect for the New Movements). I'm even more frustrated and saddened when men and women feel like they have to leave the Catholic Church to encounter Christ and a life of intentional discipleship.

That is one of the reasons why I look to our protestant brothers and sisters to examine how they have built communities of intentional disciples. Not to import incomplete or incompatible theology, but to help us re-root the authentically Catholic things that they have preserved or rediscovered and, on a practical level, examine how they have prioritized and built cultures and structures of intentional discipleship so that we can more effectively do the same in a way that allows us to bring the fullness of the Church's Tradition to the endeavor.

Anyway, I can't encourage you enough to read the whole post over at Sacramentum Vitae--and stop in to Mike's comboxes to participate (you can always invite folks here as well).